Monthly Archives: May 2008

Windows UI Taskforce: your help wanted

Update: Please visit the Windows UX Taskforce website to submit your entries.

Most of us who use Windows Vista have probably come across a couple of user-interface quirks during our times – some of which irritate you more than others, some are more obvious than others. With the development of Windows 7 speeding full-steam ahead, I thought this might be an opportunity as good as ever to make these problems known to Microsoft and hopefully get them all resolved.

Instead of going at it alone, I thought this is the perfect opportunity to harness the wisdom of the crowd. Therefore I’m asking you to submit any UI quirks you know of in Vista and I’ll help compile a list of them together, including but not limited to legacy icons, legacy styles and malformed layouts. Include with it a brief description of the problem (and possible alternative if appropriate).

I can’t promise you that all bugs will be fixed but I will push them to someone at Microsoft who has been said to “get things done”. Without a further ado, I’ll kick it off with a couple of examples.

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Windows 7 beta testing to be compulsory part of Windows Logo program, effective June 1 2008

There appears to be a lot going on behind-the-scenes for Windows 7 than meets the eye. Effective next week, June 1 2008, original equipment manufacturers who wish to get their new PCs certified by the Windows Logo Program for the “Certified for Windows Vista” label will have to get their hands dirty with Windows 7 when it’s available.

The policy document (PDF) writes,

Customers have a need to ensure compatibility with the new releases of the OS and that hardware (systems and devices) are fully functional after an upgrade. This will enable Microsoft and partners to evaluate the results and correct issues in the new OS and the associated hardware as part of the release plan.

Beginning with the release of the first beta of the next operating system, all Windows Vista client and Windows Server 2008 submissions must include a complete CPK with test logs for the new beta OS. The test logs generated from the beta OS are not required to pass. Issues with hardware, system BIOS or drivers must be investigated and resolved by partners prior to the launch of the logo program for the new OS.

The tests should be run after performing an upgrade from Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 to the beta OS. Testing on the new beta OS must be done with drivers that are intended to install on the beta OS.

Design and Implementation Notes

Beginning with the first beta of Windows 7 all Windows Vista submissions must include a complete CPK with test logs from Windows 7. The test logs generated are not required to pass.

Now for those who haven’t seen such poorly formatted tables before, I’ll just explain briefly what it’s trying to imply. This policy requires computers of all classification (desktop, mobile) for all purposes (consumer & business) and running all SKUs of Windows Vista (Home Basic, Home Premium) to comply with its “future requirements” when the Windows 7 beta is released. To comply, such OEMs much upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 and export a set of automatically generated driver test logs to submit with their application, regardless of whether they pass or not.

Whilst I don’t think the first beta of Windows 7 will come out on June 1, it’s a Sunday anyway, but this does mean throughout the Windows 7 beta testing process Microsoft will have a very thorough understand of what works and doesn’t work with Windows 7, probably far more than they did with Windows Vista. The end result should be much better degree of drivers compatibility by release.

Evolution of the taskbar in Windows 7 – “Superbar”

Some of you with a sharp eye might have noticed something very interesting on-screen during the Windows 7 multi-touch demonstration at the D6 conference yesterday. If you did, you might be curious to understand what you saw. If you didn’t, read on anyway. Update: The new taskbar is superficially called the “Superbar”.

Picture credit: Gizmodo

The picture above comes from the video feed of Julie Larson Green‘s (Vice President of Windows Experience Program Management) demo of the multi-touch picture browser demo app. The quality is a little rough, but you can easily notice a few things that are different.

The first being the taskbar is higher than usual, but not as big as double-height. If I were to guess, I’d say its somewhere around 1.75x-high. In the left corner, the Windows orb remains wedged “on top” of the taskbar – sticking its head out a little – instead of in the center like it is today in Vista.

The taskbar also appears ‘divided’ into sections by variations in the color (dark, gray, lighter) to indicate the different areas. Speaking of which, if you look at the far right corner, you’d notice that the tray (icons & clock) is not touching the edge of the screen, and there’s a small lighter gap. I have no explanation for this, but is well worth keeping an eye on.

A double-height taskbar in Windows Vista

Keeping the focus on the right, the tray is also different. The icons sit in the middle of the taskbar, instead of wrapping in two-lines like it does today, whilst the date now wraps on two lines instead of three. This clearly indicates this taskbar cannot accommodate three lines of text.

Most obviously the quick launch icons are now larger in size, but the icon besides it is not a quick launch icon instead an application. I’ve been told this particular Windows 7 build has rendering issues which is why there’s no label or text next to the icon, but there should have been. At the same time, the icon also should have been a smaller version of the “Live Preview” thumbnails you see when you hover over applications in the taskbar today. That would have been pretty sweet. Apparently that feature has been canned .

Now you would probably be wondering why I just spent so much effort writing about a taskbar, and the answer is because this is what Windows 7 is about. They’re going to take existing interface elements like the taskbar and give them a new coat of paint with some sparkles. Different enough so you notice them, like Walt Mossberg did.

During the demonstration (5:25) Walt asks “I can’t help noticing that the taskbar doesn’t look like the taskbar?” Julie responds with, “It’s something we’re working on Windows 7 and I’m not suppose to talk about it now today.” Shutdown.

Update: Guess those Windows “Start Menu” surveys weren’t all flash and no substance.

Don’t believe everything you see about Windows 7

In the midst of all the hype around Windows 7 news and affairs, CrunchGear and TechCrunch shows us how gullible some bloggers (and readers) have become. I would like to direct your attention to exhibit number one.

CrunchGear with the offending imagery, claiming without a sigh of doubt these are real screenshots of Windows 7. Their followup update somehow insists a Microsoft employee has told them these are “older version of the concept renderings”, how deep down the rabbit-hole are they going? Note: I’ve reshifted some of the images around to be clearer.

TechCrunch gives them their “seal of approval”. At the time of writing, now 925,000 RSS subscribers have been told these are “real”.

An example of where the third-party mockups originated from.

And another. In fact, all of the images are third-party mockups except the “version screen” which is not very interesting to begin with. For an article claiming to have “a ton of … screen shots of the current build of Windows 7” this is pretty ridiculous.

I don’t have much to say except if you’re reading a site with advertising, the writers are usually funded by advertising revenue. Thus, it is always in the best interest of most paid-per-impression writers to publish articles which gets them eye-balls, ad impressions, and thus income. Some writers hold a higher level of integrity than others. Without excluding myself from this rule, take everything you see here and everywhere else with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Speaking of myself, I wonder what I wrote last Saturday. Oh wait, I know.

HP HDX “Dragon” notebook giveaway starts today

The “31 Days of the Dragon” promotion to give away 31 state-of-the-art HP entertainment notebook PCs is nearing an end with over 16 lucky winners already chosen and only 8 more chances left to win.

Today this site is kicking off its giveaway in a slightly more traditional and chaotic manner with a simple random prizedraw. That’s right, if you were too lazy to write a story, take a picture or make a movie, this is as simple as it gets. But there’s a twist.

The first part of the giveaway is easy. Head over to the giveaway registration mini-site and submit your full name and email in the form provided. One person is only eligible to submit one entry. If duplicates are detected, you will be automatically disqualified. But if you really want to increase your odds of winning, there is a legitimate way.

To obtain a bonus entry in the giveaway, you will need to be using Windows Vista. Why? Because Vista users gets almost no love and are even shunned for using the latest technology instead of its 7-years-old sibling. It’s a shame everyone’s being suckered into a hate campaign devised by media companies to sell more ads.

Without rambling on too much, the bonus entry involves users to voluntarily participate in the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) of Windows Vista. No, this isn’t paid by Microsoft although I wished they did. I’m asking you to enable CEIP because it is really the easiest way for you as a general user to help Microsoft improve Windows (and other applications) without any work on your behalf. I for one have enabled CEIP on all of my PCs.

The data collected is entirely anonymous and secure. Some of the information they collect include performance and reliability metrics (ie. percent of time an application failed, average length of time it takes to complete an operation), usage (ie. number of notifications) and configuration (ie. most common processor speeds, distribution for screen resolution).

An example of an outcome from CEIP are improvements to User Account Control. “Vista used CEIP to track the real world UAC prompt frequency and the top reasons for UAC prompts. This data was used to make design changes that reduce UAC prompts in unnecessary scenarios.”

To claim your bonus entry, you will need to download a run a small 100KB application which verifies you have enabled CEIP. Special mention to Rafael Rivera for making this possible with an undocumented API call in Windows.

This site’s giveaway ends in seven days on the Sunday, June 1 and winner will be announced soon after. Good luck.

Update: The winner has been announced.

Windows 7 to make appearance at D6 Conference

A very tired little birdie who flew all the way from Seattle to Australia has chirped to me Windows 7 will be publically disclosed for the first time at the D6: All Things Digital Conference hosted by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher next week on May 27. The same conference where last year Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made a historical appearance together on-stage interviewed by Walt and Kara.

Whilst my chirp-to-English translation is a little flaky, it makes sense because the D Conference has been used in the past for Microsoft to make rather grand announcements such as the introduction of the Surface computer. This time round, both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer will appear together at the keynote so it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about the future of the company.

In addition to just discussing their ideas and vision, it’s rumored the event will actually involve a demonstration of Windows 7 in some fashion. Whether or not we’ll actually see a live build of Windows 7 or purely a technology demo of a specific feature remains a mystery, but it’s sure exciting.

In the past the conference organizers did not put up a live stream of the keynote so I doubt they will this year, however the event is thoroughly covered by bloggers and mainstream press so just keep an eye out on the morning of May 27.

Update: Videos from the event will be featured on the conference website here.

Update 2: The event organizers have just confirmed this rumor. “During tonight’s interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates, Microsoft (MSFT) will demonstrate Windows 7’s all-new user interface.”