Windows 8: What Should Be, if You Ask Me

By  |  Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Last week, a passel of leaked PowerPoint slides appeared to give a sneak peek of Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8. (I should call them “alleged Microsoft PowerPoint slides” or something, but Mary Jo Foley and Ina Fried are accepting them as the real deal–and that’s good enough for me.)

Among the features mentioned: A new technology for superfast startups (a perennial boast of new versions of Windows dating at least back to Windows 98), multiuser login via face recognition, an improved help system, and a tool for restoring Windows to its original settings without munging your data. The company would apparently like to help PC makers build machines that have some of the “it just works” reliability associated with Macs. (It turns out that consumers are willing to pay for a better experience–apparently, the price premium that Apple commands is about more than unicorn tears.)

It would be a mistake to take the leaked slides as a definitive guide to the upcoming OS: Windows 8 is still early in the development process, and the details in the deck were prepared to address early questions from hardware types, not to serve as an overarching prospectus. And Microsoft’s early pitches for forthcoming versions of Windows usually haven’t been a terribly reliable predictor of the products it’s actually shipped–just ask anyone who took the initial scuttlebutt about Vista very seriously.

But thinking about Windows 8 left me mulling over what I’d like to see when the the OS (which may well be called something other than Windows 8) arrives. Here’s my quick wish list–I’m assuming that Win 8 will still be recognizably Windowsesque rather than an utter reimagining for the Web era

A Windows that’s like Windows 7, only more so. Windows 7’s streamlined simplicity and emphasis on staying out of your face makes it one of the best Windows updates. But lots of opportunities remain to take the same idea further, and to fix remaining annoyances. One thing that drives me bonkers: If an application in the Taskbar is trying to alert me, the Taskbar won’t minimize even if I’ve set it to automatically hide itself…which often leaves it covering up the bottom of an application I’m working in.  The alerts are rarely urgent, and it’s sometimes tough to figure out which app is doing the alerting. So when I set the Taskbar to autohide, I want it to autohide. Period.

All in for tablets, or not at all. The leaked slides talk about Windows 8 being designed to run well on three primary types of computers: laptops, all-in-one desktops, and slates (aka tablets). It’s the last category that worries me. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to design a top-notch tablet OS unless it’s designed only to run on tablets–and 98% of existing Windows software assumes the existence of a physical keyboard and a mouse. Suggestion to Microsoft: Build excellent tablet-friendly versions of Office and other key apps, and devote a ton of effort to helping third-party developers tabletize their programs.

More Web integration. Google Chrome has a clever feature which lets you iconize Web apps like Gmail so you can launch them from the Start menu and they look more like traditional apps. Microsoft should swipe the idea and build it into Windows–and pursue other ways to blur the lines between desktop software and Web-based service a lot more than it’s done to date.

Some silver bullet for security management hassles. On a day-to-day basis, the single biggest difference between using a Windows computer and a Mac isn’t that Windows types are more likely to suffer devastating security breaches. It’s that they spend more time futzing with anti-virus utilities and other security software. The worst ones are a horrendous timesink, and even the best ones demand more of your attention than they should. I’m not sure what Microsoft can do here, but I think it would be very much in its own self-interest to address the ongoing drudgery of Windows security.

No half-baked features. Microsoft, much more than Apple, has a tendency to add stuff to operating systems that never lives up to its potential and sometimes turns, over time, into annoying cruft. (Windows 7’s Device Stage leaps to mind.) Fewer but better features wouldn’t be a bad mantra for the upgrade.

A really good version of Internet Explorer. Yes, it’s easy enough for anyone who wants to switch to Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Flock, or any other browser to do so. But the teeming masses who will use whatever browser Microsoft provides deserve to flourish, too–and technical advancements like HTML5 can’t change everything unless IE supports them. Microsoft’s technical previews of Internet Explorer 9 look impressive, but it still hasn’t released a full-blown IE9 beta–so it’s premature to form any real opinions about the browser that’s likely to come bundled with Windows 8.

Data recovery done right. The backup features built into Windows are usually disappointing. Or they don’t come with every version of the operating system. Or both. First-rate data protection should be an unalienable right of operating system users. I’m not saying Microsoft should clone Apple’s Time Machine–it’s not free of its own gotchas–but it should take the challenge as seriously as Apple did.

Okay, that’s enough wishing for now. Got any additions for this list–either mundane practical ones or pie-in-the-sky stuff?



34 Comments For This Post

  1. ediedi Says:

    i wish for simple things: reliable safe remove of USB drives, better font rendering and low system requirements.

  2. Email Lists For Sale Says:

    If they keep messing up with easy stuff like that, they're gonna get in trouble.

  3. MadeOfEyelashes Says:

    1. A good notification system that 3rd party applications can use (ex: iTunes would show songs and allow you to skip, AIM/MSN would show who signed on, ect….)

    2. Software Store that updates programs. It seems that Microsoft wants to implement the software store, but for it to be successful it needs to be able to update programs (ex: Linux)

    3. Multiple desktops (ex: Linux)

    4. Smaller as in how much hard drive space it originally takes up. There is no reason for an operating system to take up that much room.

    5. Tabs in Windows Explorer (such as it is in Web Browsers)

    6. Group icons together on the desktop (ex: the program Fences)

    7. Gaming Mode. Turns everything off except the essentials so that gaming performance is improved.

  4. Nick Ver Voort Says:

    I just want a desktop OS with a notification bar like Android. Growl for Mac OS is nice, but a first party solution would be nice, and one where the notifications don't fade away once viewed and are gone forever. Basically I just want Android's notifications copypasta'd.

  5. Jeff Says:

    How about removal of activation. Everytime you upgrade hardware, you have to reactivate again. I hate this poorly baked copy protection scheme. It only irritates legitimate users, not pirates.

    Especially developers who are notorious for changing their systems regularly.

  6. @NikolaSivkov Says:

    "and 98% of existing Windows software assumes the existence of a physical keyboard and a mouse." this is where you are wrong , you are forgetting that windows 7 is TOUCH ENABLED , and you can successfully use the OS without keyboard and mouse , bonus points if the 3-rd party app you are using is touch enabled 🙂

  7. ahow628 Says:

    I can't even believe they made a 32-bit version of Win7. If they make a 32-bit version of Win8, I give up. There is no reason and better 64-bit support isn't going to truly happen until they cut 32-bit out of the picture.

  8. ZeroPlex Says:


    I'm pretty sure the feature about 3rd party applications using the notification system is built into Win7 at least partially. Your example of iTunes works in Win7. When I mouse over the itunes icon in my taskbar, it shows what song is playing and allows you to play/pause or skip tracks.

    I'm also all about a gaming mode for windows. Ever since I've heard the idea, I've thought it was a great one.

  9. Abel Braaksma Says:

    I'd really love to find out Microsoft's licensing model changed: install, on the same physical machine, as many virtual windows installations as you wish plus a free Windows Starter edition.

    Please fix search, for once and for all (using dir /s is still miles more reliable than build in search, with or without indexing).

    And the most sorely missing feature in all Windows versions so far: sandboxing. Windows has improved a little bit with System Restore, but that's very time consuming and error prone. I just open a (half)virtual Windows 8 and do whatever you like without actually persisting anything. This could enhance safety but also makes developing new apps, trying trialware or suspicious ware a piece of cake.

  10. Chamin Says:

    An operating system should be free (as in free beer)! But there is no way that Microsoft provides this.

    I will buy Windows if it is reasonably priced like Mac OS (I know MS cannot cover the money from hardware like Apple does, so this is another no).

  11. some Says:

    You forgot the most important, finally ditch the 32-bit architechture

  12. brian Says:

    They have done this in the server OS and as i've heard don't plan to release any future 32-bit client OS's either.

  13. Will Raresheid Says:

    All Progams and all child folders shouldopen up by hovering the mouse

    Same with IE Favorites, it all should open with a hover and not just a click.

    The Navigation pane is a mess, we should be able to rearrange things over there as we need them (and remove them), put stuff we use most on top, like Computer.

    Allow us to put hard disk and network files and folders in Favorites and have them 'cascade' or open as we hover, like the XP Favorites.

    Why o why does the Send To not allow folder nesting anymore, 7 made this awesome feature a stunted freak.

    Get rid of the idiotic and possibly incriminating Thumbs.db files and databases. There should be a setting that allows Thumbnails to be used but does not save them anywhere we are not expecting them to be.

  14. Vic Rauch Says:

    I want an OS Backup routine that will actually backup user information, like the Outlook datafile! I like leaving my computer (home office) on all the time so backup can be scheduled at night when I'm asleep. But the Outlook datafile will not be included unless I close it before going to bed. Why not just copy the datafile as is without having to lock it?

  15. Screenless Says:

    I only have Vista installed, so maybe hey have fixed this in Windows 7 …
    Do not open an application on a non-existent screen! I have a laptop that moves between home and the office. When I'm done for the day, I just close the lid of the laptop. At the office, I have 2 screens. When I go home and click on an application in the taskbar, the application opens up on the (non-existent) second screen! I usually can move the application onto the laptop screen, but if the application opens up an immovable modal box I'm stuck.

    In a similar vein: have a display preference that says "If there are 2 screens, automatically make the larger screen the main screen". Everytime I come back to the office now, I have to reassign my main screen.

  16. Jim Miller Says:

    One simple feature that I've been looking for….. the ability to run anti-virus scans on shut-down! Let me set off that hour-long (or so) deep scan as I quit for the night, and let the function shut down my PC when it's finished. To my mind, this would be a better scheduling point for scans anyway…it could be added to the scheduler of your favorite anti-V. Maybe some already provide this, but I've never seen it!

  17. Robert Says:

    I don't want new features expcet for RELIABILITY. I want the mouse pointer NEVER EVER EVER to get lost. I want task manager to ALWAYS be available, and I want it to tell me what all thosemyriad of processes belong to, so I can easily work out what to stop/kill/uninstall.

    Make a system that is maintainable, even for relatively non-technical people, and where you should expect NEVER to have to reinstall windows. This seems to be the opposite of what they are proposing, where they are going to make it much easier to reinstall windows.

  18. doco Says:

    How about none. Its all about soaking the consumer with the next – $400 – $500 upgrade. I have seen absolutely nothing in Vista/Win7 and/or Office 2007+ that I could not live without. Its all about money

  19. Anonymous Says:

    1) A faster filesystem
    2) optimization for better hardware architecture

  20. jltnol Says:

    All this is nice but the one thing no one has mentioned to to jettison all the backward compatibility. No doubt Windows needs the same type of revolution that OS9 to OSX was for the Mac. They started with a totally new system, then figured out a way to add some backward compatibility on, with an eye toward getting rid of it all at some point, which they did.

    As long as MS doesn't take this radical approach, your in more disappointment and disillusionment.

  21. ETruss Says:

    It only took until the second comment to veer way off the path of what an operating system should be. Make the OS more simple and less obtrusive. Move useful and useless features off to stand-alone programs that can be added or removed or replaced at will. This would also allow lower prices for the base OS if you did not want to add all the useless crap Windows now includes. Yes, I know I'm dreaming.

  22. ETruss Says:

    #2 is not a function of the operating system. Even if you wanted both #2 and #4 you can't have them – they are mutually exclusive. Tabs are a very poor user interface. Separate windows are much more useful for Windows Explorer.

  23. Zecc Says:

    #2 and #4 are NOT mutually exclusive. Why would you say that?

    Tabs are NOT a very poor user interface. Separate windows are good, yes, but being able to choose which to use according to the circumstances is much better.

  24. Federico Says:

    No system registry! One of the biggest problem in Windows.

    Less unuseful services running by default! Only if I need it, then run it, but why keep running lot of services if I don't need them right now??

    Faster response to repeated operations! Why opening Control Panel has to take always a lot of time if nothing has changed from the first time? Is it so hard to take track of changes and reloading only when needed? When something change, take care of it, don't check ALWAYS for changes…

    Less security sillyness! If I click a program, don't ask me if I was the one that did it! It's very stupid, if I were an hacker willing to start a program unattended, the first thing I'll do will be to hack the next question…

    Last but not least: use for a long time a Mac, they'll learn a lot of things to improve… ;^)

  25. David Says:

    Microsoft Security Essentials isn't any hassle. For the most part you can install it and forget it.

    All of the major browsers already allow you to drag a Web site's favorites icon (to the left of the address field) to the desktop, the task bar, or wherever, as a new shortcut. Both IE and Firefox even use the correct icon for the shortcut. This is very similar to the way Chrome does it. Opera and Safari support dragging and creating the shortcut, but they don't use the icon.

  26. Matt Mcguire Says:

    how about dropping backward compatability for older software. this would shrink the size of the OS drasticly. another helper would be to drop support for older hardware (does someone really nead a 8bit ISA modem compatibility today).
    what happeded to the mini core (23mb ~ 100 files)? rebuild the OS with this in mind: smaller, faster, and all fetures optional during the install.
    Win7 will be around a long time like XP was/still is. I think if MS wants to be a leader again they need to start fresh, like they did with the Win7 phone that has forward only code.

  27. Marcus Says:

    – Consistent UI across all system programs (heck, across ALL MS programs and give the API to developers BEFORE the OS is released)
    – Reliable and easy to use backup AND recovery solution for user data
    – I second the task bar notification problem
    – Better file system that doesn't need to be constantly defragmented
    – A replacement for the registry
    – Better (meaning instant) recovery of network connections after waking from any suspend states
    – Even better multicore support
    – Offer 3rd party developers the possibility to integrate their software with Windows Update. ETruss, I don't think they're mutually exclusive. Why would they be? OK, I don't need to download/buy my application from there (and don't wish for Windows to come preinstalled with a lot of software) but it would be nice having a central software update facility. Oh, and integrate it with WSUS.
    – Intelligent energy management even on desktop systems (depending on hardware support, I know)

    There's so much more I can think of (up to ditching backwards compatability (virtualization built in anyone?) and using a completely new kernel) but these would be nice. But none will happen, I'm sure.

  28. old devel Says:

    One friggin development language that is extended, not more than dozen fractionally revised & obsoleted every 6 months. I programmed MS systems for 21 years, moved to Linux on account of the aimless trickle down; MS management sucks as bad as BP in exactly the same way, for exactly the same reasons and its catching up with them just as fast, with great big nasty teeth. Apparently Balmer's ballwashers aren't doing a good enough job.

  29. Scatman Says:

    I would love a better file copying system. There is a few very good 3rd party apps out there that allow you to queue up your copying but Windows still doesn't do it right.

  30. adacosta Says:

    May I just say that "ALL" editions of Windows 7 including Starter include System Imaging and standard/backup capabilities. Yes, in Vista, System Image (which was called Complete PC Backup back then was limited to Business, Enterprise and Ultimate), that restriction has been removed and its available in all editions of Windows 7.

  31. MAK Says:

    What one can hope for is even better stability (although windows 7 is already doing great) and maybe some nice addons.

    It still seems as if Microsoft is doing nothing grounbdbreaking in Windows 8, though.

  32. VMFTW Says:

    Virtualize everything, keep everything portable: Decouple the OS from the hardware. Decouple the apps from the OS. Decouple the user experience from the apps, that is, be task-oriented rather than app-oriented.

    I want to play a game or use an app – or several ones, as a task – save its state, and continue using it immediately wherever I am, regardless of the hardware (as long as it meets the requirements, which I assume it will). Everything runs always.

    Make routine things intelligent and automatic, such as file management by clustering files automatically by file name, time, access time, used with a particular app, etc. Make the file system behave as if it was kept in order by a professional librarian.

    Make the UI scale adapt to user viewing distance and display size.

    Display UI elements only on a need-to-see basis. I hate the superfluous, never used craphics my eyeballs have to feast on every day. The screen would be mostly nearly empty, black or whatever color or wallpaper or video or live stream you want it to be. Every UI element should be customizable and hideable.

    Make developing highly modular apps easy so that the user can grab just the needed functions from an app and keep the rest never seen.

  33. John H Says:

    1. I'd like to see a feature that would allow you to select a portion of a window that contains a video feed and detach it from its page and re size it and move it to an available part of the screen. Now you have to take all the headers etc and then play with the scroll bars to minimize the space needed .
    2. A secure folder on the desktop or folder available by a right click Send To context menu that would not open w/o a password. Maybe that exists somewhere now?

  34. The Deathly Hallows Says:

    Microsoft hasnt event got the basics right.

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