Everything I Hate About Windows 7

This entry will probably come across as a bit long-winded, petulant and self-indulgent. It also contains many pejorative uses of the word ‘fuck’. I’ll probably edit these all out later on, but enjoy them for the time being.

Research companies pay good money for this kind of feedback.

So Windows XP only has one year left to live, so I guess I better get with the program (lol)
and upgrade to windows 7. Which I have done, converting my disused ubuntu dev machine into a shiny windows 7 one, which I suppose I’m willing to do now that it’s been made obsolete by windows 8.

I have, of course, been using Windows 7 for a couple of years now, but this is the first time I’ve installed it on one my own machines for software development use.

So as you know, humans act by responding to stimulus that they may or may not have encountered before, and this in turn allows them to create a mental model to predict what their local view of the universe is likely to do, given a certain amount of information about the present state of their surroundings and what they believe is currently happening to it.

Microsoft likes to throw you a curve-ball every now and again by creating an operating system that ostensibly allows you to do the same sorts of things that you used to be able to do, but makes it frustratingly difficult to do so by changing all the workflow, icons, menus, and other visual cues that might make that possible.

This is known in the trade, I believe, as “value-adding the product proposition”.

I know this is still early days for me, but there is literally nothing in Windows 7 that I don’t think is done more simpler, easier and better in XP. This is probably similar to my initial aversion to Windows Vista, but now hardware has progressed to the stage where the whole thing doesn’t run like a pig, so now I can just concentrate on the bits of the user interface that I despise. As an IT guy, I’m probably going to be spending a sizable percentage of my life staring at this thing, so now seems like as good a time as any for a bit of a whinge.

This is probably old hat for everyone out there who has been using their computer to photoshop pictures of cats for the last five years, but here is my personal list of the things that annoy me, which I shall represent in a numbered bug-id form so that the Microsoft UI engineers can sort, allocate and discard them. I’m sure they all had wonderful reasons for making all the small changes that went into the new version of Windows, but I reckon it’s culminated in a system which only a lobotomised monkey could use.

Anyway, here’s my list. Where do I start ?

W7UI001 – The start menu is fucked

The great thing about using an electronic desktop rather than, say, an actual, tangible, physical desktop (the sort that I am currently leaning on, for example), is that you can organise things in ways that you can’t in the real world. You can have these virtual things called “folders” which are a bit like folders in the real world, in which you can put other things in them and then find them later on. In your virtual folder, you can even put other folders, containing objects, which can contain other folders, which gets a bit unwieldly in the physical realm, but which computers can do quite nicely.

It’s one of their raisons d’être, if you will.

But no, says Microsoft, let’s throw that all out and just shove everything into one fucking search box. Because I don’t think a document containing the words ‘tax returns’ exists in 3000 different places on my machine or something. And I bet the computer can work out through osmosis which fucking one I’m after and put it on top of the little list of 7 files it thinks I might be interested in.

Also, why not reshuffle the order of the programs on there constantly ?

Trudging through the chads

Anyone out there who’s used VMS command-line programs are probably aware that on that system you can type the minimum number of characters required to distinguish between one command and a different command. So rather than typing, say, ‘DIRECTORYLIST‘ or whatever the hell it is, you can type ‘DIR‘, which is enough to distinguish between that and ‘DIDGERIDOO‘ (a.k.a. ‘DID‘) which turns your multi-million-dollar dot-matrix printer [1] into some kind of musical drone.

We don’t go in for that sort of thing in the 21st century, but back in the Windows XP days you could press Ctrl-Esc, then type the first character of anything on the first menu (say ‘P‘ for programs), then the first character of anything on the second menu (say ‘I‘ for internet), then the first character of anything on the third menu (say ‘G‘ for gopher), and then that program would appear. For this to work, I do have to take the small amount of effort required to drag a program after installation from the start menu heap into the category that i think it belongs in, but hey, this I can probably manage.

In Windows 7 I’d have to type in the word ‘gopher‘, view the constantly updating list of gopher sites that I frequent, ignore them, and try to find the gopher application that I use. (I like matzaj85’s Gopher Client for all my surfing needs). Which is annoying.

Anyway this emacs-like Ctrl-Esc first letter nonsense has been so ingrained into my brain after a lifetime of using windows that I find it extremely difficult to get into the whole ‘I have to bother paying attention to what windows thinks i’m trying to do rather than just telling it what I want to do‘ malarky that the new start menu has become.

Luckily, I’ve found Classic Shell so I can go back to my prehistoric start menu days.

W7UI002 – The task bar is fucked

Which looks more usable; this:

Brand XP
Brand XP

or this:

Brand 7
Brand 7

I’ll tell you which one. The XP one.

(A little while later…) OK. So I’ve managed, to make the windows 7 taskbar look like a bit better:

Task bar properties -> Taskbar buttons -> Use small icons + combine when taskbar is full
Task bar properties -> Taskbar buttons -> Use small icons + combine when taskbar is full

But why are all the taskbar bricks slightly different sizes ? Hmm ?

You might also note that I’ve opted for the ‘Windows Classic’ theme, which allows me to see the selected menu item in a pleasing white on blue motif, rather than selected menu items appearing almost identically to non-selected menu items. It would be nice if this didn’t take me all the way back to Windows 95, decoration-wise, but at least I can now tell which operation I’m about to perform before I do it.

W7 Basic theme
W7 Basic theme
Win7 Classic theme
Win7 Classic theme

◀ The same menu in Windows XP, Windows 7 (basic theme) and Windows 7 (classic theme). Guess which item is selected.

From this link, it appears that having menus that work is still an open-ended question in modern computer science.

W7UI003 – Networking is fucked

So something’s gone horribly wrong with your network, and you want to get back on the internet so you can google up how to fix it.

In Windows XP, I’d probably go Ctrl-Esc->’S‘, ‘N‘ (start menu->settings->network), look at the adapters, see which one was looking wobbly, right-click and select Repair.

In Windows 7, I’d type ‘network‘ into the start menu, find what option I think might bring up the list of network adapters, choose one, realise that it’s wrong but somehow get back to the quasi-web-page that the control panel has become, look around for anything that might have the word ‘network’ written under it…

incidentally, when did park benches becomes a representative icon of what a network is? I know the world found it hilarious when some senator may have suggested that the internet is provided through something that could be called a ‘tube[2] (rather than say a pipe, socket or a a tube-shaped cable), but a park bench? [3]

…click a few of those, find myself in some godforsaken troubleshooting wizard which helpfully tells me to do the equivalent of turning the machine off and on again, try a few more options, eventually find the goddamn adapter list, see which one looks a bit wobbly, right-click and select Repair (No, that’s been removed for some reason) right-click and select Diagnose, realise that doesn’t work, open up a command window with Administrator privileges, type ipconfig /renew and press Enter.

W7UI004 – Security is fucked

Give me just one example when clearing the entire UI and getting the person sitting at the keyboard [4] to click a button to say ‘yes, of course I’m an administrator’ before they can save their file has prevented something horrific from happening to their computer.

I’m all for having more “secure” computers (where ‘security’, I’ve found, is inversely proportional to ‘functionality’, which I might devote a separate blog entry to), and I’d probably opt for not having any of the list of Known Unknowns out there running on my machine, but I hardly need the machine going to DEFCON 4 whenever I try to save a password to a remote connection.

These days, in order to edit the httpd.conf file in apache [5] [6], I need to right-click the file, go to the security tab, change the permissions, add myself to the ACL with Full Permissions, and do the same to the parent folder. Not before spending half an hour fart-arsing about with text-editting programs that don’t bother telling the user that the file they believe has been modified on the file system hasn’t actually changed because of silent permission denied errors.

Which brings me neatly to…

W7UI005 – The filesystem is fucked

Why use the same directory structures as WinXP ?

I mean, we needed to screw things up for Program Files versus Program Files (x86), so lets go crazy and fill the hard drive with junction points and backward-compatibility shims just so that I can navigate to ‘Users‘ rather than ‘Documents and Settings‘.

Not to mention the half-dozen new and renamed application folders that you can tell people to pore through when they’re trying to find out how to disable the new user-friendly search functionality in thunderbird.

Okay, so ‘Documents and Settings’ may have been a poor choice of directory name, what with powershell scripts choking on filenames with spaces in them, but Jesus H Motherflipping Christ, can’t we just leave it be?

I guess the next version of windows will rename this again to ‘Home’ in line with office programs that now consider that word [7] eponymous with what used to be the standard toolbar.

So look forward to getting new emulation modes on your compatibility shims when that happens.

Oh and Microsoft, not really filesystem related per sé, but I’d rather you didn’t change your file operation animations so that instead of depicting files and folders visually as pieces of paper and folders, you throw away decades of computer user interface desktop metaphors and convey them as shimmering plates of glass instead. That way, you’re not liable to get people believing that there are spinning energy crystals inside their PC or something, Neal Stephenson style. Or was that William Gibson ? One of those two. [8]

W7UI006 – Office is fucked

Is anyone else continually intrigued how Microsoft manages to find new and exciting ways of violating their own user interface guidelines ?

I’m one of those people who, the first time they use Office (or at least, a pre-2009 version of office that has menus that are vaguely fathomable) is to go into ‘Tools -> Customise … -> Always show full menus’, which gives me the ability to find a component of the program in around the same place tomorrow as I found it today. Also, did you notice how I could tell you where that checkbox was in about 50 typewritten characters ? Try that with a fucking ribbon. ‘No first you go to the big unlabelled swirly icon, then to the picture of a rectangle with a downwards-pointing triangle next to it, no… downwards-pointing… no on the right hand side… no the green one. Oh, you shouldn’t be in review mode.’ etc.

I’m sure in time I will learn the symbols and ways of this new system, and spend many hours contemplating the nature of reality whilst smoking the peace-pipe of cloud computing, but for now I find the whole thing just fucking annoying. The zoom functionality is really smooth though, so points for that one. There’s half a million in R&D well spent or something [9].

Also, I keep getting this dialog popping up for no reason about having to run OneNote before I can insert a paragraph or something.

(I was going to put a screenshot in here but I can’t manage to replicate the issue. Here’s a link to some random forum post though.)

So to get rid of it and appease the Gods, I tried running this onenote thing, and holy mother of christ:

There are two more options under the "Get organized"(sic)  text, which you can find by using the white-on-white scrollbar on almost the right hand side of the window.
There are two more options under the “Get organized”(sic) text, which you can find by using the white-on-white scrollbar on almost the right hand side of the window.

On my admittedly passé 1920×1080 resolution widescreen monitor, I have to scroll to see the four options available to me because it needs to DRAW EVERYTHING IN 50 POINT TEXT. Which is a real boon to those people who use their computers from three houses away, but not great for those people who might want their information density to be something higher than the Logie-winning Australian drama Home and Away.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of error messages coming up that refer to the software in the personal plural form (e.g.: “We can’t save your document”). We ? What, there’s a team of gnomes in there or something ? It’s like the ghost of clippy has come back to haunt this thing.

Also, there are no ODBC drivers installed (I needed to download an Office 2010 redistributable package to get them).

Anyway, that’s Day One of using Windows 7. I’m glad I got that off my chest. I’m sure I’ll come to grips with it sooner or later and can get on with the task of writing software using the rapidly expanding and certainly useful APIs that it provides.

Although humble bundle has just put on another sale, so I might break out a few cents for that instead.

[1] or the MMD DMP in IBM parlance
[2] there’s a video clip somewhere of Jon Stewart (of Daily Show fame) boggling at the camera saying ‘tubes’ incredulously at another clip of Al Gore or Ted Stevens, but I can’t seem to find it. Goddamn internet.
[3] Anyway, there must be something tube-like about it, since I’ve received this error about three times whilst trying to type this thing up:

freerdp_load_plugin: failed to load rdpsnd_pulse/FreeRDPRdpsndDeviceEntry
wait_obj_new: pipe failed
wait_obj_new: pipe failed
[1]+  Segmentation fault      (core dumped) remmina  (wd: /mnt/bnenas01/work)

[4] or in the next room, since I still RDP into windows from a linux desktop.
[5] which I’ve installed under program files.
[6] Also good luck finding 64-bit Windows apache builds these days
[7] Home
[8] Actually, the inner workings of a modern positronic storage system probably does resemble spinning energy crystals more than pieces of paper, but that’s probably the wrong level of abstraction here.
[9] I jest of course, this probably took 10 mil plus, what with having to rewrite the rendering engine and all.

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