Monday, February 16, 2009

Windows 7 GPEDIT Changes

I really like, no LOVE, Windows 7.  I wish I was paid to say that, but I can assure you I wouldn't be driving what I drive if I were.  Like Vista, it is packed with tons of little feature improvements all over the place.  Some are really noticable, like the new Taskbar, Start Menu, and so on.  Some are more subtle, but to some people, like me, when they stumble on them we get a big surprise.  For others, they couldn't care less.

One example is the age-old Local Policy editor: GPEDIT.msc.  At first glance, it looks identical to Vista's implementation.  However, when you double-click on a setting and it opens the properties dialog, you will see a huge difference.  The dialog form is completely redesigned.  At first I thought it was nice.  That soon faded to "interesting", but then my years of software engineering and UI thinking patterns bubbled up and I started wondering if it was even given real design consideration, or just thrown in ad hoc.  Technically speaking, not subjectively, objectively, it is flawed.  Minor?  Trivial?  Arguably: yes.  But flawed it is.

Take a look...

There are quite a few major improvements over the dialog form provided in Windows XP and Windows Vista.  Combining multiple tabs on one "panel" is helpful, but there's a few UI goofs.  See anything wrong?

If you stare at it long enough you should pick out at least three rules of UI design broken.  These are UI 101 rules by the way, nothing "advanced".  Here's a "Dave Version" below to compare with.  This is not implying that MY version is "correct".  There is no *one* "correct" way to design a user interface.  This is simply ONE way.  But it's enough to contrast with the actual implementation to highlight what could be improved.

Need a few hints?  Note the relocated "Previous" and "Next" buttons.  Note the expanded region for the caption text (e.g. "Always open All Control Panel...") along the top.  Note the expanded region for the text box under "Comment:".  Most importantly, these changes were easily made within 30 seconds and without modifying the other form objects nor the overall size or aspect ratio of the form panel itself.

On one hand, I have to allow Microsoft some wiggle room because this is a "Beta" release and things like this are par for the course.  However, as many have also said (complained?): Microsoft isn't treating this "beta" like past "beta" programs.  The bi-directional communication channels are actually unilateral this time around.  This beta is being handled more like a typical Release Candidate (RC), so going on that assumption, which seems to be widely accepted, I doubt this "feature" will see any significant improvement between now and the RC or RTM milestones.  But who really knows?  This is just one thing I find interesting and a bit surprising as well.
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