Riddle me this

So I was playing around with my computer options today (yes, it was a slow Friday), and i came across a dialog i’d seen a thousand times before.  Specifically the Visual Effects dialog:


And i started dinkering around in it.  Then all of a sudden, while i was scrolling down to see some more options, i suddenly found myself asking: “why on earth am i scrolling down through this list??  It’s not very long, and there’s plenty of space below the list to extend this to!!”   Basically, the UI could have been:


Voila, everthing fits.  You could even add some more space underneath, just in case localization causes the strings to be so wide that you need a horizontal scrollbar.  However, it certainly seems like in any event you should be able to fit all the items comfortably, and there was no point in the scroll bar at all.

Can anybody help me out here?  What am i missing?  Is there a UI priniciple, or expected use scenario where it makes more sense to go with the current UI rather than my mocked up version?

Comments (14)

  1. malshep says:

    Maybe all of the system/control panel dialogs are designed to fit completely when Win is in safe mode i.e. 640×480?

  2. PatriotB says:

    Here’s the reason: property sheets resize each page to be the size of the largest page. Previous to XPSP2/03SP1, there were only 2 pages; the DEP page was not there. When they added the DEP page, they made it larger than the two existing pages, and didn’t modify the two existing pages, hence the observed behavior.

    That said, there isn’t any reason that pages can’t be written to resize their controls dynamically to fit the size at runtime…

  3. Whatever programmer made that thing made it a fixed size… detecting screen size is trivial, though, so resizing it could make sense.

    At the same time, perhaps there is some preferable distance from tabs to buttons… if I’m tabbing through with the mouse, and I want to cancel or whatever, it is a ways away.

    GUI design is hard to get right… us programmers should know. We make the UI the way we think it should be, and the dummy customers don’t like it…

  4. Jim Allneck says:

    No greater UI principle at work here — just sloppy, rushed design.

    But the problem is bigger:

    Most dialogs need to scale intelligently now that we have larger screens. But they’re not coded to do so (or in many cases, to even allow resizing!)

    File Open is still intended for 640×480 — drives me nuts.

  5. Joku says:

    I never really thought that dialog as a major pain. But since you invited a rant here –

    Have you ever ran "perfmon".. Try it today. Now try adding something to measure/sample. You get like 100 different metrics in a 4 cm x 4 cm box. This is probably the worst joke regards the so called "user experience". I really cannot imagine how did you manage to actually ship that? Perhaps the whole point of it was more like this:

    Exec: We need this ‘perfmon’ type of utility in Windows, but to avoid stepping on ISV’s foots lets make it so horrible to use that everyone will still buy the same app with from one of our ISVs.

    Well I can only say to this: Please do not ship it if its crap! Take some time to polish the usability even if its "just some utility" and offer it as download on the Windows update site or whatever.

  6. Einar says:

    I so extreamly agree with bad UI in performance monitor. It is horror to step trough it and find out what meters you want. Specaly when you are doing it for first time and dont know what you are looking for…

  7. My guess is that dialogs/property sheets are meant to be extensible. If you didnt standardize the size, or allowed them to be resized, then the extensibility would suffer greatly.

  8. Andy Williams says:

    True! This is a messy dialog and needs improving. I would prefer it split up (possibly using more tabs).

    Your expanded dialog would work fine on the XGA scrren format most of us use now, but what about support for SVGA? I think the bottom of the dialog would be off screen then.

    The problem is we must not forget that the default screen size (without drivers) is still VGA which is why it is used by SafeMode. Unfortunately your extended dialog would be very awkward to use in a VGA only; no mouse situation which might occure after a crash or major vidio mouse driver issues. The old problem of backward compatibility I suppose.

  9. CyrusN says:

    Malshep: "Maybe all of the system/control panel dialogs are designed to fit completely when Win is in safe mode i.e. 640×480? "

    Possible, although that seems like it would not be violating that. SO why is the violation ok now but not when it shipped a while ago? The minimum requirements for Windows haven’t changed.

  10. mschaef says:

    "My guess is that dialogs/property sheets are meant to be extensible. If you didnt standardize the size, or allowed them to be resized, then the extensibility would suffer greatly. "

    This is true in the explorer version of the same dialog box:


  11. richardb says:

    The dialog for adjusting environment variables is even worse. You get about 30 characters in which to type a string before it scrolls. How many people — ordinary, non-developer people, even — who have Path variables shorter than 30 characters?

    Bonus feature: there is no horizontal scrollbar! You have to use the arrow keys.

  12. Adam Young says:

    I guess it’s because there’s a standard default size for Win Properties windows, and if the dialog was increased in size it would breach this; the settings are derived from Registry entries, so I guess the developer decided to iterate through these entries and plonk them into a scrollable list dynamically; the settings could theoretically change in future versions of Windows to support other UI enhancements, so perhaps s/he was trying to future-proof the dialog in some way by using a repeater-style display rather than having the checkboxes displayed directly on the dialog surface, as in the "Startup and Recovery" dialog.

  13. Riddle U says:

    Just plain bad design (or lack there of…)

    How about this user scenario…

    1. Log in as a different system user, goto "Control Panel" > "Display Properties" > "Settings Tab" and change "Screen resolution" to another value (e.g. 800×600). "Apply" and verify. "OK".

    2. Log back into your previous Windows account… Do you SEE THE DIFFERENCE!!!

    Conclusion: Can you guess what Windows Settings are shared between user-accounts and which are not? How ’bout Registry keys/values?

    Riddle Me, Riddle U… Test Riddle, No More

    –Brian H

    The Riddler (.NetDA.net)

  14. Vipul Patel says:

    Right click on Desktop. Go to Settings > Advanced Tab. And Change the Font Size on General tab to Large fonts. Restart PC and check the samescroll bar. It should give you answer.