In December 2008, I wrote an editorial describing how Microsoft’s efforts to simplify Windows were making it harder to use.
Sound familiar? It should: Microsoft is doing the same thing right now, with Windows 11, and is being even more aggressive than it was back in 2008 when Windows 7 was still in development and Microsoft was hoping to fix the problems with Windows Vista.
That alone makes this an interesting read. But put in historical context, we also see here the beginnings of the problems that would later doom Steven Sinofsky: a “not invented here” mentality in which he tried to erase any influences from his predecessors from the product and put his own stamp on it, a crazy Apple envy that would see Windows later fall off the deep end, and a rejection of the team’s publicly-stated reliance on telemetry data in favor of non-discoverable user interfaces that couldn’t justify their own existence.
I considered adding this to my Programming Windows series, of course, but this is more editorial than historical overview. Something I’m having trouble with during the Sinofsky years, of course. He was terrible.
Anyway. Here it is, with just a few context-related notes. Think about what’s happening now with Windows 11 as you read this.
Windows 7: Simple, Easy, or Something Else?
I'd like to expand on something I wrote last week in the SuperSite Blog and discussed in the most recent episode of the Windows Weekly podcast, taking into account feedback I received from both readers of the blog and from some Microsoft employees who wish to remain anonymous. I'm referring of course to Microsoft's decision to finely tune every nook and cranny in its upcoming Windows 7 operating system in a bid to dramatically simplify the system. This work is valuable and necessary. But I'm worried that Microsoft is turning Windows into an OS that is far more like the Mac than previous Windows versions. And that's not necessarily a good thing. That's because Windows 7 is turning into something that is simple, but not easy.
OK, let's step back a bit.
When I think of words that are overused in the computer industry, "intuitive" is the first one that comes to mind. In fact, the word intuitive is tossed around so frequently these days that we've lost sight of what that word actually means. Let me be clear: There is no such thing as an intuitive computer user interface. Instead, today's OSes rely on a certain level of familiarity on the part of the user. Most people have now grown up in a world where computers are commonplace or at least available, and babies are taught to map the motions of a computer mouse to the onscreen cursor at the same time they're learning to speak and walk. But we don't come out of the womb computer ready. It's a skill that's learned, not something innate or obvious.
Early attempts at making computer UIs more intuitive resulted in the desktop metaphor we still use today, leading me to tangentially wonder if...
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