10 Serious Vista Interface Gripes

03 September 2008

I’ve been using Vista at work for the past few months, and keep ramming my head into some flaws that I’m amazed could make it through QA. Not only through QA, but also through Service Pack 1! Here they are:

1) Saving List Mode Preference
Windows Explorer always goes back to the default large icons. I’ve tried checking and unchecking the ‘save folder preferences’ checkbox, as well as changing my preferences and clicking the ‘make all folders like this one’ button. Not that either of those options make a lot of sense in the first place. This is especially annoying in that it defaults to those huge icons in every save and open dialog, so I can see all of 2, maybe 3 folders. I would vastly prefer a default of “continue with the last-used setting” instead of their bizarre “custom settings for every folder on your hard drive” interface. Which apparently doesn’t work anyway.

2) Can’t Bring Explorer to Front
Clicking the bottom right of Explorer windows almost always fails to bring it to the front. Considering this is often the only visible part of a window, this is a royal pain in the ass. It seems like this must be intentional, considering I noticed it within the first week of using Vista at work. This one really baffles me.

Vista Explorer Corners

3) The File Menu is “Hidden”
Literally. Its there in every window, but you have to press “alt” on the keyboard to see it. This one took me a week to figure out as well. Substantial functionality is still hidden in these menus, yet there is no cue or clue that the menu is there. Even once you know about this, it forces you to use the keyboard to get to the file menu.

This may have, at some point in Vista’s history, been a legitimate attempt to simplify interfaces in the post-XP Windows world. Instead this is interface simplicity gone horribly wrong. Interfaces in Vista are more complex, with important buttons completely hidden from users.

MSN Hidden File MenuMSN Hidden File Menu Revealed

4) Virtual Desktops:
Seriously, what is this, 1998? VirtuaWin is the best substitute I’ve found so far. However it can be slow (this is on a Very fast computer) and many apps, including Microsoft’s own, don’t work very well.

5) Stuck Windows Key
This may not be Vista-specific, but I’ve been using Remote Desktop a lot to access other computers. There is a HUGE bug in Remote Desktop, possibly specific to the Vista client. The windows key gets ‘stuck’ down. This happens to me VERY reliably, as in a dozen or so times every day. As soon as I try to type in the remote desktop window, the shit hits the fan. Windows minimize, unminimize, apps I’ve never heard of start popping up all over the screen. Sometimes mashing the windows key will “fix” this, but often I have to run the On-Screen Keyboard accessibility app to “click” the windows key on and back off.

6) Graphical Glitches
Approximately bi-weekly basis I’ve been seeing graphics glitches of the sort I haven’t seen since the last time I had a graphics card overheat. Windows that won’t refresh, rainbow colors in the window decoration, and so on. I at first assumed this was specific to my computer, but my coworker has been getting it too. The only solution I’ve heard is “reboot more often”.

Vista Graphics Glitch

7) Hidden dialogs
I first noticed this with UAC when setting up my computer. I ran an installer, and waited. Figuring it was churning disk to unzip, I worked in another window for a bit. Checking back, it was still hanging. Well, it turns out the UAC dialog, among others, have a habit of popping up BEHIND other windows. How hard is it to tie a security dialog to the relevant window to keep it in front, so I don’t keep staring at this never-ending “wait” screen? The same thing has been happening in Windows Explorer when using it as an FTP client. A dialog pops up to say “Do you want to overwrite this file?”, then a split-second later, a dialog covers it saying “Calculating Time….”.

Hidden Dialog

8) Stuck Explorer Dialogs
I’ve had Windows Explorer freeze in a new and spectacular way. It pops up a dialog, and will even let me click “OK” or “Cancel” – it’s just that they don’t do anything. The dialog stays there. The explorer window itself is blocked due to the dialog. I can’t right-click the start bar to close it either. Maybe this is caused by one of the aforementioned hidden dialogs, but I couldn’t find one if so. Solution? Reboot!

9) Reboot
I mostly use my XP computer at home for video games, so this one surprised me, especially as part of the ‘new’ Windows: I have to reboot several times a week. This is due primarily to Windows Updates, and installing programs. Setting up this computer with software involved rebooting a dozen or more times a day for the first week. I had forgotten how bad this was with Windows. When I was using Linux at work, and my Mac laptop at home, I would go months without rebooting either one. Even when I would get frustrated by the frequency of Ubuntu updates (hint: I just set it to check less often than the default of ‘daily’) I could go a month after installing an update before rebooting. On Windows it makes damn sure you reboot, by pestering the crap out of you with a reboot dialog. I would go the Ubuntu route and do updates less frequently, but with the number and severity of windows flaws, I’m not too comfortable with that.

10) Surprise! Keyboard Stealing
Since the days of Windows 98 I’ve been frustrated by Windows stealing the focus from me while typing, injecting my keystrokes into whatever random window decided it deserved my attention. The most obvious example of this has been instant messaging, as evidenced by the bash.org quote. In the bash.org quote, a guy accidentally sends his grandma a message intended for his girlfriend that was…erm…”sexual” in nature. This problem expands far beyond simple “oops” moments. On one occasion I actually received my boss’ password in response the moment I sent him an IM. It’s also incredibly scary to be typing a sentence, and see a dialog window pop up and immediately disappear. What did I just hit “accept” (spacebar) to?

I’ve seen this handled in a couple creative ways. On the Mac, iChat will put new chat windows in the front, but force you to click “accept” (no spacebar) before it accepts keystrokes. In Firefox, the “Install Addon” prompt counts down from 5 before accepting keyboard input, presumably to prevent malicious sites from asking you to type in a text field, then quickly send an update request. One of my favorite parts of using Linux is the setting for “focus follows mouse”, which typically solves the Surprise! problem, while also adding some nice ‘features’ not possible on Windows or Mac. With all these solutions, you’d think Microsoft would be at least trying one of them.

I can understand why the masses are fleeing back to Windows XP. I was skeptical at first – if anything I thought Vista failed to bring any new features to the table, but that it couldn’t get any worse. After using it myself for two months, I was wrong. Vista breaks common interface conventions for no good reason, maintains major problems from XP, and introduces creative new problems. If this was at launch, I would be mildly annoyed, and expect the problem to be fixed soon. When I upgraded my laptop to the latest version of Mac OS X, their Spaces virtual desktop app had some issues. I was annoyed; They fixed it that week. Any guess when these major Vista flaws will be fixed?

This entry was posted on 03 September 2008 and is filed under Tech Support.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.