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Behind the scenes with Windows 7

Associated Press writes something that reads like a Microsoft PressPass feature, so much so that I checked to make sure it wasn't. Look, we all occasionally provide a forum for Microsoft to provide its position, but where's the commentary? This is just a rote reprinting of information provided by Microsoft:

Behind the scenes: Why Microsoft made the changes you'll see in Windows 7

Curiously, it didn't involve features post-its scattered around dart board.

To design Windows 7, Microsoft analyzed billions of pieces of data. It studied exactly what PC users do in front of their screens. It tallied hundreds of thousands of Windows surveys. It got feedback from people all over the world who tried different versions of the software.

As a result, every change or new feature in Windows 7 comes with a back story. Here is a sampling of things you'll see in the next operating system and explanations of how each came about.

This should be fun.

New feature: You decide the left-to-right order of icons in the task bar at the bottom of your screen.

Back story: Microsoft's research showed Vista users commonly launching a series of programs, then closing and immediately reopening some. Microsoft realized that these people wanted their programs to appear in the same order on the task bar every time.

So. This isn't all that dramatic, but it begs the question: Why didn't Microsoft logically extend this functionality to multiple workspaces, so true power users could be even more productive? More important, it reveals something about Vista users. They are really stupid if they were seriously doing this.

New feature: Right-click on a task bar icon and get a "jump list," a menu of important or frequently used options for the program.

Back story: Microsoft had resisted the idea of hiding a key feature behind a right click, worried people wouldn't find it. But the data showed most people right-click on icons to see what that might do.

Allow me to be the first to call BS on this one. We're supposed to be believe that Windows users are alternatively dumb enough to close and reopen programs so that icons appear in a certain order, but smart enough that they just right-click everything looking for new features? If this was true, the Office 2007 ribbon UI would never have been necessary, because users are hunting and pecking for new features all the time. And yet, the majority of Office new feature requests over the past several versions has been for features that were already in the apps? Curious.

New feature: Drag one open window to the left side of the screen, then another to the right side to line them up so they are the same size and side by side.

Back story: Microsoft couldn't initially figure out why people were spending so much time resizing windows and dragging them around. It turned out that users were trying to give themselves a side-by-side view of documents for easy comparison.

So, this is an example of a feature that was already in Windows. (CTRL + click the taskbar buttons, choose Show windows side by side.) But in an Office 2007-like way, they surfaced it in a more obvious fashion. So this does make sense. It makes plenty of sense.

New feature: Libraries, or virtual folders that have shortcuts to files that are actually stored in many different places on a hard drive or home network.

Back story: From its Vista data, Microsoft could see people's photos, music and other files were swelling in number and stashed all over the place, not organized into the dedicated folders Microsoft had set up.

Microsoft first scaled back and then finally canceled this very feature in Windows Vista because its technical beta testers found it too confusing. I'm curious why its less confusing now. And really curious to see how users are going to handle Libraries that monitor multiple locations, including those on a network. The copy vs. move stuff alone is mind-boggling. But apparently the typical Windows user is more tech savvy than I expected. After all, they're right-clicking all over the place.

New feature: "Shake" an open window with your mouse to make all the other ones "minimize" into the task bar.

Back story: Microsoft's research showed that people often had six or even 10 windows open at once, which gets distracting. Shake is one of several features designed to help people tame all the open windows.

Microsoft's research never showed anyone shaking a window in frustration I bet. This is a dumb feature.

New feature: Move your mouse to the bottom-right corner to make all your windows temporarily transparent. Then click the mouse, and all the windows minimize.

Back story: What's notable here is what Microsoft didn't do. There's no tutorial or bubble advertising the feature, a small step toward making Windows 7 quieter than Vista. "We want people to confidently explore the system," said Sam Moreau, a user experience manager.

It does gives me confidence when all of my open windows disappear suddenly, so this will be fun for users.

Look, I do applaud Microsoft's efforts to make Windows 7 less "noisy" than Windows Vista. But as I've already explained, it sometimes goes too far (simple vs. easy). For example, Windows 7 hides tray icons that appear automatically when you boot. But it offers no indication that they're starting and using up resources, and provides no way to remove them. You know, a notification to that effect might actually be useful.

Obviously, the work Microsoft is doing with Windows 7 is good stuff overall. But I still find the excuses reasons for many of these features to be a bit of a stretch.

Consider: You may like or dislike the Office ribbon, but at least the reason for it is valid: "8 of our top 10 feature requests are for features that are already in Office. We needed a way to surface these features more obviously to users." In Windows 7, it's often the reverse reaction for me. I find myself not agreeing with the methodology at all. Shake an application window? Hide that applications are starting up? Make it next to impossible for users to figure out how to open a new application window when the application is already running? (Middle click??? SHIFT-click?) It kind of goes on and on. I suspect that Windows 8 will do a lot to smooth out that stuff, because Windows 7 in many ways is too radical of a reaction to Windows Vista.

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