The problem with Vista

Jeff Atwood notes the lack of polish in Windows Vista UI. Long Zheng has started Windows UI Taskforce. I agree - Vista’s UI has tons of polish problems.

You know, little things that would seem unimportant, but screams something like “I was made in a hurry by people who don’t really love me”. Aliased shield icon overlays? Check. Horrible screen flickering when logging in or UAC prompt pops up? Check. The infamous Shut Down menu? Check. Awful file copy progress dialogs? Check. Explorer window title bar sometimes displaying green progress bar inside of it for some reason I can never understand? Check. General lack of unified style for UI? Check. The list goes on.

But still, I wonder whether lack of polish is the real problem with Vista. From my point of view, lack of direction or lack of vision seems to be a problem of similar size, if not larger. What is the vision for Vista?

“Security!” is not a vision. However hard it is to make something secure, “more security” is an improvement in one area, and not a vision on what a product should be. And second, “security” does not explain everything else about Vista. At start, it looked like some architecture astronauts had some fancy visions, like “all your filesystem is a database now!”… Well, that did not end up in Vista, and it is something that users genuinely don’t care about.

I might sound like an Apple fanboy (and indeed, OS X grows on you after a while), but when upgrading from OS X 10.4 (Tiger) to 10.5 (Leopard) I had a pretty clear list of what will be more useful to me:

  • New version feels faster (on the same machine). I am not sure if it is actually faster; or it’s only a perceived improvement. Maybe they optimized something, maybe they multithreaded something, I don’t really care. It feels faster and smoother. That’s good.

  • Quick Look is amazing. A seemingly simple feature - press Space over a file to preview it. With added polish, like when pressing space over multiple images selected, you can go into slideshow mode. Simple, yet highly effective.

  • Spotlight (desktop search) that is fast.

  • …and so on.

Those are things I, as a user, care about. I want computer to feel faster. I want to instantly preview files. I want to search for something fast.

A filesystem that is a database? I can almost see the regular user salivating over that… Yeah right. Users don’t want a platform, users want useful features.

And this is where Vista fails - it does not have obvious new useful features or improvements. Aside from Direct3D 10 - which I am not using yet - all so called “improvements” just feel like gimmicks.

  • It feels slower (I don’t care whether it actually is faster but just feels sluggish). And yes, it feels slower on a quad-core CPU with 4 gigs of RAM and a fast graphics card, so no “Vista runs circles around XP on a new box” please.

  • The reorganized menus, title bars and layout of Explorer just scream “I totally don’t understand what users need” at you. Previews are too small to be useable, organization of menus and buttons is horrible, and the constantly fading-in-and-fading-out user interface elements (folders tree view) are just distracting. I dig the new Office 2007 UI and I can see some understanding of users and vision behind it (see Jensen Harris), but Vista’s UI feels like it was designed by a bunch of people who never talked to each other. And it’s not just lack of polish, the “design” of it is wrong.

  • The Sidebar? Again, an attempt at doing something that seemed good, but without any understanding. Yes, I know that Apple might have taken the idea and implemented it right, but that does not leave Sidebar as being useful.

  • The new skin? Oh come on. How many users did upgrade because window close buttons now glow in red when you hover over them?

  • Was there anything else new in Vista? I didn’t notice anything.

So this pretty much sums up my view on Vista. Zero new useful things, many annoyances. Microsoft, here’s you chance to execute it better next time around.