Five Changes That Would Make Windows Better

Windows Vista changed the way many users thought of Windows. For better or for worse, Microsoft spent several years doing damage control over an overwhelming amount of pushback from the users prompted extended support for Windows XP. A lot of users made the leap from Windows to OS X, including LockerGnome’s own Chris Pirillo. This migration lead to a renewal of the great debate between the two operating systems, furthering the divide between camps in this pseudo-religious war. I’m a switcher, but not because of any incredible failure on the part of Microsoft.

I switched for work. Final Cut Pro is one of the few editing platforms out there that has a grasp on the industry. If you can’t edit in Final Cut Pro, you may find it hard to get a good job doing video production. I have few regrets about making the transition. The vast majority of the things I need a desktop computer for are easily accomplished on either platform. That said, I’ve recently started a slow and gradual transition back to the world of Windows in part because I enjoy the freedom that Windows offers in terms of hardware options and a wider selection of native software. Windows 7 was, in my opinion, a great release. It improved greatly on many of the shortcomings found in Windows Vista and has worked very well for me on several mission-critical applications. In short, I like it.

My experience living in both worlds has left me wondering what I would look for in a perfect operating system. What set of features would create an environment in which I could thrive without actively seeking greener pastures elsewhere at every setback. Here are five changes that I believe would make Windows a better operating system.

Expanded Customization

Windows has a fairly decent UI. The task bar has undergone some significant revision over the past few versions, and in general I’m fairly happy with it.

That said, I believe that more users would enjoy an easily customizable UI. Linux has a big advantage in this camp, with an easily modified interface capable of mimicking Windows, OS X, and even becoming something entirely its own. Opening this up to designers and creating an easy platform for customization could go a long way toward appealing to a larger potential user base. I’m sure many fans of Linux would appreciate this long-overdue feature.

Currently, you can experience a touch of customization through a third-party program such as Stardock’s WindowBlinds. Unfortunately, your ability to modify Windows is still very limited.

The Metro theme may be the best thing since sliced bread for a lot of users, but not for everyone. Give me the ability to alter Windows as much as I can in Ubuntu or Fedora. If Microsoft can do that, I’m sure it’d have a lot of eager switchers from both platforms eager to give Windows another shot.

Dedicated App Store

I’ll start this section by stating that I am not a fan of forcing users to go through a single app store to install software on any machine. It’s the right of the user to decide what software should (or should not) be installed on his/her system. What would prove a value-add to Windows is a dedicated app store that manages the updates, sales, and downloads for the user. This would be a benefit to developers wishing to make their software available to a wide market with the extra push of an app store every user has an opportunity to view. To the average user, having an app store that makes locating trustworthy software and purchasing it easier is certainly a bonus.

Both Linux and OS X have implemented integrated app stores on various distributions with great success. Users enjoy the ease of use these app stores bring, making the process of finding good software and installing it a simple as possible. It’s only natural that an app store would appear to be a good thing for Windows.

It looks like we may see a built-in app store with Windows 8, though with so many users dragging their heels from one version to the next, I’d expect to see it appear on Windows 7 via a service pack.

Hot Corners, Spaces, and Mission Control Equivalent

One of my favorite features of OS X is also the one that I end up using the most throughout the day. Hot corners give me the ability to instantly see every open window and switch between them with a click rather than having to ALT+Tab through a stream of windows hoping the next one is the one I need. While I’m certainly happy that Microsoft has opted to make switching between applications easier with the Aero interface, I’d be happier to see built-in support for hot corners and a Mission Control-like interface. If Microsoft wants to really push gadgets, this could be best done in a dashboard setting like it is on OS X Lion.

In addition, having multiple desktops available with a single click is also a great feature for folks like me with a dozen windows open at any given time. With a swipe of my mouse on OS X, I can switch from a cluttered desktop to one with a single application running, allowing me to concentrate on the task at hand without having to close all the other windows one by one. Yes, you can shake a window and make something similar happen, but there’s something dynamic about being able to instantly switch between desktops that makes my workflow easier. I have a video editing desktop, a writing one, and a media consumption one. That works for me, and I’d like to see it as a built-in possibility on Windows.

Integrated Snipping

The snipping tool in Windows Vista/7 is a pain to use. With OS X, I can hit a single hotkey combination, click and drag my cursor, and as soon as I release the key, the image is taken and saved to my desktop. The snipping tool in Windows adds steps to the process that I’d like to eliminate with a single toggle. I don’t want to have to manually save each image if I don’t want to; I want it to happen automatically.

I use partial screenshots a dozen times per hour while I’m working. Having to stop what I’m doing to tell the snipping tool to save each file (as a GIF, JPG, PNG, etc.) before I can move on to the next throws a wrench in an otherwise quick workflow.

Make Killing Unnecessary Tasks Easy

Even with Windows 7 having been a significant leap forward in terms of optimization over Windows Vista, I’m still not happy with how many processes are chewing up clock cycles in the background. A simple user setup (like a wizard) would be a great way to ask users what they want to have running. If your users don’t want media center processes crunching away in the background, they should be able to opt out without having to search the Web for how-tos so they can navigate an endless sea of options to do so.

Microsoft could start with 10 simple yes or no questions that tell it everything it needs to know to kill or keep most of these background processes going without having to seek out each individual one and deal with it manually. I use Windows for gaming and not media consumption, which means I tweak my OS to meet my specific needs. If Microsoft can work out a way to make that happen intuitively so every user can understand how to make it happen without needing a college education in software design, a lot more people will be happy.

I’m not saying this because I’m not capable of doing it. I’m saying it because the last thing I want to do tonight is talk my relatives through optimizing their machine because one program or another is acting a little more sluggish than it used to.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure a dozen or so people will comment on this article and let me know about a vast array of third-party applications that accomplish everything I’ve asked for here and more. Unfortunately, that’s the very root of the problem with Windows. If my grandmother can’t figure it out without having to search the Web for a third-party program that may (or may not) work without breaking some other process, it’s not a viable option for most people.

I’m a huge fan of Windows, and this article isn’t intended to bash the operating system in any way. I think that Microsoft is headed in the right direction with Windows 7/8. The trick to convincing users to switch back from OS X will fall on making things easier. Every click you have to make to get a simple process done should be like a slap in the face. If I can’t accomplish something in two actions or less, it isn’t intuitive and will cause trouble for most of your users.

In the world of operating systems, simplicity is key. It was this simplicity that brought Microsoft out of the slump it fell into with Windows Vista, arguably the most complex version of Windows to date.

The Metro interface is designed with simplicity in mind. The ball is in Microsoft’s court whether or not users will be forced to live predominantly in the more complex Aero world or Metro. I’m anxious to see how this plays out as the Windows 8 grows closer to a release candidate.

Do you agree? What changes would you make to the Windows platform? Would these changes convince you to switch back?

79 comments On Five Changes That Would Make Windows Better

  • an app store would help out a lot, because so many people download “programs” that hurt their computer

  • an app store would help out a lot, because so many people download “programs” that hurt their computer

  • Nothing… never… no way… took me years to become a Mac user and now that’s the way it will stay, I couldn’t stand the pain again. rictownsend

  • Nothing… never… no way… took me years to become a Mac user and now that’s the way it will stay, I couldn’t stand the pain again. rictownsend

  • Matthew Straight

    I think there should be a GPEDIT in all versions, and an easier file sharing through lan ^_^

  • Matthew Straight

    I think there should be a GPEDIT in all versions, and an easier file sharing through lan ^_^

  • screen shots like a mac

  • Matthew Straight

    I think there should be more capability with different media files on Windows Media Player

  • SanyaIVLitvyak

    I like the idea of the app store, however I still want the option to download a program from a site and install it. If I were to make a small program, very simple one, lets say a corruption tool, a very simple tool that lets you corrupt a file for whatever reason you have. I wouldn’t want to have to upload this to an app store and wait for it to get validated and most likely denied.

    How would it go with these hobby programmers? It would be harder for them to get recognized if you couldn’t download from their site but instead had to search for it in the app store.

    And if you wonder why the hell someone would want a corruption tool, it has proven rather useful against viruses for me. Just right click > corrupt. This is also another way to hide files, as when you do the same process again, it removes the corruption. Very nice if you value privacy.

  • Don’t you think that if Microsoft implemented a lot of these changes, it would be some serious copying of ideas? They can’t just use OSX, write down what they like, and then put it in windows.

  • Don’t you think that if Microsoft implemented a lot of these changes, it would be some serious copying of ideas? They can’t just use OSX, write down what they like, and then put it in windows.

  • What about removing the bloat? I hate how windows is about 10GB big and ships with really really crappy software that no one uses. Package it with an anti-virus, microsoft word, notepad, chrome, pisca, and a few other softwares and I would kiss Windows. Not that it would happen but I think Word should come with Windows, its the most useful office app.

  • Thats the OEMs fault not Windows’s. 

  • Thats the OEMs fault not Windows’s. 

  • Thats the OEMs fault not Windows’s. 

  • time machine like backups

  • Michael Stokes

    The “killing processes more quickly”, is an amazing idea. I hate how hard it is to figure out what I need for what I use Windows for.

  • Michael Stokes

    The “killing processes more quickly”, is an amazing idea. I hate how hard it is to figure out what I need for what I use Windows for.

  • +1 the Customization!!  That’s what I love about Linux!

  • +1 the Customization!!  That’s what I love about Linux!

  • Customization in color and shape and font , choice to use metro dash in windows 8
    Windows repair functions without the use of repair discs

  • i’ll love windows to have multiple desktops you can switch between!

  • i’ll love windows to have multiple desktops you can switch between!

  • Anyone thought of Social Integration?

  •  Built in Microsoft Office software licensed instead of paying another license.

  • Jonathan Villatoro

    No, it isn’t, because that’s actually what Linux does too, so it wouldn’t be copying anything. In fact, Microsoft is the only OS that doesn’t come bundled with at least some kind of office suite, or an app repository. Even so, Microsoft should at least include some kind off app repository/app store from which users can download software easily. That, and reducing the performance overhead, would definitely get some users to switch back.

  • Jonathan Villatoro

    No, it isn’t, because that’s actually what Linux does too, so it wouldn’t be copying anything. In fact, Microsoft is the only OS that doesn’t come bundled with at least some kind of office suite, or an app repository. Even so, Microsoft should at least include some kind off app repository/app store from which users can download software easily. That, and reducing the performance overhead, would definitely get some users to switch back.

  • A repository system like yum or apt. It’s a huge pain having to go through all the software on a PC and find updates. Almost all of the problems I am asked to fix on family computers are due toout of date software.

  • A repository system like yum or apt. It’s a huge pain having to go through all the software on a PC and find updates. Almost all of the problems I am asked to fix on family computers are due toout of date software.

  • Not being able to change and upgrade or replace hardware is my   complaint against apple. ANd yes I know they don’t break as much but  there computer cost more to begin with. A 1000 pc usally doesn’t  break down as much as a 299 dollar PC.  so the old saying YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR hold true when it comes to computer and hardware

  • Not being able to change and upgrade or replace hardware is my   complaint against apple. ANd yes I know they don’t break as much but  there computer cost more to begin with. A 1000 pc usally doesn’t  break down as much as a 299 dollar PC.  so the old saying YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR hold true when it comes to computer and hardware

  • on the whole customization thing, while windows will never be as great as linux (coz its not open source) i dont get the whole bashing of 3rd party programs that goes on. it takes like 20 extra seconds to download a registry hack or a program like rainmeter which is open source and therefore way more customizable than anything integrated into windows ever could be. i am disappointed at the lack of open source 3rd party customization apps for mac, not everyone likes the aqua interface or whatever they call it.

  • you DO realize that 3 of the 5 things in this article directly reference OS X, right?

    • Considering that 3 of the 5 things actually list OS X as a reference to the feature, absolutely. 😉 OS X does some things right. Linux does other things. If you take the best of both worlds and add them to Windows, that’s a win. Competition is a great thing. There are plenty of Windows features that found their way to OS X. 😉

  • Robert Greeley

    I like the idea of Windows automatically killing background processes that I never use.  A dedicated app store may also be a good idea but its hard to say whether I would use it or not.

  • Robert Greeley

    I like the idea of Windows automatically killing background processes that I never use.  A dedicated app store may also be a good idea but its hard to say whether I would use it or not.

  • Robert Greeley

    I did notice that a lot of these come from OS X.  Although I think they could have been more creative in thinking of things that Windows could use, I believe that a lot of things used in OS X would work great in Windows.  

  • Windows should also take advantage of it’s ability to set priorities for different tasks a little more. So if they’re is something rarely used by the user, instead of killing it, just lower the priority so that when they do need to use it, it’s there.

  • Windows should also take advantage of it’s ability to set priorities for different tasks a little more. So if they’re is something rarely used by the user, instead of killing it, just lower the priority so that when they do need to use it, it’s there.

  • Windows should also take advantage of it’s ability to set priorities for different tasks a little more. So if they’re is something rarely used by the user, instead of killing it, just lower the priority so that when they do need to use it, it’s there.

  • I expect the app store would act exactly like it would on Linux and Mac OSX where the app store is just a place where you can safely download programs/applications that are guaranteed to function as intended without the risk of malware with all updates being handled but the app store. But you are also allowed to install your own apps just as you would normally from what ever source you choose.

  • I expect the app store would act exactly like it would on Linux and Mac OSX where the app store is just a place where you can safely download programs/applications that are guaranteed to function as intended without the risk of malware with all updates being handled but the app store. But you are also allowed to install your own apps just as you would normally from what ever source you choose.

  • Expanded Customization: Okay, Not for the average end-user, But most people think I’m using Linux when they see My units.
    Dedicated App Store: Windows 8. ‘Nuff said.
    Hot Corners, ect: I have 6 Monitors. ‘Nuff said.
    Integrated Snipping: PrntScr. ‘Nuff said.
    Make Killing Unnecessary Tasks Easy: Touché, But with a 5GHz Processor, 30 Processes won’t do shit to My experience.

  • Expanded Customization: Okay, Not for the average end-user, But most people think I’m using Linux when they see My units.
    Dedicated App Store: Windows 8. ‘Nuff said.
    Hot Corners, ect: I have 6 Monitors. ‘Nuff said.
    Integrated Snipping: PrntScr. ‘Nuff said.
    Make Killing Unnecessary Tasks Easy: Touché, But with a 5GHz Processor, 30 Processes won’t do shit to My experience.

  • Never have to use Disk Defragmenter again like in OS X

  • change the boot screen logo 😉

  • change the boot screen logo 😉

  • I don’t like the idea of a dedicated app store

  • Exactly. That’s one thing that OS X got absolutely right.

  • I’d like to see a real honest to goodness Registry cleaner.

    • Registry cleaners present a risk to your system, because its messing with the registry. I would recommend CCleaner I trust it, and it allows you to back up your registry before cleaning it.

  • I’d like to see a real honest to goodness Registry cleaner.

  • Windows
    facilitates adding features and although far from complete makes an attempt at
    standards for how to do things with the interfaces to various software
    programs. I hate video totally so I don’t know about tools for that. Among the
    things I would do are most of what Chris suggested, and I would ask

    (1)
    that any darn thing that requests a permission or issues a warning or otherwise
    interrupts one, (a) NEVER changes focus (b) can be answered once for ever (c)
    can be turned off if it’s an informational (i.e. nuisance) report (d) never
    ever erases what I type on its own;

     (2) that ‘help’ responses always provided a
    clickable interface to just DO the task discussed;

     (3) That ALL hot key and keyboard combinations
    could be inventoried and turned off, one at a time or even every damn one;

    (4)
    that copy/paste/save image were straight forward simple and consistent;

     (5) that software not be allowed to change
    file type/application defaults except explicitly when user desires to do it;

     (6) that system crash reports were
    intelligible or could be forwarded for expert advice, specifically as to what
    application, service, or activity or condition appears to be the proximate
    cause;

     (7) not have to reboot to set/load registry
    etc;

    (8)
    that the registry was more of a database, and so searchable, and not a flat
    file

    (9)
    that touch be forgotten.

  • How about, rebuild the whole dame thing on a UNIX kernel…..oh, wait someone already did that.

  • For what version?

  • haresh kissoon

    dude u complain too much!!!

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