When talking about designing the perfect user interface, different people sometimes have very different ideas. It is more of a religious thing then being simply right or wrong. People who love Macs’ main menu bar design (the menu docked to the top of the screen reflects the menu content of the active application window) would generally hate Microsoft’s Windows user interface and vice-versa. And clearly, there is no single UI design that can satisfy all the users. 

Since different people may not even agree on how the perfect UI should behave in principal, it is desirable that users can customize the user interface as they desire.The fundamentals of the UI design for Microsoft Windows had largely been the same from Windows 95 to Windows XP. But for Windows Vista, the UI has been revamped and Windows 7 made a few even more drastic changes (e.g. the new task bar).

I generally prefer simpler user interfaces, as the primary function of a UI is to help users navigating through different functionalities software provide. How "beautiful" a UI is does not really matter that much if it can not assist users to better accomplish his or her tasks. Call me a minimalist, but I have found that the latest UI designs in Windows Vista and Windows 7 to be extremely distracting and counter intuitive.

In my opinion, one of the greatest features in Windows XP is the "Start Menu". I like it because it not only gives you a shortcut to your most recently used applications but also provides the same start menu functionality older Windows (e.g. Windows 2000, Windows 98) provide. I am not sure why this design had been dropped in Windows Vista and Windows 7. While you can argue that in Windows Vista or Windows 7 you can type in part of the application name you want to launch the program and a lot of people do like it, people like me who used to using "All Programs" menu probably would find it less natural. The start menu in Windows Vista and Windows 7 would open up the hierarchical sub-menus in-place with an additional mouse click (rather than a short delay while hovering). Whatever the reason behind Microsoft’s decision, it does not give me any option to set the "optimal" way to access my applications.

Another thing puzzled me in the Aero UI is that application windows have extra thick boarders. To me the only plausible explanation is that Microsoft is eager to show off the transparency capability of Aero. But if indeed the extra wide border serves only aesthetic purposes, it would be a rather pathetic way to waste the valuable screen real estate.

One of the most controversial features Microsoft introduced in Office 2007 is the Ribbon. I am sure that I would be fond of it if the very first UI application I used had Ribbon instead of menu bar. But the fact is that I know where the menu options are and I would much prefer that there is an option to switch between the Ribbon and the traditional menu bar. The sad thing is, Microsoft thinks that this new UI widget improves the end user’s experience. True might it be, it does not help power users like me who are so used to the good old menus. Plus, why would I want a big chunk of my valuable screen to be taken up by the Ribbon? Well, you can only expect more Ribbons in Windows 7 (the new mspaint and wordpad are both Ribbon driven).

Ever since I started using Linux as my primary operating system at home almost a year ago I began to truly appreciate open source software. While the UI elements in Linux is far from being perfect, I do have the ability to tweak them to my taste. In the open source world, you have the total freedom of choosing what fit you the most, not the software manufacture.


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