Windows Explorer in Windows 8

I read this post on Improve­ments in the Win­dows Explor­er ear­li­er today with quite a bit of excite­ment. There’s a lot to learn in here about the thought process that goes behind the Rib­bon UI which was devel­oped at Microsoft and is final­ly reach­ing the Explor­er win­dow. I, per­son­al­ly, wel­come the changes and think it is great that they are expos­ing so many pow­er fea­tures but with the abil­i­ty to make the inter­face as min­i­mal as need­ed for some­one who won’t use them. As some­one who’s get­ting into more UX design, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to Rib­bon UI appli­ca­tions, this sort of stuff is invalu­able.

Gru­ber men­tioned it in an aside piece, point­ing out that Apple and Microsoft are real­ly diverg­ing in terms of UI design1. This is cer­tain­ly true when com­par­ing the (still in Alpha) Win­dows 8 Explor­er win­dow with the UI changes in OSX Lion. While it is fair to argue that Microsoft­’s UI is busy, I think Apple has gone a bit too far in the oth­er direc­tion. My largest gripe is that all the col­or has been removed from most icons, mak­ing it a bit hard­er to dif­fer­en­ti­ate one gray square from anoth­er. The rib­bon can be min­i­mized in any Rib­bon UI program—resulting in what are func­tion­al­ly just graph­i­cal menus. There is a tool (odd­ly, with a gray gear icon) in the Find­er which is “Per­form tasks with the select­ed item(s)” which gen­er­al­ly accom­plish­es the same task. Of course, it is just a menu and lim­it­ed to prac­ti­cal menus sizes (no dif­fer­ent than a right-click con­tex­tu­al menu at all).

Con­text menu in the OS X Lion Find­er, or, as I like to call it: the pud­dle of gray blocks

The Win­dows 7 Explor­er dia­log is sim­i­lar­ly sim­ple, with a menu-ish tool­bar pro­vid­ing some con­text-sen­si­tive tools along the top. This inter­face looks a bit like Inter­net Explor­er 8, but that is still dif­fer­ent enough to most Win­dows pro­grams that I think many users just nev­er got used to the con­trols. In IE, the main pur­pose is brows­ing. Hid­ing set­tings, etc. aren’t need­ed most of the time and I’d wager many users don’t even know about them. How­ev­er, I think any­one using a file man­ag­er is often look­ing to do more than just browse those files.

Windows 7 Explorer
The rel­a­tive­ly stripped down Explor­er inter­face in Win­dows 7

Win­dows 8—assuming that many of these fea­tures don’t get stripped out or watered down by some larg­er com­mit­tee (as has hap­pened to Win­dows releas­es in the past; thus Vista)—seems to try to cater to both casu­al users by way of the col­lapsable Rib­bon and even the Metro UI (which will pre­vent many users from even see­ing the Explor­er win­dow) as well as to pow­er users who think that reduc­ing the num­ber of clicks to show hid­den items from five down to two is awe­some. Try­ing to have it both ways may very well not work, as is too often the case.

But, right or wrong, the Find­er in OSX Lion is still going to be near­ly as lousy after Win­dows 8 as it was when OS X first launched2. At least the Win­dows team is will­ing to lis­ten to crit­i­cism and make some dras­tic changes.

  1. Fair to point out that Gru­ber did­n’t men­tion any crit­i­cism of either, though if I had to place mon­ey on where his pref­er­ences lie, I’d go with Apple. []
  2. There seem to be near­ly as many Find­er replace­ments for OS X as there are Explor­er replace­men­t/add-ons for Win­dows. How­ev­er, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the $40 Path Find­er real­ly sug­gests how cum­ber­some Find­er can be. []

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