The Windows 95 User Interface
Microsoft Windows 95 Reviewers Guide Chapter 3
More than any other part of the operating system, the UI defines the user’s overall experience. The easier, more powerful, and more compelling the UI, the better the user feels about computing and the more productive the user is likely to be. A great UI helps the computer industry grow because it makes computing easier and more natural for all people, from the novice user to the power user.
This chapter discusses the design process that produced the UI in Windows 95 and then introduces the components of the UI, organized into the following categories:
The overarching goal of the UI in Windows 95 is to make PCs even easier to use for all people. Fulfilling this goal is a challenge because different people work in very different ways. Novices want learning how to perform a task to be easy, even at the expense of efficiency. However, experienced users want to do more with their PCs, and they want efficiency and flexibility. In addition, users upgrading from Windows 3.1 want to make the transition without throwing out everything they have already learned.
Windows 95 meets these disparate needs by being scaleable—that is, by being able to fit the proficiency and preferences of the individual user. For novices, the most common and essential features of Windows 95, such as launching an application, task switching, and finding a file, are easily “discoverable” via the taskbar, with its Start button and push-button task switching. For experienced users, Windows 95 promotes efficiency, customizability, and control via such power-user capabilities as the Windows Explorer, rich secondary mouse-button clicking, property sheets, and shortcuts.
The UI in Windows 95 was not constructed from a blueprint drawn from a master specification. It started with clear objectives, guiding design principles, and a skilled team. The design process started with the basic question, “How can the UI in Windows 3.1 be improved?” That question launched a continuous cycle of discarding old ideas, conceiving new ideas, and learning—a constantly iterating design-usability test-redesign loop like the one shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. The design loop of Windows 95
Improving the Windows 3.1 User Interface
There was no shortage of information about how the Windows 3.1 UI might be improved. The table on the following page summarizes key findings.
The following mechanisms were used to compile this feedback data:
Make It ...
Easier to learn for novices Problem Areas
Conducting extensive live tests in a variety of settings with a variety of subjects has been key to engineering a state-of-the-art UI. A large portion of the total development budget of Windows 95 has been expended on this critical activity, and Windows 95 is probably the most usability-tested product ever. The following methods have been used to test the UI in Windows 95:
Usability tests are observed firsthand by the design team and are essential in future designs. At the time this guide was being written, more than 1000 hours of usability testing in 48 phases with more than 400 participants had been conducted. The experience of test subjects has ranged from novice users to intermediate/advanced users, so the test results focus on new computer users as well as users familiar with Windows.
This section describes the features of the UI that are designed to make learning Windows 95 easy for novices.
The Desktop: Neat, Clean, and Logical
After users start their computers, they are presented with the Windows 95 desktop shown in Figure 3. It’s neat and clean and displays only a few graphical objects.
Figure 3. The desktop
The simplicity of the desktop appeals to all users’ sense of organization, but it also serves to focus the novice user on the following essential elements:
More than any other feature, the taskbar, which is shown in Figure 4, exemplifies the order-of-magnitude improvement in ease of use and ease of learning of the UI in Windows 95. It is the UI’s anchor. Its mission is to make 95 percent of what a typical user wants to do with the operating system easy to accomplish at all times. The taskbar started out specifically as a program launcher and task switcher for novices. However, because of its simplicity and power, the taskbar is also popular with experienced users, who can take advantage of its many other capabilities.
Figure 4. The taskbar
The two key features of the taskbar are the Start button and push-button task switching, which are examined in the next two sections.
The Start Button: Up and Running in Seconds
Usability tests on Windows 3.1 have shown that launching Write takes a new Windows user an average of nine minutes. With Windows 95, launching WordPad takes a new user an average of three minutes. If only the users that launch WordPad via the Start button (rather than by another means) are counted, the average launch time drops below one minute!
The main reason for this dramatic 3x–9x speed improvement is the Start button, which is shown in Figure 5. Without knowing about double clicking or complex hierarchies, a novice user of Windows 95 can quickly launch a program and get to work.
Figure 5. The Start button and its menu
However, the Start button is much more than a super-efficient program launcher. Its capabilities include the following:
Novices need to have powerful features presented to them in a simple and compelling way; otherwise they won’t use these features. Research conducted with active Windows users indicates that fewer than 50 percent frequently use more than one application at a time and only 20 percent frequently use ALT+TAB task switching. These powerful features of Windows 3.1 are simply not discoverable.
The objective of the taskbar is to make switching among multiple applications as simple as changing channels on a television set. Every open window has a button on the taskbar, allowing the user to see which documents and applications are currently open. Switching applications is a simple matter of selecting the desired “channel” on the taskbar. No more minimized program icons; no more disappearing windows. The user can see all the active tasks simply by looking at the taskbar, the TV Guide of Windows 95. When a task is minimized into the taskbar or maximized from the taskbar, animation helps new users understand “where” the task goes.
Task buttons resize themselves automatically depending on the number of active tasks. If the buttons get too small to be useful, the user can customize the taskbar. In fact, a host of other taskbar configuration options allow the user to customize it in other ways, including the following:
Customize the Start Button
File management and browsing in Windows 3.1 are not intuitive. Fewer than 55 percent of Windows users regularly use File Manager, and File Manager is especially confusing and intimidating for novice users.
Designing a discoverable and comfortable model for browsing and file management for the novice user has been a priority for the UI design team because of the observed difficulties with Windows 3.1. Several significantly different designs have been tested and thrown out. In the course of this testing, the design team made the following discoveries about basic file management and browsing:
Figure 6. Browsing My Computer
To many advanced users this behavior seems cumbersome. “Why not open in list view?” they ask. “Why create a new window that just clutters up my screen?” “Why not open in a dual-pane view? It’s much more efficient for me.” “Why not turn the Toolbar on by default?” All of these possible default models and more were tested thoroughly and discarded because they caused confusion and stress for novices. Novices respond best when they are presented only with essential information and when they can easily “get back” to where they just were, so the default model was designed to meet these needs.
(Experienced users can select from multiple configuration options by choosing Options from the View menu. Also for experienced users, Windows 95 has a very powerful dual-pane browsing application called the Windows Explorer. In addition, File Manager from Windows 3.1 is still available and can be run for backward compatibility.)
The new capabilities of the default browsing model should not be overlooked in this discussion of simplicity. Folders can be created within folders. Files and folders respond logically to being dragged and dropped. Files and folders can be cut, copied, and pasted just like text and objects within applications can. Views can be customized, and each window “remembers” how it was last configured and opens automatically in that view. The best way to discover the capabilities of the default browsing model is to explore it, or better yet, watch a novice user explore it.
Browse Folders with a Single Window
By far the most-requested file system feature since Microsoft first released MS-DOS is support for long filenames, but until Windows 95 long filenames have not been possible. Windows 95 allows filenames of up to 255 characters. An example is shown in Figure 7. Eliminating the need to conform to the 8.3 naming convention results in obvious and large gains in usability. However, to ensure backward compatibility with existing MS-DOS and Win16–based applications, extensions have not been eliminated entirely; they are simply hidden from view by default.
Figure 7. A sample long filename
Files can be renamed in place in Windows 95 by selecting the file, clicking the filename, and typing the new name. The hidden file extension is not affected when a file is renamed. Files can also be renamed from within the new common dialog boxes, including the Open and Save dialog boxes.
Display the File Extensions
This section discusses how the network client in Windows 95 makes browsing networks not only possible but easy, regardless of the network provider (Windows NT Server, Novell NetWare, Windows 95, and so on). For more details about the networking capabilities of Windows 95, see Chapter 9, “Networking.”
Network browsing is accomplished by means of the Network Neighborhood, which sits on the desktop and logically represents the resources not available via My Computer. Its icon is shown in Figure 8.
Figure 8. The Network Neighborhood icon
Browsing the network via the Network Neighborhood is as easy as browsing a local hard disk.
Create a Shortcut to a Network Folder on the Desktop
The Recycle Bin is an easily recognizable metaphor for being able to “throw away” files and then recover them by simply removing them from the bin. Files deleted in Windows 95, or deleted from the common dialog boxes in applications that support them, are moved to the Recycle Bin. Users can remove an item from the Recycle Bin and drag or cut/copy/paste it to another location, or they can restore it to its original location by choosing Undo Delete from the Edit menu.
The Recycle Bin graphically indicates whether it is empty or contains items. Information about “deleted” items is available in the Recycle Bin’s details view, as shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9. The Recycle Bin with deleted items and the Recycle Bin details view showing additional information
Focus on Documents: Working the Way Users Work
OLE introduced the concept of “document-centricity” by incorporating in-place editing of objects. In a document-centric environment, the application window changes and the document stays the same, so that software works the way people work, rather than vice-versa.
The UI in Windows 95 picks up on the concept of document-centricity in the following subtle but powerful ways:
Figure 10. The icon for a new Word document
Create a New Document from Within a Folder
Hint This functionality can also be accessed by right-clicking from within any folder or on the desktop.
Backtracking: Undoing File Operations
When working with files on your system, how many times have you said to yourself, “I didn’t mean to do that!” after accidentally deleting, renaming, moving, or copying a file that you didn’t intend to? Windows 95 has a simple answer for putting things back the way they were. Windows 95 provides a multilevel undo feature that allows users to undo one or more of their preceding actions. Users can undo file deletions, renames, moves, or copies by simply choosing Undo from the Edit menu of any UI window, as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11. The Undo command on the Edit menu, which can be used to undo file operations
Undo a File Operation
Originally developed in Microsoft’s Applications Group and used in applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, Wizards are a proven tool that make it easy for all classes of user to take advantage of powerful but complex functionality. The Wizards guide a user through a series of questions, which are posed to the user in a friendly and straightforward way, and walk the user through a process like the one shown in Figure 12.
Figure 12. The Add Printer Wizard, which walks the user through the printer installation process
Windows 95 uses Wizards throughout the operating system to assist all types of users. For example, Wizards are used to perform the following operations:
Online Help has been completely retooled in Windows 95. It underwent extensive usability testing and the result is a significantly easier-to-use and easier-to-learn Help system. Additionally, it is now dramatically easier for independent software vendors (ISVs) and corporate customers to customize and develop Windows help files. Following are brief descriptions of the major features of the new Help system in Windows 95:
Figure 13. A Help shortcut button (in step 1)
Use Help's Shortcut Button to Change the Desktop Color
Windows 95 provides several aids for helping both users new to Windows and users of Windows 3.1 become productive quickly in the Windows 95 UI. Usability tests indicate that, with little or no additional training, users can complete common tasks under Windows 95 as quickly as they did under Windows 3.1, or even quicker. Windows 95 offers the following self-paced aids:
Experienced users glean many of the same benefits from the taskbar and the Start button—quickly launching a new program, quickly switching to another task, and so on—as novices. However, experienced users need more, including the following:
The Windows Explorer: For File Management and Information Browsing
The Windows Explorer, shown in Figure 14, has been described as “File Manager on steroids.” It is powerful, flexible, efficient, and extensible. It also solves many of File Manager’s fundamental problems, such as having different windows for different drives. For many power users of Windows 95, the Windows Explorer will be the primary interface for navigating through information.
Figure 14. The Windows Explorer
The best way to understand the Windows Explorer is to experience it firsthand. However, here is an overview of its major features:
Copy a File to a Different Drive Without Opening a New Window
Right-Click to Create a New Folder
Shortcuts are an extremely powerful tool for increasing efficiency. They are especially useful in a networked environment. Users can create a shortcut to any object, such as a file, program, network folder, Control Panel tool, or disk drive, and place it anywhere in the UI or in an application. Opening the shortcut opens the object that the shortcut is “pointing” to. For example, if a user creates a shortcut to My Network Folder on a network server and drops the shortcut on the local desktop, opening the shortcut actually opens My Network Folder. Shortcuts are represented by icons that have a small “jump” arrow in the lower-left corner, as shown in Figure 15.
Figure 15. Shortcut icons for a folder and a program
Shortcuts are created by selecting an object and choosing Create Shortcut from the File menu or by right-clicking the object and choosing Create Shortcut. After creation, shortcuts can be renamed. If the shortcut is for an object that was created after installation of Windows 95 and the object is renamed, Windows 95 changes the shortcut definition to reflect the new name. For example, if a user creates a shortcut on the local desktop to \\Server\Share\Public Folder and the folder is subsequently renamed, the shortcut will still work. A shortcut can be deleted without affecting the object to which it points.
Uses for shortcuts are virtually limitless, but the following are some common powerful uses for shortcuts:
Discover Where the Start Button's Programs Menu Is Stored
Properties: For Customizing All Objects
Property sheets are a pervasive feature in Windows 95. All objects in the UI carry context-sensitive properties that can be accessed and customized by choosing Properties from the File menu or by right-clicking the object and choosing Properties. Good, consistent, easily accessible property sheets have been a favorite of power-user testers. Try the following examples to see how property sheets work.
Rename a Hard Drive
Figure 16. The properties for a disk drive
Share a Folder
Right-clicking, like properties, is a pervasive, context-sensitive feature of Windows 95. (In this book, “right-clicking” refers to clicking the secondary mouse button. Most right-handed people set their mouse options to use the left button as primary and the right button as secondary.) Usability tests have shown that right-clicking as a shortcut way of performing common actions on an object is a very popular power-user feature. However, in general, right-clicking is not a feature that novices discover or remember, so the vast majority of functions that can be performed by right-clicking can also be performed by choosing the corresponding menu commands.
The power of right-clicking can be explored by carrying out the following examples.
Right-Click the Desktop to Customize It
Figure 17. The menu that appears when a file is dragged using the right mouse button
Right-Click a Screensaver to Test It
The objective of the Control Panel is to consolidate all command, control, and configuration functions in one location. With Windows 3.1, these functions were difficult to find, use, and remember—for example, video resolution was changed in Windows Setup, but a printer was installed by selecting the Control Panel’s Printers icon. As shown in Figure 18, in Windows 95 distinct graphics make all important functions instantly recognizable and previews are offered where appropriate.
Figure 18. The large icon view of the Control Panel
The individual functions available through the Control Panel tool are discussed in the relevant sections of this book—for example, the Network tool is discussed in Chapter 9, “Networking.” However, one Control Panel tool, Display, controls the configuration of the UI in Windows 95 and allows users to customize the UI itself. As shown in Figure 19, its property sheet has the following four tabs:
Figure 19. The display properties
Switch the Display Resolution
Dynamic resolution switching allows the resolution of the display to be changed without having to restart Windows 95 or reboot the PC. This feature depends on several factors, including the type of video card and the selected color palette.
A powerful new Find utility is built into Windows 95. As shown in Figure 20 and Figure 21, it goes far beyond the minimal functionality of File Manager’s Search utility in Windows 3.1.
Figure 20. Finding files or folders in Windows 95
Figure 21. Searching in Windows 3.1
The Find utility includes the following features:
Save the Results on a Complex Search
The Printers folder, shown in Figure 22, offers one-stop shopping for printer management and configuration. It replaces the troublesome Print Manager and Printers dialog box in the Windows 3.1 Control Panel, which is shown in Figure 23.
Figure 22. The Printers folder in Windows 95
Figure 23. The Printers dialog box in Windows 3.1
The Printers folder is discussed in more detail in Chapter 11, “Printing.”
Font Settings: More Powerful Font Management and Preview
The Fonts folder in the WINDOWS directory represents a single namespace in which all fonts used in the system can be installed or manipulated. (If any fonts are identified in the WIN.INI file, Windows 95 moves them to the Fonts folder on startup, so all fonts in the system reside in a single location.) Different views of the Fonts folder present additional information about the fonts installed in the system (the large icon view is shown in Figure 24.)
Figure 24. The large icon view of the Fonts folder
Operations can be performed on fonts in the same way they are performed on other file system objects. For example, a font can be removed from the Fonts folder by dragging it to another location, a font can be deleted from the system by deleting it from the Fonts folder, and a font can be added to the system by dragging it from another location into the Fonts folder.
Preview the Fonts
The Quick Viewers allow users to preview a file from the UI without having to open the application that created the file. In fact, users don’t even have to have the application that created the file on their system. As a result, documents can be sent over a network or through e-mail. Figure 25 shows a quick view of a Microsoft Excel worksheet.
Figure 25. A quick view of a Microsoft Excel worksheet
For more information about the Quick Viewers in Windows 95, see Chapter 20, “Applications and Utilities.”
Quick-View a File
Compatibility is a requirement for Windows 95. It is a no-excuses, “no-brainer” upgrade from Windows 3.1. Overall, compatibility is most important for third-party software and hardware. However, it also applies to the UI. The UI in Windows 95 must be compatible with the way current Windows and MS-DOS users work, and it must scale itself to the level and preferences of individual users.
For Users of Windows 3.1
Of primary importance is that new UI features be easy for current Windows 3.1 users to learn at their own pace. In addition, UI visual elements and operations in Windows 95 must be consistent, to the extent possible, with the elements users are already familiar with in Windows 3.1. In addition to providing aids for users migrating from Windows 3.1, Windows 95 also includes tools familiar to Windows 3.1 users. For example, the system menu in the upper-left corner of most windows, and keyboard shortcuts such as ALT+F4, ALT+TAB, CTRL+X, CTRL+C, and CTRL+V, are present in Windows 95, easing the requirement for relearning or retraining. In addition, users can run the Windows 3.x Program Manager and File Manager, if desired, as they transition to the new capabilities of Windows 95.
For Users of MS-DOS
Users of the command line in MS-DOS won’t have to give it up when they move to the graphical UI of Windows 95. In fact, “command-line junkies” will find that the usability and power of the MS-DOS command prompt have been dramatically improved. New command-line functionality includes the following: