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 PostPost subject: Why the Windows 7 taskbar could be so much better.        Posted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 9:53 am 
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Fri Aug 18, 2006 12:10 pm


New Zealand
It has surprised me how easy it has been to adapt to the new taskbar used in Windows 7, close to how it surprised me how easy it was to switch to the fluent (Ribbon) interface of Office 2007, and similarly, how it would be very difficult to convince me to go back to the chaotic previous view.

Accepting that the new taskbar is good enough isn’t a ringing endorsement, however. There are some features that I haven’t really felt were the best route to an action. For instance, if there’s a document on my computer that I have done something with recently, but don’t recall whether I have previously opened the document with Microsoft Word or not, then the jump-list (drag-out taskbar menu) for Word seems a very round-about route to open that file; and if that document happened to be a PDF, then it wouldn’t show up under that menu at all, even though I was sure I was reading it just a few moments ago. Having a “Documents” icon, or a “Pictures” icon, which worked as a way of accessing recently opened documents or images independent of what application they had been opened with (or if downloaded/copied recently, which application had done that action). Having the jump-list feature tied to specific applications, instead of the actions that the links perform is disappointing, focusing on the actions not the tools is something that was done well in Windows Vista, and this feels like a step backwards in terms of that focus.

The next issue I have is the fade in, fade out effect of the taskbar icons. Although I’m sure it would be possible to turn these off, this eye-candy is one of the few pieces of the operating system that I would describe as annoying... it feels like one second of lag. I’m sure if Microsoft extended this effect to the start menu it would not go down well at all. Back in November when I first used the Operating System I got a buzz from being able to pause, resume and play Windows Media Player from the icon, however I never caught on to this, for exactly the same reason, it’s quicker to just switch focus and hit the respective button.

On numerous occasions I have also encountered a situation which can be explained because the Operating System is still in beta phase, where the jump-list’s close link doesn’t respond. When “close window” is clicked, too often nothing happens; fortunately the jump-list itself still responds, and when focus leaves it, the menu fades away. A possible reason for this is that Windows 7 is most likely sending the default close command, which does nothing to many non-responsive applications, weak compared to the pick-it-up-and-smash-it-against-a-wall style force close used in Linux, Mac OS X, and one of the earlier builds of Longhorn if I recall correctly.

I wouldn’t go as far to call the new grouping feature more organized than that of Windows XP, as it feels more like it hides clutter rather than notify the user they’ve got a mess, primarily I have the issue when doing an Internet search, where I have the habit of opening many possible relevant results in new tabs, then find what I want and forget about the rest. This was fine when the web browser window containing those left-over frames was just one window, but now the other six or seven tabs from yesterday’s trivial pursuit are cluttering the vista of the two or three relevant web pages, turning it into a long list of irrelevant links, similar to the results given by Windows Live Search, which isn’t bad, however it’s not an ideal window browser.

Another visual disruption I've seen is that the taskbar preview of (for example) Internet Explorer displays a cached screenshot of open tabs that are not the tab currently being viewed. That screenshot doesn't change until the tab is viewed (and subsequently the cached image is updated). Probably not that bigger deal, but this is more obvious when hovering over a taskbar preview; here the Operating System shows a cached full-screen image of a previewed window, rather than a real-time preview - this is a real kill-joy, and doesn't help for watching progress bars on multiple pages and the likes. If the preview had some emblem that it was a static image it would solve this issue, but it doesn't. For an example, in an environment with slow internet access the taskbar should be able to be used for monitoring the progress of pages being loaded, but when this is attempted the previews are out of date, and the hover-preview is decieving.

The final concern I have with the new interface is more concept-based rather than technical, when a computer game which uses the mouse to move or view is used in windowed mode, there are issues where Aero Peak shows the desktop gadget view when the user really meant to change their view in-game, this has been a nuisance, but games which grab the mouse cursor (hiding it or the likes) are designed to be ran in full-screen mode, and I don’t see many people finding this issue annoying.

I’m sure Microsoft will probably change a small section here or there, but I don’t envisage masses of surface changes between now and Windows 7’s release, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as some of the points I’ve made above aren’t exactly show stoppers, and the new taskbar is definitely a welcome enrichment of the Windows Operating System.

Source: Blog repost


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