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If I Wanted A Lack Of Choice, I’d Buy A Mac

Joel On Software has a particularly heinous article decrying the shut down UI in Windows Vista. While the UI is terrible, and quite possibly the worst new part of the Vista Start Menu, his suggestions almost make you think he never actually uses Windows.

The main mistake Joel makes is quoting Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice”, which argues that more choice is too hard for our “exhausted brains”. Choice is the single biggest arguement between Windows and Mac systems, with the Mac built on the idea of doing something a specific and perfect way, and Windows built on letting the user decide how they want to do it. Redundancies and choice are the second most important reason to use Windows (the first being backwards compatibility), and without it, Windows would just be a Mac.

If you don’t understand that choice is important to Windows users, then you don’t understand Windows, and you aren’t fit to give advice.

Among Joel’s ideas: Merging Sleep and Hibernate. Really? Joel, do you understand the difference between the two? It isn’t trivial, and users complained about not having easy access to the hibernate function. This is very important. Sleep puts the computer in a temporary low-power state, similar to the old Suspend, and after a while, activates Hibernate mode. This is useful when going back and forth from the computer, allowing you to turn it on and off at will, with a one-second response time, but still forces the computer to go into a zero-power mode if you leave for a while.

While Sleep is a great mode, and the default way of shutting down Vista systems, it does not completely replace Hibernate and Shut Down. Hibernate is still necessary for laptops, since Sleeping the laptop and then putting it in a bag will overheat the system within seconds. Shutting down the computer is still something people do, and getting rid of that button would be just annoying.

Joel also argues that Restart should be eliminated, since you can just hit the power button. Really? Fifteen years of operating system research would have taught you that restart is there for a reason, and few Windows users would want that one to go away. You must have no idea how annoying most power buttons are, and how easy it is to hit restart and trust the computer to handle things from that point.

The one decent arguement: Eliminate the “Switch User” button. Hitting “Lock” is plenty, and the lock screen has a button to switch users. This is unnecessary, and only eliminates one click, as well as speeding up the user experience (try both, and you’ll see what I mean).

Plus, he claims that there are “fifteen different ways to shut down a laptop”, except that he includes in those fifteen different buttons that perform the same function. In fact, there are just seven ways, one more than in Windows XP, and that one extra is Sleep, a great new feature.

The final solution he recommends: Knock it down to just one button.

So now we’ve got exactly one log off button left. Call it “b’bye”. When you click b’bye, the screen is locked and any RAM that hasn’t already been copied out to flash is written. You can log back on, or anyone else can log on and get their own session, or you can unplug the whole computer.

So, now we’ve gone back to the dark ages of unplugging the computer to shut it down?!? Plus, laptop users have no means of quick-hibernating, users who want to switch users or lock the system have a 30-second countdown before the system goes to sleep, and there’s a giant stupid “b’bye” button confuses everyone who’s used Windows the last eleven years? Holy crap!


Lets be honest, you can’t eliminate Shut Down, and every office needs a dedicated “Lock” button. Laptop users won’t be able to move around their portables without a quick hibernate. Microsoft did the smart thing and left in all the choices, while still presenting users with just two buttons: Sleep and Lock. That’s not so bad, Joel, is it? Two buttons!

I agree that the expanding menu is awful, and should be replaced by a larger UX with big buttons and lots of descriptive text (like in Office 2007). However, the default options, which contain just two damn buttons, are perfect, and I’d like to see a better solution that doesn’t annoy 95% of computer users.

Operating system designers have to consider these features very carefully, because they are features used every single day. Those buttons will be clicked literally billions of times by Windows users, and annoying people billions of times is not something Microsoft has a strong desire to do.

November 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Vista | 2 comments
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  1. I don’t disagree with most of your points, but you’re taking kinda low-blow shots against the Mac here if you ask me ;) I know I know, you can’t believe that I’m defending the Mac’s, heh. While it’s true that Mac’s sort of force everything to look at least somewhat similar, I think the reason this is gaining popularity is because the windows platform developers (not Microsoft necessarily, but the software authors of other programs) aren’t doing enough to provide elegant, intuitive, nor remotely consistent UI’s.

    But like I said, regarding the rest of your points, I agree, he’s trying to boil it down too far.

    Comment by Matt | 11/22/2006

  2. Really? I think most of my shots are aimed at Joel. The Mac’s lack of choice, to Mac addicts, is a feature, not a limitation, and is a major reason to use the platform. I hate it, but I use it as a key diffrentiator, not a problem per se. It’s a choice computer users have to make, and, for Mac users, the last choice they make.

    It’s true, Windows developers do a really crappy job with some things. Some of the most important productivity software for Windows tends to have brilliant design, like Adobe Production Studio (Photoshop is still a disaster, you ask me), and Office 2007, while some critical software has awful design, like most IM programs and antivirus.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | 11/22/2006

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