1.1 What IS an Annoyance?

More than anything else, an annoyance is a way of looking at a problem or an unfamiliar task. It's an attitude that gives you the fortitude and patience to solve any problem, rather than ending up powerless, frustrated, and feeling like a dummy.

Now, if we had a large selection of operating systems from which to choose, the point would be almost moot; each of us would simply choose the most appropriate (and, of course, least annoying) software available. However, the real world isn't like that, and most of us who use Microsoft Windows are doing so out of necessity rather than personal choice.

That puts Microsoft in a position to control what we see and how we work. Realizing you're not alone is the first step to improving your experience with Windows XP and regaining control of your machine before it assumes control of you.

But the purpose of this book is not to complain or criticize, but rather to acknowledge and understand the problems and shortcomings of the operating system in an effort to overcome them.

Windows XP Annoyances presents solutions that enable you to both customize and troubleshoot Windows. This is an important distinction, because many times solving a problem requires that you know whether something irritating is an inadvertent bug or an intentional feature of the software, and the dividing line isn't always clear. It's important to realize that, if software doesn't act in a way that you think it should, it should be regarded as poor design and not necessarily the result of a bug. A bug is an action carried out by a piece of software that wasn't intended by the designer of the product.

Here's a simple, yet not readily apparent, example of an intentional design decision that has led to a tangible annoyance in Windows:

Common file dialog boxes the little windows that appear when you use File figs/u2192.gif Open or File figs/u2192.gif Save look basically the same in most applications, because they're a function provided by Windows XP. This concept of common dialogs was introduced more than a decade ago in Windows 3.1 and has since undergone an evolutionary process as they've been improved in each successive version of the operating system.

An annoyance that plagued these boxes from the start was that they were not resizable and were therefore awkward to use with large displays (or, likewise, too large on small displays). Fortunately, this problem has since been fixed, and in Windows XP, we enjoy resizable file dialog boxes. And although an application's file dialogs will remember their sizes temporarily, this information is forgotten when the application is closed. Of course, this means that if you want a larger dialog box, you'll have to enlarge it again and again, and do it separately for each application.

However, a more serious problem (in my opinion), still not remedied in XP, is that of the Look in (or Save in) list at the top of these dialogs. When you're opening or saving a file, the only clue to the location of the current folder is the name not the entire path of the folder. So, for example, if the current folder shown in a file dialog box is called images, there's no way to immediately determine if the folder you're looking at is c:\projects\images, or d:\webpages\ personal \images.

What's worse is that Microsoft knows about the problem and has done nothing about it; in fact, they've taken steps to hide it. In some earlier versions of Windows, if you clicked the [?] button and then clicked the Look in list, you'll see this note: "To see how the current folder fits in the hierarchy on your computer, click the down arrow." In later releases of Windows, Microsoft simply removed the explanatory text instead of improving the interface.

The simple truth is that this would be very easy for Microsoft to remedy, and has been for years. In fact, Explorer has an option that allows you to fix a similar problem with folder windows by going to Control Panel figs/u2192.gif Folder Options figs/u2192.gif View tab, and turning on the Display the full path in title bar option. Yet this option has no effect on file dialog boxes, despite the fact that they've been designed to mimic folder windows in most other ways.

So, why has Microsoft neglected to fix this very basic design flaw? My guess is that it's part of Microsoft's ongoing strategy to hide as much information as possible from the user, in an effort to make the computer easier to use. This is the same type of backward thinking that resulted in hidden filename extensions (see the discussion of file types in Chapter 4). What Microsoft has always failed to realize is that making users ignorant is not an effective way to make any product easier to use.

Of course, it could also be a question of priority perhaps the decision-makers at Microsoft simply prefer "cute" dialog boxes to functional ones.

Now, we can speculate as to the intentions of the various developers of Windows until we're blue in the face, but what it really comes down to is attitude. By labeling something a bug, we are placing the burden of resolving the problem on Microsoft, and waiting for Microsoft developers to fix a bug that they consider to be a feature can definitely be considered a lost cause.

However, if we lump together the crash-a-day tendency of Windows, the irritating little animations, the clutter on the desktop, the lack of decent documentation, and the fact that performance rarely meets expectations, and call them all annoyances, we assume the burden of solving our own problems. This is a valuable attitude to adopt; it motivates us to learn more about the operating system so that we can work more efficiently. And, more importantly, it gives us the power to resolve the problems we encounter, so that we can get through the day with some degree of sanity.

Simply put, you should not be required to adjust the way you think in order to complete a task on a computer; rather, you should learn how to adjust the computer to work in a way that makes sense to you.


Take the solutions in this book seriously, but don't follow them blindly. Anything that indeed improves the interface can streamline your work and make the overall Windows experience less painful and more enjoyable. However, one person's annoyance is another's feature; what's important is to construct the interface that works best for you.


Windows XP Annoyances
Fixing Windows XP Annoyances
ISBN: 0596100531
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 78
Authors: David A. Karp

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