“Why Windows 7 & 10 are not fit
to be used by humans

Thoughts Aug 2012: Update Jan 2017

Jyrki Wahlstedt

The text below the line is about five years old. It is about Windows 7, as I say there in the beginning. Now I have had a chance to use Windows 10 a while, so I'd like to update the experiences and feelings about the current version of MS operating system. It doesn't take long. There are improvements, e.g. Aero theme is gone, and it's good, too, that the abomination of Windows 8 has been scrapped. But to make this short: almost all of what I write about Win7 is true still, Windows 10 is basically Windows 7 with boxed start menu, a conceptual mess there and elsewhere as before. Nothing new under the sun...

Well, some annoyances that I can't remember, whether they were in Win7. No program opens at relaunch the windows it had open when closed in the size and position they were in. Most programs can't tell, whether they are in foreground or in background (their window colours do not change). Edge browser has a different position for site in different situations. Oh well, I have to stop now...

I used Win7 a couple of months as my main computer during a project assignment a while ago. During that time I made some observations on the user interface provided. After that I used the OS regularly in our main office.

To start with, the laptop was using an encryption software. That provided only a character based interface. To do that shows utter lack of taste. It also gives a very contradictory sense of the whole system that seemingly wants the user to be accustomed to a graphical interface.

BTW, I have no doubt that Win7 is more stable and secure than its predecessors, especially WinXP that in practice seems to be the previous version, as the whole world (almost) has skipped Vista. But, none the less…

I think there are advances, too, e.g. the task manager in XP stayed always on top of all windows, in Win7 it is an application among applications. This is good. Also the erratic show of window types is now almost gone (nearly all types of windows from the system history could be seen), all windows look the same most of the time. This is good, too. Also the system is obviously more stable, it doesn’t crash that often.

The first login goes as usual, it is good that the ridiculous ‘Start’-thing has been scrapped. Well, the functionality is the same, the looks has just been altered.

The last sentence of the previous paragraph goes with lot of the features present. The unhappy decision by the company to mix the concepts of applications and documents is still there, and makes a mess. The GUI still shows SDI and MDI windows making the navigation harder than it ought to be. This is exacerbated by the difficulty in changing document windows inside an application, especially in Office suite programs, the ribbon hides the windows very efficiently.

The taskbar behaves very much the same as before. A welcome feature is that one is now able pin a program to the taskbar. The programs in the taskbar, however, behave very differently. The behaviour normally is to show the open documents. Many programs do it like this, but then web browsers with tabs, what should they do? Firefox shows the active tab of the windows, while Safari shows all the tabs. The curious thing is that Microsoft’s own Visio just tells that it’s there, does not disclose any of its open documents. So, some things are better, some not.

Some applications present an almost insurmountable obstacle in everyday use. There are some applications, quite popular, very well-known and trusted, that are downloaded from some site, and installed by the user. Two examples I personally tend to use a lot are GNU Emacs, and Webkit (nightly builds). What happens, when one starts an application like these? The system throws a dialog box warning about an unknown and untrusted software supplier. Now, in XP there is a checkbox, in which one can tell the system that the application is ok. After unchecking that the system starts the application straight off double click or menu item selection, no questions asked. Not so in Win7. Each and every time such application is started, the system throws the message box, there is no apparent way to get rid of it. I also suspect that FSF is never going to apply for anything like software vendor id from Microsoft, and I don’t see any reason for them to do so. Webkit is almost in the same position regarding Microsoft, being an Apple project. There is no love lost between those parties… Update: this has been changed later, so that the XP behavior has been restored!

Themes give a chance to personalise the user interface. At the same time they are a source of confusion, Aero themes especially so. The confusion is of course the immediate consequence of behaviour change they cause. The main gripe with Aero themes is, however, their nauseating behaviour while using the very basic habit of work in Windows, Alt-tab. Then, when the new window is selected, the new window comes to front, and all other windows become transparent, only their outline can be seen. This is similar in effect to the old blinking fonts on web pages, considered bad e.g. as they may cause epileptic seizures.

The Alt-tab has other bad thing in it. When the key combination is used, the system brings on screen a series of icons representing open documents. In WinXP this behaves quite well, as it keeps the set of icons at max seven columns by three rows arranged by LRU basis. If there are more documents open than fits in this space, the icons are just wrapped around in the visible space. Not so in Win7, there the system keeps the whole set visible. The positive thing here is that the icon area now recognizes mouse action, that didn’t happen before. The negatives, however, are quite frustrating. Obviously, as the number of open documents grows, it becomes harder and harder to see, where the desired document is. This is very counter-productive in itself. This is a direct consequence of the lack of clear window menu in applications (and the said odd mix of documents with applications), a proper HIG could help. In this Alt-tab icon area there is one icon that keeps its position, no matter what. This is the icon for Desktop. I do not any need to include this icon in this set at all, maybe someone does, but it is very distracting. Also if one wants to see the desktop, one can always click the right end of the taskbar. But the real problem with this icon is that, if one has more than six open windows in an application, e.g. a browser, a word processing or presentation tool, and one goes through all these documents (can be done quite easily), the icon of the seventh window stays, where it was before the window change. The other big problem with this set of icons is that it is occasionally stealthily reordered (alphabetically by window title). This is not always the case, there is some LRU, but it happens often enough to discredit alt-tab as useful tool completely. A usable user interface should not produce either surprise.

Logout is quite surprising. Selecting ‘shut down’ in the start menu hassle shows one eventually a list of open documents and windows. In almost all cases this is unnecessary, and only demonstrates the inadequate level of functionality and performance, one really shouldn’t be watching as programs all file management windows open at the time.

Login is surprising as well. In WinXP, the file management windows are usually restored after login. Not so in Win7. One has to open all those windows manually. Also, like in WinXP, there is no straightforward way of indicating the system a desire to get some applications to open, like there is in OS X. This loses a significant amount of time.

There may be some positive, some negative aspects in the system I forgot. As a summary, however, the title of this rant holds. This system has received many positive review comments. I suspect that would not be the case without the complete, utter disaster of Vista.

As Windows 8 launch is approaching, the confusion seems to be only increased. Stuffing two completely different UIs into one system shows that Microsoft is totally lost philosophically.

© Jyrki Wahlstedt 2017