Where I think Windows should go next

With the Anniversary Update out to the public, development has fully shifted to Redstone 2 at Redmond. Microsoft has already set their plans for the Redstone 2 update in stone (hehe), but here is where I think Windows should go next.

Note: I started writing this post before the Anniversary Update was even finished, so some of this is dated. There will be a little paragraph with “Update” if it wasn’t rewritten.

A more consistent and polished design

I’m not going to talk about how the Win32-based part of Windows and the WinRT-based part of Windows look completely different. That should be obvious. What I do want to talk about is the inconsistency between UWP-apps. All of the build-in UWP apps seem to follow the basic set of rules of a normal UWP app, however, they all seem to implement it differently.

A clear example is the hamburger menu. There are a lot of different styles: the MSN apps have a dark bar all the time with a colored line in the app’s color, while apps like Get Started use the same design but instead go with the accent color. The Groove Music app and Movies & TV app use a line to indicate the active tab and they take the selected theme color instead of the app color and neither is their rail always black. The People and Settings apps use a similar style, but instead of a line over the full height of the active item, it just covers the height of the text within that active item.

Meanwhile, the Skype app makes the rest of the app fade slightly to dark when the menu is opened and the whole menu changes color when doing so. And honestly, why isn’t Skype following any of the other design styles either? The Calculator on the other hand switches to a small version of the hamburger menu when the app becomes small enough, reducing the line height.

These are just a few examples and there are more out there in Microsofts own apps (the Office apps and 3D Builder for example). Point being, there should be some consistency here and the hamburger menus and rails of which they are part should all respond and act the same. Why are some wider than others? Why is it that some hamburger menus lock their large form while others collapse again when you click outside of them. And don’t get me started about the Microsoft Casual Collection of games that got their UWP “redesign”.
Update: meanwhile, we’ve already come to known that Microsoft is running a project under the codename Neon to improve its design language. Although we expect most of this top pop up in Redstone 3 and 4, some apps might already start showing these enhancements in Redstone 2 and earlier.

More settings in Settings

Another obvious change is that more settings should be moved to Settings. The good news is that the Anniversary Update got us a long way, the bad news is that the road ahead is still long. Redstone 2 will likely further improve on this, as we’ve already seen with build 14926, which unified the Wi-Fi pages across desktop and Mobile.

Now, settings being split between multiple interfaces is, despite it being a popular Windows 8/8.1/10 complaint, not something unique to these latest versions. In fact, the situation was already bad in Windows 7 and older versions. These too had their settings all over the place, in fact, I would dare to argue that Windows 10, especially version 1607, might have one of the least confusing settings-situation. Anyway, it is obvious that the Control Panel will one day have to go, but it is also obvious that that day won’t be around anytime soon. Keep in mind that the Control Panel was build in over 20 years, you don’t rebuild that in 1, 2, 3.

Either way, Redstone 2 is making more moves to this than just adding new settings. One of these changes is that the Win+X-menu (the menu you get when right-clicking the start button) now shows “Settings” instead of “Control Panel”. We’re getting there, but this will take its time.

Update: Ever since writing this, even more Settings got moved in the Insider Preview. It’s looking good. ChangeWindows has also something coming up to see which settings are available where. More on that later.

Unified start experience across phones and desktops/tablets

There is something very cringe-worthy about the start-experience. If you look at your desktop’s start and Mobile’s start as individual, you might not notice it. But if you put them next to each other? If you happen to know how the Windows 10 Mobile start menu works when using Continuum, you know what I mean.

My point here is, the phone and desktop/tablets have 2 completely different yet so similar start experiences. While the desktop has to miss out on transparent tiles and folders, Mobile doesn’t get groups and large tiles. And oddly enough, on both sides these missing features have been requested a lot.

So why isn’t start a shared UI between desktop and Mobile? This is perhaps the most obvious UI to build as a shared UI in an universal OS. Yet here we are, with 2 completely different systems. Why can I swipe to the left on Mobile to reveal the All Apps list and do I have to hit a button on the desktop? Why do I get all options for the apps when pressing the tile for a long time on the desktop, yet not on Mobile? I feel like these UIs should be unified.

fact, build 14942 made it even worse if you’d ask me. This build introduced the ability to hide the “All Apps”-list when using the start menu. The result is that the Tile-view and Apps-view buttons from the start screen also appear in the menu. However, they act differently. It would have felt more natural (if you ask me) to just fill up all space the start screen utilizes by default meaning with more than just 1 column, however, when clicking the Apps-button, it will jump to a 1-column design (similar to Mobile, but different from how the desktop already did).

Update: we now know that Continuum on Mobile at least is going to get a more desktop-like version of the start screen. We also know that build 14997 brings live folder support to the desktop.

Get rid of built-in Win32 apps

WinRT-based apps (UWPs) have taken over many of the important features in Windows and added a few new ones. However, not all of them have been replaced (yet) and even if they are replaced, the old Win32-counterparts are often left in the OS.

An example of this is Internet Explorer. I do understand why this is still there: enterprises often need IE. Enterprises. You know, there is a special edition of Windows for these guys. Why not make Internet Explorer a disabled feature in Pro and Home that can be activated if requested and leave it enabled for Enterprise? The same goes up for many other apps. Why is Windows Media Player still around (for non-Enterprise editions by default)?

Then there are these apps that don’t have a WinRT-counterpart like Notepad, Paint, WordPad (although you could argue for Word Mobile here), Snipping Tool, etc. Right now there is a Paint app in preview, but it is not yet part of the OS. For the other apps, there is no news. Snipping Tool is one of the few that actually got a new feature in a recent update to Windows.

And then there is the obvious one: File Explorer. Now, File Explorer is a very complex and important app and this can’t be gone lightly over. If File Explorer is replaced with an UWP, it has to be done right. However, I think that of all the apps that are still Win32-only, File Explorer might benefit the most. UWP has an extension model. Just imagen that: installing extensions from the Store to File Explorer.

There are rumors flying around that Microsoft is in fact looking into making File Explorer an UWP app. In fact, Mobile already has an UWP-version of File Explorer. A very limited one, that isn’t ready for desktop-use. File Explorer should reach feature parity with the Win32-version before it is even considered replacing it as the default.

Anyway, as many Win32 apps that are part of Windows should be replaced as fast as possible. This isn’t just to make the design of Windows more consistent, it also is to show developers that Microsoft is serious about the Universal Windows Platform. Perhaps even more importantly: Mobile would benefit of this too. Especially from a UWP File Explorer. That is basically the only missing piece to make Continuum a “true” PC on your phone (considering the features announced for Redstone 2’s Continuum update).

Update: meanwhile, the Paint 3D app has replaced Paint in the Insider Preview. And again, the Settings app has been eliminating one Win32 Control Panel after the other.

An eye for details

And then there are the small visual glitches in the UI. Ever noticed that when you hover over the Action Center-icon, there is a gap between the background hover and the “Show Desktop”-button? Well, if you hover over that gap, you’re still on top of the Action Center-icon. Why is that gap there?

Speaking about gaps. The start menu has some gaps of its own. On the top of the UI a number of pixels (let’s say 4px) are unused. The result is that putting your mouse in the top right corner in the start screen won’t actually be on top of the hamburger button. If you happen to use your start menu with one column of groups, you’ll also may know about the gap at the bottom of your start menu. There is a empty area left there. What is that? Well, if you make your start menu 1 column wide, the group-titles will take less vertical space. The left over space is put on the bottom of the start menu. Because reasons.