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Improvements in Windows Explorer - Building Windows 8 (msdn.com)
162 points by ghurlman on Aug 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

For me, this should serve as a warning to anyone trying to let data do the designing for them.

To me this screams "hey! Our data says 'X'! Let's apply it in the simplest way possible, with little to no editing or afterthought, and then bask in the false confidence our data provides."

I'm not saying that their approach is a bad idea, but they've allowed their execution to falter. They're still in the idea phase. This is not a 'product' phase.

1. It's visually noisy. The problem is not necessarily that there are shitloads of buttons, but that they're everywhere. We have an area for buttons on the top right, then an area of tabs, then an area of large, poorly-gridded buttons, then another row of buttons on the address bar area. Oh, and the freaky tab-above-the-tabs thing on the title bar. There's no visual organization or hierarchy. The whitespace and value is all monotone. When you squint your eyes, all you see is buttons, and no organization behind them.

2. Look, I'm sorry, it's ugly. I'm not saying you need to go stick-up-the-ass Apple brushed metal. Just...after you've worked out the usability aspects, hire a graphic designer. They're really good at all those tiny little visual tweaks that can make the difference between 'eh' and 'great'. UI/UX people usually don't have the chops to accomplish that - you need a dedicated artist.

3. In the words of Dr. Malcolm, "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." All right, your solution appears to be "more buttons". Take that a little farther. How many is enough? Can you have 'too many buttons'? (hint: yes) Do you want to distinguish visually between commonly-used and uncommonly-used buttons? Is it safe to draw this conclusion from your data? How representative of the average user's needs are these after-market add-ons that will probably only be installed by power users?

Look, data is useful, but poorly-analyzed data is dangerous. If you're not careful it will sing you whatever song you desire, whispering "yes, yes, more like that" in your ear as you dance down to hell.

To your point about letting the data do the designing for them, I believe they actually ignored an important aspect of their data or they were so biased towards the ribbon that they interpreted the data towards supporting it's implementation.

For example, the "Command Entrypoint Usage" graph, shows the Context Menu as the most prominent means to perform tasks and the "Menu Bar" as the least. Whereas they read this as "We need to make the menu bar easier to use", I would interpret that as a strong indicator that the context menu needs more attention.

The article points out that context menus are not very discoverable, and yet despite this they are used a lot. Getting past a simplistic reading of the data, MS are focussed on improving the UI for the majority that probably don't even know about the context menu.

Arguably, to look at the data and resolve to tune the context menu would be similar to getting data that most people are climbing up a drainpipe to get into their apartment, instead of using the lift, so to improve their experience we should signpost the drainpipe and build a nice ladder up the side of it. (BTW I use the drainpipe - it's quicker)

Ha, that's a fun analogy. If I understand it, you're saying the 'lift' is the menu bar (soon to be ribbon). Which, if I were to reuse the comparison, is more like walking down the street to your neighbour's building, climbing up _their_ drainpipe and jumping across rooftops to get to your apartment.

The menu bar is just not near enough to the "context" of managing what you want to manage. None of us would really like to click on hyperlinks in a webpage, then go up to the menu bar and click "open/copy/paste" to use said hyperlink. Just as the majority don't seem to like doing the same with files.

The ribbon is about as "front and centre" as you can get for an app, so I can't read your analogy in any way that makes sense to me.

Look. Context menus are useful but lots of people don't find them. In fact, MS added something to apps such as Outlook that addresses your comment about commands being near to the content that they work on, but presents the UI in a more discoverable form. Not sure what it's called, but it's a popup toolbar that fades into view next to your text selection, allowing access to text styling such as bold, italic, etc.

I find that in practice, I know where these commands are on the ribbon - they never move - and have no problem moving the mouse pointer to there, to click them. So, I tend not to use the contextual popup.

For nearness and discoverability, perhaps MS could try this UI again with Explorer and see if people liked it.

I just meant the ribbon is far away from the files one is managing (relatively).

Your example of the 'popup toolbar' is exactly the sort of thing I might expect to make the context menu more discoverable; but if it's been tried and didn't work, then the point could be moot. Perhaps utilizing some space next to the filename for the most common actions would suffice. I just think having the available actions closer to where you're working, on-screen, would provide a better experience with less scanning and less movement.

In any case, I'll continue to hide any such menu bar wherever possible :)

To me this screams "hey! Our data says 'X'! Let's apply it in the simplest way possible, with little to no editing or afterthought, and then bask in the false confidence our data provides."

If you read the previous post they also do a lot of user testing and iterate it down.

Like any UI element there are plenty of reasons to knock on the ribbon, but the lack of analysis, editing, or afterthought is not one of them. The premise of the parent post that this is accidental and the result of ignoring a few design guidelines is just wrong.

Have you read Jensen Harris' exhaustive blog posts on building the Ribbon for office?


Calling the ribbon poorly analyzed is jumping to an unsupported conclusion. Some of your specific suggestions were tested during the building of Office and found wanting.

   *Oh, and the freaky tab-above-the-tabs thing on the title bar.*
For me, that specifically spells of bad design. It looks like a multi-headed monster committee shouted, "WELL CAN'T YOU JUST PUT IT UP IN THE TITLE BAR?????"

It's a context menu, it isn't always there, just when you select something that have special options.

Now, that doesn’t really change anything, does it?

You know, I like the ribbon and I think it’s great UI design, at least for certain tasks, but it is very, very ugly. There has to be a better way to put the elements together.

I understand your point but if it's only there 5% of the time then it kind of changes something, right?

I like the idea and it makes sense design-wise (as in the hierarchy of commands from the most used to the not used at all) but after all these years I'm still not sure how I like it. I feel lost even with apps I use all the time (Excel or Word). But it's way better than what they had before ("millions" of buttons).

I was cringing right through this whole article until I hit the Quick Access Toolbar. In short I hate the Windows Ribbon UI for reasons others have mentioned. But this entire redesign was saved in my eyes by the quick access bar and the fact that you can add any function to it and collapse the ribbon out of sight. Now THIS is what Explorer has needed for years and I am actually excited about using it now. I will never have that ribbon open, it's way too cluttered and a visual mess... but give me 10 minutes and I'll have a QAT bar set up that will (on first glance) make me a VERY happy power user.

Now, we'll see what their attention to detail is when I try my favourite shortcut... Holding CTRL while clicking on the up arrow. This used to open the parent folder in a New Window and it seems that MS forgot this shortcut in recent Windows versions.

I think I should point out just so it's duly noted- what my parent has just noticed is the Windows team catering to both Regular Joe Users and Power Users, at the same time, without stepping on the toes of either too much.

In 7, you can hold Alt and press up (parent), left (back), right (next).

AFAIK Alt was same since WinXP but can't confirm.

Ctrl is right now used for doing multiple selections in folders.

Thanks for the reply. The ALT-up-keyboard opens the parent folder, yes... but I was referring to the fact that CTRL-click a folder would open a New Explorer Window leaving the current one untouched. The CTRL-{up_toolbar_icon} used to open the parent folder in a New Explorer Window leaving the current window open as well. Was great when you needed to go up a level and open a sibling folder without closing the current explorer window. There is no quick way to do this in Vista / Win7 because you can't CTRL-{open parent} in a new window anymore. What should have worked would have been CTRL-ALT-{keyboard arrow} (up, left, right) to open the parent/previous/next folder in a new window but that doesn't work. Anyhow, I do realize these are just nit-picks of power users.

It's not a nit-pick. There are a limited number of key combinations available and a user interface should try to be as consistent, with what users are expecting, as possible.

Ctrl + Click is one of those shortcuts that should be standardized; in addition to middle click - these "links" should always open in a new tab/window.

In Windows 7, Control-double-click on a non-selected folder works (opens the folder in a new window). If the folder you're clicking on is selected when you double click, it will just become un-selected then selected. What a mess.

Now I see what you mean, I didn't even know that feature.

...this entire redesign was saved in my eyes by the quick access bar and the fact that you can add any function to it and collapse the ribbon out of sight.

I'll like that too, but I have faith that MS will screw this up somehow. Some of the ways you wind up interacting with Explorer (the Open dialog, say) won't use your customizations, or Explorer will forget them every few weeks. Or something else. That's always been their way.

They didn't forget it. Just use ALT.

Note that the QAT functionality is available in all ribbon-based Office applications as well. And I completely agree with you - hate the ribbon, love the QAT.

The menu style seems very close to the style already in Windows 7 for Wordpad. Personally I find that style both confusing and clunky.

IMHO, this redesign just adds visual noise. Compare the screenshots of the redesigned Windows 8 Explorer with Finder in OS X:

- Win 8: http://cl.ly/321a2D0b1M1G1v1o2r3F (from article)

- OS X: http://cl.ly/290D3q2Q06203b181C2b (random Google Images search)

I think Microsoft's ribbon approach is horrible for usability. It takes a long time to visually scan all those words/icons to figure out what I want. With OS X, the interface is much cleaner. There are only a few buttons and no extraneous visual noise. Finder stays out of your way and lets you get at your files.

I draw this comparison not to start a Mac vs. Windows flame war but to show how wrong-headed I think Microsoft's UI is.

Also, refresh accounts for > 6% of Explorer commands. Why don't they just make Explorer refresh automatically and get rid of the need for the command?

One thing I do like about the redesign is the prominence of the "copy path" button.

Personally, I can't stand Finder. I used a Mac for several years every day before I felt like I really figured it out, and even then I didn't feel like it was user-friendly - it just felt incapable of doing many advanced things (for example, how would you "copy path" in Finder?).

Not only can you hide the buttons in the ribbon (which is nice if you typically use keyboard shortcuts), but the experience is consistent with other recent Microsoft applications. I'm not sure a computer novice or even 50% or more of non-power users would have any idea what the buttons on Finder do (does anyone know what that eye button does before they click on it?), and I think that's the target demographic here. Power users know how to hide unwanted buttons or the text that goes with the buttons.

You can get the a file’s path by dragging it into any text field. But what do you need that for? Besides the terminal (where dragging works, too) the only use case I can think of is troubleshooting.

I'm glad I'm not alone. That weird columnar view mode (don't know the term for it) shown in the screenshot from the GP has to be the worst aspect of the Finder. I've been seriously considering getting a Mac laptop and now someone goes and reminds me about the Finder. But presumably there are 3rd party tools that fix the problem, right?


Some people swear by Miller columns for efficiency and are lost at sea without them. It's entirely a personal preference - if you don't like it, click on one of the other available layouts in the finder.

I really like the column view. Why don't you like it?

I don't like it because it's very wasteful of screen real-estate. I do want to see directory hierarchy, but I don't want my files list to be squeezed into smaller and smaller space so I can see lists of every sibling folder of every folder in the path down to the folder that I'm viewing. This view isn't useful in proportion with how much space it takes up. IMO, access to directory structure works better as a treeview, separate from the 'current folder' view, rather than as a new column for each step down into the hierarchy. The latter doesn't scale well.

Is something like this better?


If so, that view has been available in Finder since at least the first version of OS X I've used which would be 10.3 Panther. These days there are 4 different view you could browse files with in Finder: regular icons, cover flow (does anybody use this ever, by the way? it's the most long-winded, annoying and imprecise to browse anything including photos), column view and hierarchical view.

I was responding to the fact that someone put forward the column view as an example of how Finder was prettier than the Windows 8 Explorer, so yes, I do know that Finder has multiple modes. I would prefer a mode that doesn't conflate the folder navigation UI with the current folder view like that mode that you just mentioned. That'd be a better balance in terms of emphasis on the two aspects of working with a file system.

And yeah - cover flow - classic eye candy bollocks UI.

Huh, column view is one of the things I missed most from Finder. I loved how you could click and hold a file, and navigate through a directory tree just by hovering over each folder in the path.

More important than how you copy the path of an item in the Finder, why?

Sending the path to a shared network drive file on chat... (I don't want to send the file)

Also, how do you drag and drop to a terminal that's fullscreen?

Cmd-C, Cmd-V.

Works like a charm.

What a ridiculous question. There are lots of reasons I might want to do that. Storing file paths in a text file for later bookkeeping and copying file paths to a Google search box while trying to debug something are two I can immediately think of.

But how often do you really need to do that? For me, it's once every few months. It's okay for rarely-needed features to be less accessible or a bit harder to use. I understand that getting at the textual path of an object is generally a bit easier in Windows Explorer than in the Finder, but I don't know of any common workflow in OS X that requires it, so I don't understand why it's getting decried as a notable problem with the Finder.

I find it strange that this didactic "You don't need that feature" seems to be considered a valid argument in the OSX camp.

The feature does exist, it just isn't as accessible as some people would prefer. There's an opportunity cost to almost any UI change, so it is perfectly valid to ask whether a feature is useful, important, and popular enough to justify making it easier to use at the expense of making something else harder to use.

The problem is that finder sucks compared to windows explorer. I've used mac os x for two years now and I still do most file management tasks via command-line. This is not the case in windows and linux, where file managers are usable.

I don't like ribbon ui at all, though. But for newcomers it's probably going to be an easier way to manage files. Small anecdote: my grandmother had never used a computer until 6 months ago. One of the hardest things to explain to her was windows context menus. With buttons in the ribbon it would have been so much easier.

The ribbon lays out the essential commands nicely for novices. Advanced users can double-click the ribbon to hide it, and then the interface is fairly uncluttered.

Refresh is done automatically on any filesystems that support it. I think most people do it out of habit, from way back when that wasn't the case.

It's pretty funny, people rant about the ribbon, but it is certainly by far the best usability innovation I've seen in recent years. The only thing that remains is the logical step of pushing ribbon headers into the title bar (Office already does this for contextual ribbons, but not for all of them) to take advantage of the infinite height when the window is maximized.

For sake of argument (and not for sake of flamewars) I'll assume the opposite since I think there is a valid argument both ways.

I'm not sure I would hold the OS X finder up as an example of good design:

Complaints about the finder are numerous and common, there are more finder replacements than just about any other system utility. A google search for "OS X finder" reveals that in the top 10 results (excluding images), #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #10 are all either complaints about the finder, replacements for the finder, or commentary on complaints about the finder.

The titles are things like "How to Make the Max OS X Finder Suck Less" as if it's a given that everybody understands it sucks. "n replacements for the Finder". It's even one of those rare topics that Gruber can find it in himself to complain about Apple. http://daringfireball.net/2002/11/that_finder_thing

Also, once I got over the loss of the investment of brain space to memorize every possible menu item in the MS-Office suite, I've actually found the Ribbon interface to be very enjoyable to use, just as fast for things I know about, and many times faster for things I don't because it makes them easily discoverable.

But let's assume for a second I step up to each computer with no idea how to use either (but am familiar with very basic metaphors like a hierarchical file structure).

Looking at the OS X finder, I have virtually no idea what any of the buttons do. Left to right:

arrows going both directions, one is grayed out. Knowing that files can be organized hierarchically, do those buttons let me jump between siblings?

4 pictographs of no discernible relation to anything to do with file management: e.g. does the second one open up a text editor? the fourth one may have something to do with audio volume or screen brightness

there's an eye, does that control my camera? open up a file? only view a file?

a gear/light flash/different sort of eye glyph from the one before. if it's a gear maybe this lets me adjust some sort of setting

at the interface itself:

what is a device vs. a place? what is the relationship to each other? is a place on a device? or is a place something different?

Why do I have two columns of what look like folders? are they related to one another? if the rightmost column is supposed to be what's inside of the selected library folder in the second column, does that imply that I can only go one folder deep?

then at the bottom I have something that looks like a hard drive (but I wouldn't know that having never seen one), a folder called 'users' (why are there more than one! it's my computer, I'm the only one!), a house and then finally another folder.

I'm left with more outstanding questions for what's not on the window. How do I create folders? How do I delete things? How do I rename something? Provided I can figure out that this is a representation of the hierarachical file structure, is there a way to copy or move files between different parts of the file system? How do I add or remove "places"? etc.

The principle problems are that the finder is simultaneously underpowered. It also hi-lights something that's sadly becoming more and more common in Apple's interfaces, a lack of discoverability. Sure, the disconnected toolbar up at the top of the screen (or perhaps on a different monitor) may answer some of my questions, and I could hover for tool tips perhaps, but realizing that those things are even connected is a serious interface problem.

The new explorer isn't without it's faults:

why is there a "File" menu when I'm clearly looking at files, is that something I push to "file" away something?

it's got the weird left right arrows and even a weirder up arrow

why is there a manage meny? aren't I managing my files right now?

But for the most part it achieves discoverability, while also having (or at least doing a better job of revealing) power.

Oh! So you push the button clearly labeled "move-to" to move a file to someplace!

Oh! There's a button called "open" with a picture of the MS-Word logo, that must open that file in Word.

etc. etc.

"Also, refresh accounts for > 6% of Explorer commands. Why don't they just make Explorer refresh automatically and get rid of the need for the command?"

It does, just sometimes not fast enough for most users. It certainly works better on OS X.

I agree that Finder isn't the pinnacle of folder browsing applications. The best example of this from my own experience is how absurdly it is to copy the path of the current folder. The only built-in way I've found to do this is to drag the folder to a Terminal window and then manually copy the path from there.

I solved the problem with a little AppleScript I call with a Terminal command (pwdff) that copies the full path of the topmost Finder window to the clipboard. Ugly, ugly hack.

I think Finder's design is targeted at naive users, not power users (hence all the power user Finder replacements). I disagree with the parent post that Finder would be hard to use for a new user -- I've helped a number of people switch from Windows to Mac and never had a single question about performing file management tasks in Finder.

I do most of my complicated file management in Terminal on Mac. I would do the same thing in Windows if cmd.exe wasn't completely unusable (why can't I copy/paste normally into cmd.exe???). For everything else, I want the OS's file management app to get out of my way and let me access my files. Finder's minimalist design does that ok. For me, this ribbon thing is an aesthetic/usability nightmare.

What are you doing with textual paths that can't be satisfied by simply dragging the item from the Finder to the place where you want the path as text?

I wonder this too. It sounds like he's not evaluating the Finder, or any other window manager on its own merits. He's comparing it to what he's used before (command line) and assuming that any new way of doing things won't need relearning, or at least that relearning should be easy because he's a "poweruser." (Sort of how doctors end up being worse than average stock investors because they assume expertise in one field means skill in another.)

Someone might have a better feel for temps in degrees Fahrenheit over degrees Celsius. That doesn't mean Fahrenheit is inherently better than Celsius.

> It sounds like he's not evaluating the Finder, or any other window manager on its own merits. He's comparing it to what he's used before (command line) and assuming that any new way of doing things won't need relearning, or at least that relearning should be easy because he's a "poweruser."

- Assessing a window manager in isolation from the rest of your workflow makes no sense.

- Based on my experience with ribbons in Office, I think they are much less user-friendly than any other existing system of accessing commands. Primarily, I think this is because of the visual noise: there are lots of icons and words in an arbitrary layout (not rows or a grid) you have to parse through to find what you want. I think the same principle applies as with web forms (http://www.cxpartners.co.uk/cxinsights/web_forms_design_guid...) -- the ribbon makes you jump around between a whole bunch of icons before you find what you want.

- Spending more time with ribbons don't make them easier to use in practice. For example, I use conditional formatting, autofiltering, and sheet/worksheet protection all the time in Excel. I still am not able to remember which tab they are in on the ribbon (how does putting sheet protection on "Review" tab make any sense?).

> Someone might have a better feel for temps in degrees Fahrenheit over degrees Celsius. That doesn't mean Fahrenheit is inherently better than Celsius.

I'd say a better analogy would be between the US system of measuring volume (gallons, etc.) and the metric system. I've refused to learn the US system because the relationship between the different units is totally arbitrary. The arbitrary feel of the design of the Win 8 Explorer ribbon strikes me the same way.

there are lots of icons and words in an arbitrary layout (not rows or a grid)

They actually use a containment metaphor vs. a list or grid metaphor for orgnaization. Though I have to agree that once they're in the container it all goes to hell. And I can't for the life of me reliably remember which container contains what.

I don't use use my "pwdff" command that often. It is convenient if I need to read a specific file in a script that's buried in some folder.

I use my "cdff" command much more often, which changes the directory in Terminal to the frontmost Finder window. (And if you already have the folder up in Terminal, "pwd | pbcopy" is essentially the same as "pwdff".)

How did you find it? Honest question, had no idea about it until now...

Running it in a script maybe?

I have come to believe the reason the ribbon interface is criticized is a result of two things.

First, everyone reviewing the ribbon interface online is more than competent with the old menu bar.

Second, everyone who is competent with the menu bar finds themselves in the awkward purgatory of "I know there is a Find function, but where is it hidden in these menus...".

In other words, the reason people don't like it is the same reason most every person has resisted improvements in interfaces for the past forever.

  > In other words, the reason people don't like it is the 
  > same reason most every person has resisted improvements 
  > in interfaces for the past forever.
Potentially correct in some cases, however your assertion assumes that the ribbon is an improvement and waves away criticism. The ribbon is horribly visually cluttered with poorly-spaced buttons and tabs and menus. It doesn't feel organized.

I think you'll find people aren't resistant to interface change, they're resistant to change that makes them immediately less productive with no immediate benefit. For instance, the Start Menu, way back in the day, was pretty widely considered a good idea.

There's definitely a subset of people that can glom onto interface changes pretty readily.

But I've found that the vast majority of regular old users invest an incredible amount of themselves into learning an interface. I know people who still use WordPerfect for DOS because they couldn't move beyond their investment in the interface and moving to not just MS-Word, but WordPerfect for windows was too much of a jump.

Outside of the tech-sphere, users don't click buttons or dig through menus to figure out what they do or where things are, they might mouseover for a tooltip if your lucky. But most users don't explore. They learn and regurgitate procedures. Do this to make something bold, do this to indent a line, do this to insert a picture, etc.

There's no reason for MS-Office classes, yet they abound everywhere because non-tech users simply don't do these kinds of things. Putting as much up front as possible, with labels on as much as possible is about the only way you can get users to see that, yes, this software can do something.

It's mind-numbing and frustrating as an interface designer to spend hours thinking of optimal workflows, and minimal menu depth and all that, only to have users simply not use those things because it doesn't follow a procedure they happened to have learned a decade prior.

What is interesting is that the Ribbon is an improvement, but only for novice to average users. In various surveys and studies the only segment of the population that seems to have a problem with it are relatively advanced or technical users. High-end users report a loss of productivity. But increasing the capabilities of novice and average users was the goal of the interface and thus it has succeeded.

> High-end users report a loss of productivity.

I agree with this but I think the effect is only temporary. Moving from the menus to the ribbon is a change and you lose your muscle memory and your sense of the "logical" place for things. But when you get used the new system, you're equally effective. After a while I came to appreciate the ribbon in Office because everything you could do in the current context is right there -- nothing is hidden deeper down. If it's not in the ribbon, you can't do it.

Well, the friendly thing about the first Start Menu was it didn't replace anything- it augmented.

I don't like the ribbon because it's hard to find things in it. Same reason I don't like menus. Same reason I don't like Apple's ambiguous menu bar buttons.

The only solution I've found to this is the Help function on recent versions of OS X. Press cmd-shift-/ and you can search for any item hidden in a menu.

If Microsoft added a feature like this, the ribbon wouldn't matter -- I could just turn it off and use keyboard shortcuts/search for everything.

>If Microsoft added a feature like this... They have: http://www.officelabs.com/projects/searchcommands/Pages/defa... (not that I would use it).

>use keyboard shortcuts/search for everything... But the quick access toolbar matters imho. Being able to e.g. add 'show/hide hidden' files is great and beats thousandthreehundred times the castrated Finder (which forces me to go to the terminal (and not even provides a context menu for this - lame)).

If Microsoft added a feature like this, the ribbon wouldn't matter -- I could just turn it off and use keyboard shortcuts/search for everything.

I have to agree to some point. This fails the discoverability principle, but it an awesome interface for power users who know what they are looking for a priori.

> Second, everyone who is competent with the menu bar finds themselves in the awkward purgatory of "I know there is a Find function, but where is it hidden in these menus...".

One OS X feature I totally love: http://lifehacker.com/5592856/use-os-xs-application-help-men...

I really wish finder were just double-pane. That, and I wish Spotlight had "Open Containing Folder".

I thought it was really obvious what the eye button does, though. It's my favorite thing about finder.

Cmd+Up goes to the parent folder. There's probably a way to emulate that in ActionScript and set it as a custom toolbar button.

Command-click for “Open Containing Folder”.

Literally every single question you ask about the Finder can be answered by simply clicking on the UI element you are wondering and observing what happens. It would take less than two minutes of poking around to fully understand all the basic controls of the Finder, and during that time, you are very unlikely to damage your file structure. Also, even a moderate familiarity with OS X UI conventions would explain a lot of the functionality.

It seems you're trying to say that any UI without textual labels on everything is not discoverable. That doesn't fit with the usual meaning of the term, and seems to be too strict a standard to be actually useful.

Most of us here certainly wouldn't have any trouble, but an almost defining characteristic of newbie computer user is being afraid to take any action without understanding the consequences.

Literally every single question you ask about the Finder can be answered by simply clicking on the UI element you are wondering and observing what happens.

You and I have different definitions of the word 'literally'. He has a number of questions for things that aren't apparent on the gui ("How do I create folders? How do I delete things?" etc)

But there's no way to know you're unlikely to damage your file structure without knowing what the buttons do ahead of time.

The Finder is not a very good example of a better explorer UI though, it's pretty consistently awful.

Normally I'm not a fan of the over-fetishization of Apple UI and design that tends to happen here on HN, but in this case I have to strongly agree with you that the OSX finder UI (for all it's many quirks and limitations) is vastly better than this new Explorer UI. Hell, the Windows 7 Explorer UI is better.

This new Explorer UI is just waaaay to damned cluttered. Putting the Ribbon UI on Explorer is not necessarily a bad thing, but I really thing they could trim down the number of buttons present by default on the "Home" tab of that ribbon. IMHO, this is gonna be intimidating as hell to most casual/non-savvy users.

The copy path button is only necessary because Explorer hides the real path with the fake address bar they use now. I'd bet that mostly power users need to copy the path anyways, and they'll be able to figure out how to click on the address bar and Ctrl+C.

If you select the "fake address" it transforms to the normal path - which feels a bit gimmicky to me.

It may feel gimmicky to you, but it's very functional. Each area of the breadcrumb bar has a distinct and useful function (jump up the hierarchy, list other folders at that hierarchy level, enter textbox mode). It's insanely useful in comparison to any other method I've seen.

Yes, this is a UI element Microsoft has nailed. It does exactly what I expect it to do.

The "Copy path" button just saves you a few keystrokes.

The breadcrumbs on the 'fake path' are extremely useful to jump to one of the parent folders, which is a frequent task, so I appreciate it.

I hate the OS X broswer (one of the main reasons I've never been able to make the switch) but agree that the ribbon explorer UI is terrible.

Why use URL shorteners on HN? I feel uneasy clicking on them. There's no real reason to use them.

>I think Microsoft's ribbon approach is horrible for usability. It takes a long time to visually scan all those words/icons to figure out what I want.

A huge percentage of people are repeat users of Explorer. While it may feel cluttered in the beginning, it will soon become second nature once people get used to it, and it's extremely friendly for newbies since it exposes functions instead of hiding it 3 levels deep in some menu. Are you a regular user of Office 2007+?

My concern is that it takes up valuable vertical space on the 16:9 monitors that we are getting these days, especially on netbooks. But you can minimize the ribbo and declutter it. See http://www.winsupersite.com/content/content/140353/win8_expl...

Despite the huge ribbon the new layout actually has more vertical space due to the removal of the details pane. Once the ribbon is minimized there would be tons more real estate: http://blogs.msdn.com/cfs-filesystemfile.ashx/__key/communit...

Oh thank god. I hated the detail pane.

CTRL-F1 to minimize/restore the ribbon works on the Office apps now as well; I use it _constantly_.

Extending your comment with some words from the article: "If you collapse the ribbon (double-click the tab, or click the Minimize arrow on the right side of the ribbon), you get even more vertical real estate with our new approach."

I double-click on it a lot when working with Office to get focused. When you hide it, if you hover it it will show without taking up all the space it does when it's open.

> Are you a regular user of Office 2007+?

Yes, I hate it. I use Excel 2010 (PC)/2011(Mac) almost every day and I can never find anything in the ribbon. On Mac I use the Help/Search function to jump directly to the menu item I need. On Windows, I'm stuck looking through those awful ribbons.

I used to work with someone who insisted on Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows because he could never find anything in Excel. Lotus for Windows was better because it still supported the / menus he'd been using in Lotus for DOS.

Help/Search does seem like a great feature, though.

I had talked to some UI designers at MS about the ribbon not too long ago and heard some interesting feedback. For virtually every group that uses it they prefer it. One group doesn't like it as much though -- developers and power users. You'll probably never see the ribbon in Visual Studio.

What I found interesting is what tested best with power users -- whatever they were currently using. Even if they didn't really like it, they always liked it more than then next thing.

One of the worst places to get UI feedback, for something like Explorer, is from people who would read such a blog. I hope MS is mindful of this.

In all this discusion there is an assumption that I disagree with: that the people that has no idea about using computers should dictate the UI.

With every version of Windows, I must work a little more, if at all possible, to go back to the Windows 95 Explorer. With every version of Windows they add some "innovation" or "enhacement" that degrades a little more my user experience.

Buttons and bars that add nothing useful and take screen space. A couple of minutes looking for the options to revert the changes... the options BTW also move. Windows 7 makes it specially difficult to restore the menu.

"Simplified" folder managing prevents me from seeing two sibling folders in the tree at once. That was Vista I think,

The Windows 7 "libraries" are terrible and impossible to disable completely. The "classic" start menu has disappeared from earth's face.

And so on. Windows 8 may be a little more difficult. I don't know if beginners are happier. I don't care.

In all this discusion there is an assumption that I disagree with: that the people that has no idea about using computers should dictate the UI.

I don't think its people with no idea, but rather people who aren't power users. I suspect almost all of us on a site called "Hacker News" are likely power users in our OS of choice.

When Windows changes, I'm inconvenienced for an hour or so as I relearn where various things are. But as a power user, I relearn these things pretty quickly (if I'm so inclined). "Oh they've added something called a registry. Let me take a look at this... Hmm... so there is where the files are registering this data. What if I..."

This is what we do. We're going to figure it out. And to be honest, I find Win7 way more user friendly than XP. For example, with multimon and the ability to quickly snap windows into place with Win-L and Win-R -- that right there makes me feel naked on XP (or Vista).

So you make look around and say there are 250,000 Windows power users out here (and you're probably surrounded by them)! There are 300 million who aren't.

When the screenshot of the Windows 8 Explorer scrolled into view I thought I'd reached the punchline in an Onion article.

Confused about the conclusion versus the analysis: no one uses the command bar, ergo we should make this useless interface element bigger and more complex!

"Note that we haven’t finalized the exact number of commands in the ribbon yet. It will likely end up between 198 and 203 when we’re done."

203 buttons?!

No, 203 commands. Each button can have drop-down menus that expose multiple sub-commands.

The ribbon replaces a traditional menu. How many commands do you count in your file manager's menu? (Probably less than 203, but I think if they can organize them well, more power to them)

I was thinking the same thing. Their data, according to the article, indicates that over half of all functions used in Explorer are via the right-click menu and yet they conclude that these items aren't discoverable enough? Bizarre.

I think they're overlooking the fact that it's often a smaller & quicker movement to get to an entry in the right click menu than to mouse up to the toolbar and click there. Fitt's Law applies.

But they aren't eliminating the context menu, no? Right clicking is intuitive for me, but it is not for many people. I speak from my own experiences doing tech support professionally and for family and friends.

It definitely seems like a jump. Did they interview users? If so, why not reference that data? If not, why not? And what user data prompted them to create 203 buttons if some of the (far less than 200) commands they have now don't get used in more than 1% of user sessions?

I'd guess most Microsoft apps have hundreds of buttons as well. 99% of them are not shown by default but you can customise it to your own taste, that's why there are so many of them.

I think they've learned from the Office 2007 metrics and feedback. Also they have listed the reasons for choosing the ribbon over other approaches. I don't see a 'jump'.

>And what user data prompted them to create 203 buttons if some of the (far less than 200) commands they have now don't get used in more than 1% of user sessions?

You say that as if the 200 buttons were on one screen. They are spread out over different contexts and tabs. I believe they were trying to make the commands more discoverable from the previous versions.

I was only referencing the parent post about the 200 buttons, it's certainly true that they're available in ribbon form.

If the commands are things that were previously available and less discoverable, then that's one thing. However, I felt like it was a jump to go from having so few commands available menu to having around 200. Do they expect the new commands to be used frequently? Were they actually needed? That's what I was trying to ask.

Despite the use of the Ribbon (which doesn't seem all that bad since you can still customize it if you can't get used to it), I think MS is actually listening to people and using the feedback.

The 'up' button is back! As they said, it's the most requested feature in explorer. I even put back the 'up button' keyboard shortcut via Auto Hot Key. Also 'Open command prompt' is in there now. (Finally!) Plus they plan on having shortcuts for every command. I think by listening, including these additions, and reintroducing customizability, they took a big step forward in usability.

You've actually always(at least since W2K) been able to get the "open command prompt" option by holding Shift when right-clicking in a folder, and I think there's some tweak deep down in the bowels of Windows that turns it on permanently.

Wow didn't know about that, thanks. I've been using AHK for that too. Press Win+C and a prompt will open at that location. It's much faster than shift-clicking through a menu.

I wonder how many others knew about the "open command prompt" who really did need it. Revealing it in the Ribbon is a double-win then, because now you immediately know it's there and you can now also use a keyboard shortcut.

The background information and analysis seemed so reasonable, then they threw that ribbon on there and it looks like a confusing mess.

I thought it was great that they discussed what user's actually do within Windows Explorer before they decided what to change with it. Too often I feel like changes are forced for change's sake, and, despite my own opinions on the design, it's great that they're open about their reasoning.

This looks like a professional tool for doing stuff with files. The same way Word is a professional tool for text and documents, and the same way that Photoshop is a professional tool for editing images.

Difference is that doing stuff with files is not a profession.

FWIW, I've had jobs in e-discovery/computer forensics where I was something very close to a "professional file-doing-stuff-with-er". I was a heavy power user of Explorer, along with cmd, powershell, cygwin, in-house tools, third-party tools, third-party Explorer add-ins, etc.

I think if I still had that kind of job now I wouldn't care much about the command/menu bars vs. the ribbon - the former were pretty useless, so at least there's not a lot to lose - but I'd be very happy to see them implementing drag-and-drop from/to the breadcrumb bar.

I think the next file explorer I want is more like a Graph/ DB, with search, stats and files resting in multiple folders like tags.

I think windows is so set in how they do things that they can not think out of the box ( window ) at all.

With 3d and ssd becoming standard there are plenty of new ways to visualize the files on your drive.

Even photosynth an ms product would be a cool bolt on to file explorer.

The ribbon was great in Office because there is a hell of a lot of stuff it made simpler. There was a learning curve but I think it was overall a good choice.

In Windows Explorer though? It just looks like clutter. I'm no 'novice' but even I have trouble with the thought of getting used to that mess.

I think they're just swerving around in the wrong general direction anyway, but the Command Prompt and "Move Up" buttons I was glad to see.

However I think they need to stop looking at positioning and layout and more at function and whether-or-not-this-should-be-there-at-all. There are things about the Explorer UI that I find non-intuitive and redundant. The bottom bar showing the file's information, for example, is useless when the user is in the "Details" mode. It should automatically disappear when its purpose is recreated in the main view. Even right-click > hide on it only works until you open a new Explorer window and there it is again! And I have never once used the "Burn" button, yet it's ALWAYS there even when there's no CD in the drive to burn to. It instead pops out my drive and tells me to use a CD. I don't think any user, no matter how bad they are with computers, needs that amount of instruction.

I hope they take a lot from watching their users in supplement to this quantifiable data. I once thought I lost an important folder when I tried dragging it to the Favorites bar, until I later realized in relief that because I didn't hold down Alt Windows actually moved the folder in question into my Favorites folder.

You know, just things like that.

I'm assuming that power users would just hide the ribbon. The flexibility of Windows Explorer is something that I miss on the Mac. Although the Finder is clean and simple, it does feel a bit underpowered. I ended up switching to PathFinder on the Mac.

If I took all that time to customize my command ribbon, I'd certainly want it to look the same across every computer I use. Will there be a way to synchronize my preferences for settings like this anywhere?

Office 2007 and 2010 have had the ability to export your settings with the Export-ui extension. I would guess that you can do the same with Windows Explorer too

I like the changes they're making as a professional user.

But what's missing is recognition of the leaps forward in the iPhone / Android's general consumer interfaces.

iOS obfuscates the explorer interface and replaces it with simple contextual commands which seems fitting here - the 80% like new / copy / paste / etc.

If they approached it like iOS the question wouldn't be how to "improve windows explorer" but how to eliminate it.

What is odd to me is that Windows 8 seems to have a dual personality between its Metro interface and Desktop interface. I'm eagerly waiting for how Microsoft is going to try to make this seamless.

I'm not sure why I'm different than most commenters here, but I really like the ribbon UI. I hate menus, they are too small. As a Windows user for more than 12 years, I find the ribbon UI and functionality for Explorer a quite good improvement. I need to copy/paste, changes views, search easily from one bar. The menu is too small and requires an additional click.

I've never, ever used the ribbon, it's just a waste of space as far as I'm concerned. The fact that Microsoft still insists, to this day, on pushing it everywhere just screams that they don't get computers. No wonder they're struggling in innovating outside the enterprise.

Overall like explorer in Windows 7, but its file indexing is very slow. Search takes long time. But third part software like everything[1] does it smoothly. I hope they fix it in Windows 8.


"Microsoft. Making sure everything you may ever need to do with a file in Windows Explorer is presented to you in a ribbon bar, in case you only own a mouse and no keyboard. In this case, it may take you 10 minutes to find the 'Delete' button, but at least it's jammed into the ribbon bar. After all, every possible action should be visually presented to the user so they know every possible thing they can do with a file. You never know when you'll need the 'Easy access' option, which is ironically one of the hardest buttons to find."

Sorry for the convoluted take on the article, but I figured I'd take the Microsoft approach when mocking Microsoft.

Users do not know what a filesystem is. They don't want to know. Whilst the improvements enumerated here are undoubtedly improvements it's all lipstick on a pig. It's time for the hierarchical filesystem to die.

1. Press the "windows" key on your keyboard.

2. Type what you want to find.

3. Profit!

Search is part of the answer but it’s not the whole deal. Some users don’t like to search, it would be disastrous to just replace everything with search.

I think that tailor made libraries that leverage metadata are the other part of the answer. All modern music players and photo library apps already do this, they have a tailor made interface specifically for browsing music and photos. It’s not necessary to ever touch a music file or a photo in the file system.

The obvious problem are files you want to use in several applications – e.g. that CSS or JavaScript file you are working on. It wouldn’t make sense to give every app a library, that would only confuse and lead to inconsistencies.

I do think, though, that this is a problem most casual users will never encounter. Just add a document library to Office and most people would be set.

They need to know, and if they don't know, they must learn some basics. Just like they must get a driver's license to drive a vehicle.

Anything can be built on top of hierarchical filesystem. Windows already has libraries. Some alternative file managers support file tagging and user catalogs.

No, they do not need to know about the filesystem. Take the iPad or iPod as examples. They have full-featured applications and the filesystem is invisible.

Having the iPod hide the file system is the number one complaint I hear from people who own one. It works "okay" as long as you stay within Apple's ecosystem and can completely bomb if you venture onto other hardware/software/use cases.

Well, I can't disagree with your anecdote regarding complaints (although I have owned both iPod and iPad since they were released and have never had a problem beyond the iTunes file transfer flow being awful), BUT the constraint to the Apple ecosystem and the iTunes flow are implementation details orthogonal to the actual hiding of the filesystem (i.e. it is easy to see how Apple could make file sharing easier without introducing the concept of a filesystem).

How do you copy a bunch of documents and pictures to a USB drive if you don't have a full filesystem? "USB drives are outdated, use the cloud" is not a valid answer so don't even bother saying it.

Maybe I was unclear in my earlier comment. The best way of implementing file handling is likely some full full-featured filesystem under the hood. My point is that this can be abstracted away to something more user friendly than a tree containing hundreds or thousands of folders and files. Transfer off a device obviously needs to be considered, but exposing a device (e.g a USB drive) as a hierarchical filesystem is usually unneccessary (and, IMO, counter productive from a usability standpoint).

My point is that this can be abstracted away to something more user friendly than a tree containing hundreds or thousands of folders and files.

It's apparently hard enough that no one's been able to provide a better solution to the general problem yet, only specific instances. (No, the iPad doesn't count because it doesn't even have a USB port.) So instead of researching pie-in-the-sky solutions (which is incidentally what MSR does), they've decided to invest resources in something that we know works to the extent that it does.

The iPad provides the ability to connect an SD card, which fulfils a similar use case... but discounting the iPad, OSX Lion takes steps away from the filesystem, with all the files openable by a given application visible a la coverflow with a flick of the wrist. It also does away with the saving metaphor in many apps, further distancing the user from filesystem concerns. In light of this, it would seem more a matter of will than being "too hard" or "pie in the sky".

I don't really care about the looks, I'd just like them to unbreak the search UI and behavior. XP was slow but worked correctly, 7's search is a pain when you try to actually interact with the matches.

Very happy the Up button is back, biggest thing I missed from Windows XP.

So, seeing as I don't want to wade through all this bs, answer the essential question: Does Explorer finally have multithreading (possibly gnarly to get right), and/or multi-process support turned on by default.

I could give a flying f about the eye candy.

P.S. I'm glad to see that "gnarly" is in this browser's spell check support.

P.P.S. My Windows machines are still on XP, so maybe I've missed something. Others' gripes, seen here and there, make me think not, though.

Looking at the history at the beginning of the article I noticed how much I miss the original File Manager. Maybe I should get a third-party Explorer replacement. However, I like the ribbon in general although I prefer using the command line or right-clicking.

Big plus for the "command-line here" addition. I've been using a registry mod to get that into my context menu but it's good to see it in the mainstream.

It looks like Microsoft is taking a lot of care to take user usage statistics to see how the default behavior of explorer should be. However, I really hope they don't strip out any existing functionality out of explorer since it is "not used much". To be honest, I'd still prefer two-paned 3.1 style (instead of a useless shortcut bar or whatever they have by default on the left now)

I agree with most comments here, that the changes seem to be not so great. The product, of course, is a result of the process creating it. If they fine tune their process of improving usability further, I can really believe that one day we might have a handsome Windows again. Think about how much Win7 improved over Vista.

Well, in Germany we say "The last thing that dies, is hope".

I like that MS is so open about its development. We even get videos.

This video about Win8 has more than 5 million views already: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p92QfWOw88I

I am curious how much hype around Win8 they will have built when they ship it.

I think the last time I felt so excited about Windows was in the Longhorn times. (I use OSX)

I don't see why they made commands like copy and paste into buttons. It seems like they could simplify their interface by using more conventions and fewer ribbon buttons.

I tend to dislike the ribbon in general because it feels like their designing software for the user who likes to click things and not for the user that uses keyboard shortcuts.

There are users -- LOTS of users -- that have no idea that you can go into the menus or use a keyboard shortcut to cut & paste. To them, if there's no button, it doesn't exist.

The ribbon is beautiful because you can hide it.

I disagree strongly with the whole "too many buttons/clutter" sentiment. This provides an awesome learning curve for users. The tooltips for the ribbon expose keyboard shortcuts. A first-time user will click the button, then eventually try the keyboard shortcut, learn it, learn all the shortcuts they need from the ribbon, then learn to hide the ribbon. This opposed to the crappy menu or context menu system which is much less conducive to exploratory UI learning.

Users, in general, don't like keyboard shortcuts.

>I tend to dislike the ribbon in general because it feels like their designing software for the user who likes to click things and not for the user that uses keyboard shortcuts.

I guess the vast majority of users like clicking on things.

>I tend to dislike the ribbon in general because it feels like their designing software for the user who likes to click things and not for the user that uses keyboard shortcuts.

Did you read the post fully? They have expanded the number of keyboard shortcuts and there is a way to minimize the ribbon. I don't see what you're complaining about, are you saying that they should force all users to find out and use arcane keyboard shortcuts instead of exposing the functions via the Ribbon UI?

Why does Microsoft love the Ribbon so?

Because they did hours and hours of research, testing, usability sessions and found that it worked.

Why can't I ever find anyone who liked it then? Everyone in my family and non-geeky friends are struggling to find anything on the ribbon or are complaining it takes entirely too long to find something that was just fine living in the menu.

It seems that I am one of those rare people that love the ribbon (at least in Word and Powerpoint). I don't know exactly why I like it, but after using the new Word/Powerpoint for just a few minutes I never want to switch back to the old menu systems.

I really like the Metro design that Microsoft has. A mishmash of Metro UI based apps and this older looking aero windows are going to look strange together.

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate Microsoft on making Windows unambiguously worse than KDE 2.

it looks like word :(

Since I can hide it pretty well, I think this is great. It will make things more accessible to my mother, which means fewer 'tech support' calls.

Things they still don't seem to be addressing:

* Drive letters. It's 2011.

* Inability to make hard links to non-local storage. This infuriates me and makes it extremely difficult for me to manage my media in a clean way. On the Mac or Linux, for example, I can map my music folder to my Terastation. When I'm traveling, I can map my music folder to my external USB drive. Can't really do that for Windows, though.

There are countless other minor issues I have with Windows, and I see no sign that they're doing anything to improve on them. This is looking an awful lot like more superficial changes, which seems to be Microsoft's forte of late. Why do real work when you can rebrand, reorganize, change the website layout, etc. ?

Regarding your second point: I'm not exactly sure about the details, but you could assign a drive letter to your music collection on your Terastation, and when you're traveling, you could reassign the drive letter to your music folder on your external HDD. This is not perfect, but could be a possible workaround.

For your second issue, couldn't use just use a symlink from the Music folder to the external drive?

I tried hard to move my win7 user directories off C: on my home box - this requires the use of ntfs 'junction points', apparently.

I managed to get it working smoothly, with one glaring problem - I couldn't hide the junction point from the filesystem view. The junction point looked like any other file, and refused to be hidden (they're supposed to be), meaning that it was possible for them to be accidentally moved by an errant command - which would then lose the connection to the user dirs and screw up the system. So close and yet so far...

Symbolic links can be used, but many apps that I use don't respect them. Hard links have the advantage of being indistinguishable from a real directory unless an app actually goes out of its way to inspect it.

No operating sytem that I know of supports hard links across device boundaries. Symbolic links are really the right solution there, and that many apps don't work with them is a shame.

> and that many apps don't work with them is a shame.

shouldn't a fopen work seamlessly with symlinks? Shouldn't it be dealt with at the filesystem level instead?

You're right, I misspoke. I have to revise my statements a bit.

On Windows, there are hard links, junction points (I believe they're the same, junction points are for directories), symbolic links, and shortcuts. Junction points only work for local NTFS drives. Shortcuts work on anything, pointing to anything, but they're just .lnk files and an app has to know how to process them.

Here's the kicker: you basically can't create a symbolic link in Windows unless you're running as Administrator! There's even an option to enable symlinking in the Local Security Policy, but it doesn't actually work (a known bug since, I believe, Win Vista)! The 'runas' command (basically, sudo) can't really be used, though perhaps it works if you create a 'real' Administrator account (by default, there isn't one that you can log into).

So, you can create a symbolic link to a file on a network file system, but not to a directory. And you'll have to run as Administrator to make it happen at all.

I'm sure that's more than you ever wanted to know about Windows and links. :-)

Can't you use Libraries ?

This is absolutely the Windows way of accomplishing it. With Libraries, you don't just "map" your Music folder to something, you can have as many folders as you want included in your music library.

How to Include a Network Drive or Folder in a Library in Windows 7: http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/4617-libraries-include-...

Can you use libraries so that the same media is sometimes available on a USB drive and sometimes available on a network server? i.e. an item may or may not be there, and it shouldn't appear duplicated.

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