Martin Pool

Windows 7 visual noise

with 8 comments

I just started up Windows 7 from the dual-boot partition of my new Thinkpad X201 (which is mostly running Ubuntu, of course.)

The amount of visual noise in the default browser window is really pretty shocking, for a release that’s supposed to be about giving a clean experience:

  • Five different fonts.
  • Two Bing search fields, with different icons.
  • Two controls with different icons to email the page.
  • Jarring misalignment between the controls.
  • Four different button decoration styles: rounded borders, no borders, square borders, and jelly-style round buttons.
  • Some icons are nearly-monochrome and some are brightly coloured without this conveying any information.
  • Two different divider styles: sloping s-curves vs raised dots.
  • If you press Alt, everything in the window jumps around as the menu bar appears.

Not great.

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Written by Martin Pool

March 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Posted in software

Tagged with ,

8 Responses

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  1. Uhm, uninstall the Bing toolbar?

    0) No more 5 different fonts.
    1) No more two Bing search fields.
    2) No more two different icons to email the page.
    3) No more jarring misalignment between the controls.
    4) No more different decoration styles.
    5) No more sloping s-curves vs raised dots.
    6) Probably no more window jumping when pressing Alt.

    In regards to the bullet point about nearly-monochrome vs colored buttons:

    0) After the Bing toolbar is uninstalled, the icon sets are minimal, largely without flare.
    1) The only icon that is really monochrome is the rss icon. imagine how it would stand out if it were orange.
    2) All the icons (minus the bing toolbar) contain a vast amount of info:
    a) compatibility mode (switch between versions of IE for various renderings of sites)
    b) refresh (refresh the page)
    c) stop (stop the page from loading)
    d) home (manage your home page)
    e) feeds (manage feeds from the web (which I think also came from the Bing toolbar))
    f) email (email the page to a friend (probably should be “share” in today’s social web (which I think also came from the Bing toolbar)))
    g) print (print the page, along with printing options, preview, etc)
    h) help (access the online help dialogs for troubleshooting)

    I’m no Microsoft apologist, but this reeks of fanboism. No offense.

    Also, if you’re running Windows 7, then you should probably upgrade from IE 8 to IE 9, seeing as though that just released.

    Aaron Toponce

    March 18, 2011 at 1:09 am

    • Aaron, I noticed this because I started up the machine with a view to running Lightroom there rather than on a Mac, and the difference between this and the default Safari window is pretty stark.

      You’re right that uninstalling the Bing toolbar would fix some of the problems. But putting it there, turning it on by default, and making it look inconsistent and duplicative is all Microsoft’s choice, not mine. What do you suppose is the thought process that leads them to give default IE window ought to have two search boxes? Was this an intentional choice, or are they unable to control how the most important default app appears in a default install?

      Martin Pool

      March 18, 2011 at 11:36 am

  2. As far as the details, assuming I did uninstall the Bing toolbar:

    I would still have several button styles (jelly bean, with rectangular outline, without outline) and color schemes, but it would not be nearly as bad.

    I didn’t say the buttons are all exactly monochrome.

    There are several visual styles in play:
    * muted nearly-grey (colored on mouseover) for those in the bottom left
    * brightly colored for available (and muted for disabled) for the back/forward button
    * moderately colored, for the controls in the URL and search bar
    * very brightly colored, for the things in the default bookmarks bar

    Glancing at this window, what’s most visually salient to me is the bright orange square near “suggested sites” (the most vivid color, and contrasting strongly with the grey/blue background) and the bold text near to it. Are those really the things people most need to think about, both on their first encounter and day to day?

    > imagine how it would stand out if it were orange

    Well, indeed. Imagine how it would look if it were all flashing. Imagine how fast I’d close it and install another browser, or go back to doing this on a mac.

    > contain a vast amount of info

    I don’t think “info” is a very accurate word there; they are not really telling me anything about the page in the way that a “loading” or a “padlock” indicator might. They do make some functions available.

    > compatibility mode (switch between versions of IE for various renderings of sites)

    I can imagine using that myself, but the idea of expecting general users to work out what html quirks they need is a bit horrifying, or that they would do this so often it needs to be as prominent as “stop” or “refresh”.

    > e) feeds

    I think Mozilla’s reasoning about removing the feeds button was really good reasoning. I had not clicked it myself for months or years before it departed.

    > email, print, help

    I do wonder how often people click these; I rarely do myself. But there is probably a segment that prints lots of web pages, and they’re not really hurting anything being there.

    Anyhow, yeah, the shorter form of this post could have been: why do Microsoft install the Bing toolbar by default when it makes things so butt-ugly and the browser defaults to Bing anyhow? And secondly, why have default bookmarks that are both so prominent and also so vapid.

    Martin Pool

    March 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

  3. IE9 is released. Many UI errors were corrected, but it still have that stinky toolbars… Check it out, Martin.

    Fitoschido

    March 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    • I will, thanks to both of you for pointing it out. I don’t anticipate doing a lot of general purpose surfing there though.

      Martin Pool

      March 18, 2011 at 5:54 pm

  4. The Bing toolbar isn’t default. It was installed by you, somehow- whether it came from software or you manually installed it after visiting Bing.com. I don’t know, but it certainly isn’t shipped with the browser, and the lack of visual consistency you’re experiencing, is because of that very toolbar. Same would be said if you installed the Yahoo! toolbar, Google toolbar, or some others.

    Aaron Toponce

    March 19, 2011 at 12:13 am

    • Aaron, give me some credit, I think I would remember if I installed it. I was starting the browser so that I could download and install software and this is how it looked. This is literally the first thing I did with this machine after first-run configuration it.

      It might not be installed by default when you do a fresh plain vanilla Windows install from an OEM DVD, but it was installed by default in the image that shipped on this laptop.

      See this 2007 announcement that Lenovo will pre-install a Microsoft toolbar. It’s always been common that OEMs will shovel stuff into the default image, and much of it looks awful. I do think it’s a new low that the awfulness comes from Microsoft’s own code.

      It may be there is some opt-out possible during the install process: I basically accepted the defaults. But the point remains that this is how Microsoft wants it to look, and it looks crap.

      Martin Pool

      March 19, 2011 at 11:13 am

      • Just a question to illuminate the difference: can you imagine unboxing an Mac, starting the browser, and having it come up with all this mess on the screen?

        In fact, I’ve done the experiment recently, and can tell you that you do not get two search boxes etc. You get one row of default bookmarks, that are not too visually distracting, and that provide reasonable starting points for the average user.

        Ubuntu comes out pretty much the same.

        Martin Pool

        March 19, 2011 at 11:16 am


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