Fanbois designing Windows 10 – where's it going to end?

Redmond devotees may as well have demanded manga desktop wallpaper

Clicktivism and Win 95

Windows 95 introduced a taskbar which showed all the running programs, and all were visible by default. If you couldn’t see an app (as opposed to a background service or daemon), then it wasn’t running. But when lots of apps were running, this resulted in very compressed and unreadable taskbar buttons.

Microsoft tried to clean this up in Vista and Windows 7 with button grouping and scrolling. Buttons for older running apps may require an extra click to be made visible – but they were still somewhere on the taskbar, just out of view.

However, Windows 10 adds a new dimension with the introduction of virtual workspaces or multiple desktops. Apps might be running but not visible - which is something entirely new in Windows (the Mac has allowed you to hide applications, but Windows has minimised them instead, leaving some kind of visible stub). So the designers have to solve the question of whether an app running on a different workspace should be displayed or not. Did the absence of a stub mean the program was closed, or just not visible on this portion of the work space? Over the beta program, it’s tried both. Aul says the Insiders have voted.

It sounds trivial, and I think in this case, most Windows 10 users will be actually able to cope just fine. Despite the break in convention, Microsoft will still show a popup list of running apps. And Microsoft has much bigger problems with Windows 10 desktop – it’s still a long way from prime time, yet the company is publicly committed to a summer release. This means OEMs hoping to sell those back-to-school laptops will be disappointed if it isn’t ready.

The problem isn’t the decision per se, but that it was taken on shaky evidence. Microsoft stressed to me recently that Insider Preview feedback is just one part of the input into a decision. It still runs qualitative UX feedback sessions, too. But Gabe Aul has just demonstrated what really counts. Unfortunately.

Microsoft is fun to write about again these days, because so many cast-iron assumptions that ruled its business have been thrown away. Microsoft used to agonise over the loss of licence fee revenue all over its business.

But with Ballmer gone, it doesn’t care any more. At the Build conference, Joe Belfiore plugged a Windows 10 phone (licence fee: $0.00) into a display with a keyboard, and carried on, the phone substituting for a PC. The Office software (license fee: $0.00) dynamically adapted to the new display. That would have been unthinkable under Gates or Ballmer. Under the old regime, whoever suggested it would have either been sacked or sent to Siberia.

Listening to a tiny self-selecting sample has its perils too. Design democracy is a great buzzword – IKEA uses it – but like real democracy, it only works if every person has one vote. Skewed samples aren’t democracy. Back when the Insider Preview for Windows 10 was announced, I joked with Microsoft that the release would include manga wallpaper. After all, that reflects the Insiders' tastes pretty well.

Don’t bet against it. ®

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