Some Changes Since Beta for the RC
We’ve been quite busy for the past two months or so working through all the feedback we’ve received on Windows 7. It should be no surprise but the Release Candidate for Windows 7 will have quite a few changes, many under the hood so to speak but also many visible. Some have asked if the featureset is "frozen" then what will we change--we change a lot of things in the beta based on feedback and we try to do so in a systematic manner with the focus on the goals for the release. The goal of having a fully functional Beta was to make sure we received reliable feedback and not a lot of "hey this doesn't work at all" sorts of reports. This has allowed us to really focus on delivering a refined RC where the changes we made are all the reflection of feedback we have received.
Building on the previous post that looked at the broad view of feedback, we want to start posting on the feedback and the engineering actions we’ve taken in responding to the feedback. We won’t be able to cover all the changes (as we’re still busy making them), but for today we wanted to start with a sampling of some of the more visible changes. We’re still on the same path working towards the release candidate and of course we know everyone is anxious for the next phase of our path to RTM. In the meantime, our full time machines are still running the Beta build.
Today’s post is from Chaitanya, who has previously posted on some of the core user interface work. --Steven
This blog post talks about a few of the improvements that will be in our Release Candidate (RC) based upon customer feedback. There are many under the hood changes (bug fixes, compatibility fixes, performance improvements, and improvements) across the entire dev team that we just don’t have room to discuss here, but we thought you’d enjoy a taste of some changes made by three of our feature teams: Core User Experience, Find & Organize and Devices & Media. The comments in this article come from a variety of verbatim sources, with identifying information withheld.
1. Windows Flip (ALT + TAB) with Aero Peek
We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback about Aero Peek and how it helps customers switch windows with increased confidence. Daniel wrote to tell us “I’m wondering why Peek was never implemented for the ALT + TAB window. The thumbnails look/behave the same way as the taskbar thumbnails when you hover the mouse over them. It seems logical that they would exhibit the peek behavior, too”. We decided to make this change since we heard many requests for it. One can still quickly flip between and cycle through running windows using the ALT+TAB keys, but when more window information is needed Aero Peek will appear. This is triggered by a time delay as you pause while keyboarding through running windows.
Aero Peek triggered from Windows Flip (ALT+TAB)
2. Windows Logo + <#> keyboard shortcut
Enthusiasts often ask us for more keyboard shortcuts to simplify their common tasks. Efficiency is key. We’ve answered with a very powerful new keyboard shortcut for the taskbar that may just alienate mice everywhere. Pressing Windows Logo + <#> (where <#> corresponds to an item’s order in Quick Launch) in Vista would simply launch the item. As part of our unification of Quick Launch with the taskband in Windows 7, we now beef up the shortcut so it can both launch and switch. For example, if IE wasn’t running in Fig 1 then Windows Logo + 2 will launch the program (as it did in Vista). If IE is running with a single window, the same shortcut will now switch to the program. The magic really begins when IE is running with several windows or tabs—holding down the Windows Logo and tapping the 2 key repeatedly will actually cycle through the open IE items off the taskbar (with Aero Peek, of course). Letting go simply switches to the corresponding window. Think of this as per-program ALT +TAB shortcut for the first 10 items on the taskbar. If you need a new instance for IE, simply use SHIFT + Windows Logo + <#>. A program’s Jump List may also be accessed via ALT+ Windows Logo + <#>. Finally, you can even flip back to the last active window of a program by using CTRL+ Windows Logo + <#> (this also works by holding CTRL with a mouse click on a taskbar button). Keyboard aficionados rejoice!
3. Needy State
“Needy window” is the internal term we use for a window that requires your attention. Since the ‘90s, the taskbar has always provided some type of visualization to alert the customer to this state such as by flashing the button. A careful balance must be struck between providing information and not irritating the customer. With the new taskbar, we received feedback that Outlook reminders or a Messenger chat sometimes went unnoticed because needy windows were too subtle. For example, Mudassir opened a bug to say “The flashing is not obvious enough to get user's attention. Sometime I don't even notice it. It flashes for a little bit and then stops. If I am away the icon flashes and stops before I come back. The icon is not noticeable.” We’ve made three changes that should address the issue. First, we changed the flashing animation curve to make it more noticeable (from a sine to a sawtooth wave). Second, we used a bolder orange color. Finally, we wanted to double the number of flashes which is currently set to three. As a nod to Windows 7, we decided to go with seven flashes instead.
4. Taskbar “Open With”
Quick Launch always supported the ability to drop a file onto a pinned program and have it open with that program. The new taskbar on the other hand, always treats a drop as a pin command. Drop a program and the program is pinned. Drop a file and the file will be pinned under its respective program’s Jump List and that program automatically gets pinned to the taskbar. It was important for us to keep drag/drop consistent. We believe that for most cases people will open files through the desktop by just double-clicking them or from the Jump List and the default program will open. However, there are some scenarios when a customer wants to open a certain file type with another program. We heard this feedback and decided to revive “Open With” drag/drop on the taskbar with a keyboard modifier. One can hold down SHIFT and drop the file on the desired program.
5. Taskbar scaling
We’ve reclaimed lots of space on the taskbar by unifying launching/switching, by collapsing open windows and by cleaning the notification area. Still, some have asked for even more room to pin the programs they use regularly. We’ve made a change to squeeze in 24-39% more icons before the taskbar scrolls; depending upon your resolution, icon size and assuming the default notification area. Table 1 illustrates the new button capacity before the taskbar begins to scroll as well as the capacity growth since Beta. We believe customers will find more than enough room to pin their common programs.
Maximum taskbar button capacity before scrolling
% Increase from Beta (large/small icons)
25% / 36%
25% / 38%
25% / 32%
24% / 39%
6. Anchoring taskbar thumbnails
Hovering or clicking on a taskbar button surfaces all the running windows for that program. Upon seeing a set of open thumbnails, Kozlow asked “How do I know which application has opened the thumbnails group?” In other words, the thumbnails didn’t appear visually connected to the taskbar. We made a visual update that now keeps the color hot-track effect on when the mouse is over a thumbnail. In fig 2 you can see that IE retains its blue Color Hot-track visual even though the mouse is over a thumbnail.
Color Hot-track stays active when the mouse hovers over taskbar thumbnails
7. Newly installed programs
“Customer in control” is so strong a mantra for Windows 7 we don’t even allow programs to pin themselves to the taskbar when they are installed. This is a task expressly reserved for the customer. We’ve gotten some requests to make this goal a bit easier so now when a program is installed, it is automatically and temporarily surfaced at the bottom of the Start Menu. The customer can easily discover this new addition, launch it directly and optionally drag it to the taskbar for convenient access in the future.
8. Jump List length
Jump Lists are proving to be a valuable tool to quickly jump to commonly access files, folders, links and tasks. Steve filed a bug in which he said “The whole point of the jump list is to make it easier to jump to your favorite locations. However, it doesn't save me time having to scan through a long list of frequent locations.” In other words, sometimes it’s hard to parse an item when the list gets too long. Our telemetry data informs us that in most cases customers are clicking on the first 10 items. Therefore, we’ve updated Jump Lists so that only a maximum of 10 items may be automatically suggested (this doesn’t apply to tasks or pinned items). Don’t worry—there’s even a setting for enthusiasts to customize the length of the list.
9. Increased pinning flexibility with Jump List
For organizational, scaling and identification purposes, the taskbar is designed to hold files, folders and links in a program’s Jump List. Items can only be pinned to the Jump List of programs registered to handle that file type. Based on feedback we’ve received we now allow one to pin items to a Jump List belonging to a program that isn’t registered to handle that file type. Better yet, pinning the item in most cases will create a new registration so that launching it from the Jump List will always open the file with that specific program. For example, one can pin an .HTML file to Notepad’s Jump List and when clicked on from the menu, the file will always open in Notepad even though IE by default handles the file type.
10. Desktop icon and gadget view options
Windows 7 makes gadgets far easier to manage, view and access by building them directly into the desktop. David’s feedback matches what others were telling us: “In Vista, I was able to hide desktop icons while my gadgets were still visible and available. I liked this feature in Vista, especially with all the icons that are constantly dropped on the desktop by app installers. I don't want to see the icons, but I still want to see my gadgets.” In Beta it was impossible to separate desktop icons from gadgets under the View setting available by right-clicking on the desktop. We made a change to afford independent control to each so that one can opt to hide just her gadgets or just her desktop icons.
11. Aero Peek for touch
We’re excited about Peek and we further refined its functionality. Our touch customers enjoy the benefits of direct manipulation, but inform us they feel left out of some of new functionality that’s available for the mouse and keyboard. We’ve made two improvements that spreads the love. First, the taskbar’s thumbnails now support a touch gesture so one can drag her finger across the UI and trigger Aero Peek. Also, the Show Desktop button is improved so a press-and-hold will allow the customer to peek at the desktop. A regular tap in both these scenarios still to commits the switch.
12. Multi-touch touch keyboard
A funny thing happens when one uses touch to interact with a software keyboard for the first time. The natural instinct is to press multiple buttons simultaneously like they do with a real keyboard. It’s quite reasonable to try to use SHIFT + <letter> to capitalize, for example. RC ushers in multi-touch support for the Touch Keyboard so that customers enjoy a more realistic experience.
13. Multi-touch right-click
People who are rely on touch give us mixed feelings towards tap and hold to bring up a context menu. This approach works, but it also involves a slight delay. We now have a fast new multi-touch gesture for right-click. Simply touch an item with one finger and use another finger to tap and summon a context menu.
14. Drag/Drop and selection
In Beta there was no discoverable way to select text in a website that scrolled both horizontally and vertically. Customers are now able to drag/drop and select items with touch, even inside scrolling pages. The new behavior is optimized for the two most common actions by touch customers—scrolling up and down and dragging left to right.
15. Internet access feedback
The new network experience from the taskbar’s notification area makes it much easier to find and connect to networks. People seem to also really like the wireless signal strength that is available at a glance. In our effort to simplify the experience we removed indications for some advanced scenarios. Based upon feedback, we’ve decided to introduce a new overlay icon which now reveals when there is a local connection without internet access.
16. User Account Control
If you’ve been following this blog, then you already know about a recent design change we’ve made that will prompt for any modification made to the UAC Control Panel. For more information, please refer to the earlier post on UAC Feedback and Follow-Up.
17. Locking a machine without a screensaver
It isn’t uncommon for IT administrators to want their corporate machines to auto-lock after a certain amount of time. In Beta, enabling this functionality required a screensaver to be set. We’ve since made a change to allow this functionality even when no screensaver is specified.
18. Faster access to High Performance power plan
Clicking on the battery flout from the taskbar notification area offers two different power plans: Balanced and Power saver. Windows 7 laptops are configured by default to use the Balanced plan since this setting best balances a good experience while promoting more environmentally friendly power use. However, some customers tell us they want to be able to quickly toggle between Balanced and High Performance (yet another power plan). We’ve taken a change to now show the latter in the flyout menu when it is enabled under the Power Options Control Panel.
19. Custom theme improvements
We’ve always known customers love personalizing their Windows experience. At the center of this expression of individuality are ingredients such as the desktop background, glass color, sounds and screensavers. In Windows 7 we’ve introduced themes that make it easy to enable a whole package of default combinations or for customers to save their own creations. However, during Beta we heard feedback along the lines of “I just changed my background or color and I see the change, but I thought it was saved when it really wasn’t”. We added text under each theme to not only aid in identification, but also to provide feedback on the state of a theme. The new “Unsaved Theme” text also ties better to the nearby “Save theme” command. These tweaks should make personalization a more predictable and enjoyable experience.
Windows Media Player
20. Improved Internet Radio playback
Internet radio playback continues to gain in popularity. We received feedback that sometimes playback of radio streams may be inconsistent depending on network conditions. It’s worth noting that our understanding of this issue was greatly helped by the broad scale of usage across so many customers and network topologies and our telemetry in the Beta. Windows Media Player has made changes to make streaming playback more reliable and resilient.
21. Improved playback support for video content from digital camcorders and cameras
Customers loved the increased range of formats natively supported by the Windows 7 Beta, but noticed areas where they wanted broader support. For example, one was unable to seek to a specific spot in the video in Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center for AVCHD content that was imported from a digital camcorder. We’ve addressed this. Also, while the support for video from some digital cameras worked great, we also got feedback about supporting a broader set of devices out of the box. We’ve since added support for Windows Media Player to natively support the .MOV files used to capture video for many common digital cameras.
22. Cleaner Now Playing view
Customers are sharing positive reviews of Media Player’s new light-weight Now Playing view. Still some have asked to make the experience even cleaner. We’ve responded with a visual update that is more lightweight and compact.
23. Filtering content that cannot be played
Media Player’s library view is designed to surface and showcase one’s content. However, in some cases items were displayed that couldn’t be played. For example, Apple’s lossless .M4A or .H263 MPEG-4 content would be shown in a library even though Media Player could not play them. In RC, this content will no longer appear in the library view so that there is better expectation of what is supported by the player.
24. Resume from sleep
Customers are used to resuming a CD or DVD after an interruption. With customers choosing new low-cost, smaller form-factor, machines without optical drives, an increasingly popular scenario is to have content played directly from the hard drive. In Beta, it was not possible to resume playback on such content after a laptop goes to sleep. Customers assume the experience should match that of physical media so we fixed the experience to meet this expectation.
25. Quieting Windows Media Player sync relationships
When Media Player is open and a portable media player or a USB drive is inserted, we trigger a dialog to determine whether a sync relationship should be created with the new device. Our original goal was to be proactive and help customers make a decision in context, but we received comments that this experience is jarring. As a result, we will no longer interrupt when the player is running. This is consistent with our “customer in control” goal of Windows 7 and we trust people can manually configure this should they wish to.
26. Easier access to advanced settings
What enthusiast doesn’t want to tweak her player settings? This was echoed by several comments so we’ve made it easier to access and adjust settings. The equalizer, play speed, SRS WOW and other options are now surfaced via the Now Playing context menu under Enhancements.
27. Jump List improvement
Media Player’s Jump List provides quick access to the content customers consume. The list becomes even more powerful and complete in the RC now that we also include items launched from Explorer.
28. Enriching the Device Stage ecosystem
Customers have been so positive about the new Device Stage experience, one of the biggest pieces of feedback we got was “Why aren’t even more of my devices supported?” We’ve taken that feedback to heart and then took the feedback to our IHV and OEM partners to get their support for more devices. Our hardware partners in turn asked us to make it easier to integrate with the Device Stage and we worked with them on improvements. Although Windows already supports tens of thousands of devices, customer feedback on the Beta introduces even more device support in RC via the new Device Stage experience.
29. Improving the headphone experience
Customers informed us that sometimes their audio streams did not properly move from the default speakers to their headphones. The fix required an update to the algorithm we use to detect new devices. In RC the transition works more reliably.
30. Increased audio reliability
In some cases people reported not having any audio device after installing Beta. The problem is that some audio hardware does not work out of the box with our inbox audio class driver. Amazingly there are over 26,000 custom audio drivers and while many are on Windows Update, many are still not. The Release Candidate tightens the Windows Logo test to better ensure clean install delivers baseline functionality for speakers and microphones. Furthermore, we will continue to populate Windows Update with frequently needed drivers.
Windows Explorer and Libraries
31. Improved header
It is great to see customers realize the convenience and power of libraries. Having files aggregated into one convenient view, without worrying where they are all physically located, simplifies many scenarios. The library header in Beta showed only a static string that reflected how many locations were represented as part of the library. We heard feedback that this wasn’t very clear and more importantly, customers preferred to have more information so that they could be better orientated themselves. The RC will introduce a new header that updates to reveal the subfolder as one browses a library. Furthermore, the “Arrange by” views are better expose in the upper right, in proximity of the other view and search controls.
32. Reduced confusion with drag/drop
The Release Candidate will remove the ability to drag/drop a folder into the Libraries node in the Explorer navigation pane. We know some liked this functionality to create a new library, but it also presented some serious design issues. For example, some were surprised to find a new library was created when their intent was to simply copy the folder. More seriously though, there were circumstances where people then deleted the original folder thinking it was already copied. Data loss is a grave concern of ours and we don’t want customers to suffer from such a mistake. Don’t worry though—one can still easily create a new library using the “New Library” or “Include in Library” commands in the Explorer command bar.
33. Reviving familiar entry points
Mando writes, “In Win7 the Win+E shortcut opens an explorer window but the path is “Libraries” instead (which isn’t where I want to go most of the time). Is there a way to configure the target folder of “Win+E” or is there an alternate shortcut that will get me to the “Computer” path like it did in Vista?” RC reverts the behavior and now the shortcut will launch the “Computer” Explorer. Also, we changed the link in Start Menu -> Username to match the Vista behavior.
34. FAT32 support
Local FAT32 hard disk drives were not support in libraries for Beta. RC libraries will now support non-removable FAT32 and NTFS hard disk drives thanks to the feedback we received.
35. Arrangement view enhancements
It’s been great to see people’s reaction to the arrangement views in libraries. Being able to browse using metadata certainly makes quick work of finding files. We’ve received many requests to further enhance the arrangement views in a variety of ways and we’ve made a number of changes in response to them. For starters, RC makes it easier to switch arrangement views—one can now do so directly from the view context menu, which is the familiar home of switching the view mode, sorting, and grouping. Second, the specific arrangement views themselves have been enhanced for RC. The “Month” and “Day” views in the Pictures library now group together both the pictures and videos taken on the same date, whereas previously the videos were split out into a separate group. The “Artist” and “Genre” views in the Music library now show the thumbnails for up to three unique albums per artist or genre instead of typically just one in Beta. The Videos library now features a Length view that lets customers split out the shorter clips from longer movies in their video collection. Finally, we’ve made it so that changing the grouping of the Folder view in a library is now remembered just like other arrangement view customization. People who prefer to see their files grouped a particular way no longer have to reset the grouping each time.
36. Improving performance through data
Feedback comes to us in many different forms. Typically it consists of comments customers share. However, some of the most valuable information actually comes to us automatically when people just use Windows. PerfTrack, for example, is a telemetry system that provides us with invaluable real-world performance data on over 500 different Windows scenarios. The exciting aspect of PerfTrack is that it represents what people are really experiencing “out in the wild”. Performance is a very important to both the engineering team as well as to our customers and we strive to continuously improve this area. The topic has been discussed in several posts on this blog.
Let’s look at just one example of a Windows scenario that was improved with the help of PerfTrack. The two graphs below show the performance of opening the Start Menu for both Beta and for a more recent version of Windows 7. Some caveats first—the sample sizes are different (after all Beta did go to a far wider audience) and these numbers shouldn’t be taken too literally since they really do just represent a snapshot. The different colors denote performance against the “interaction class”—the acceptable experience range defined by each feature team. In this case we want the Start Menu to appear within 50ms to 100ms. A trace capturing tool running on each machine lets us investigate and fix what may be impacting performance. The charts shows in Beta 85% of interactions were within the acceptable range (i.e. green or yellow, but not red). After examining the traces and making some optimizations, we find 92% of interactions are this range for a more recent build.
Start Menu Open Times for Windows 7 Build 7000 (Beta)
Start Menu Open Times for Windows 7 Build 7033
As is evident from this sample of changes, we’ve been very busy improving Windows 7 based upon what our customers are telling us in many forums.
- Chaitanya Sareen