Should all windows appear in the taskbar?


No new content today, just some follow-up discussion on the topic of windows that don't appear in the taskbar. The rules for which windows appear in the taskbar have been documented in MSDN for years, so changing the rules now would mean doing so after the game has ended. Consequently, this is not the sort of change that can be made lightly.

First point is that the taskbar is called the "taskbar" and not something like the "open windows bar". The name already suggests that the purpose is to display tasks, not open windows. I find it interesting that people, in their zeal to turn the taskbar into a "windows bar" end up removing other features, such as "How do I make a window appear in the Alt+Tab list but not in the taskbar?" Are the people who want to create such a window "just plain wrong"? (There are so many of these people that the Windows Forms folks added a ShowInTaskbar property just for this purpose!) Think about it the next time you complain that Windows doesn't let you do something—there is somebody just like you on the other side who said, "No, that's just plain wrong". Besides, if you decided that all windows must appear in the taskbar, that means that the taskbar would be cluttered with tooltip windows, floating toolbars, desktop toolbars (those things that stick to the edge of the desktop), all sorts of stuff. Do you really want that?

"The point of the taskbar is to show you what you have open." Strange, I don't remember you at the design meetings or the usability sessions.

One commenter noted that it took "several service packs" before Microsoft "fixed" the "problem" where property sheets didn't appear in the Alt+Tab list. That was actually a design decision. I remember asking this question at the internal meeting when the new user interface was revealed. The answer was, "If you want to re-open the property sheet from the keyboard, just go back to the original object and ask to see its properties again." You may not like that decision (I sure didn't), but it wasn't a bug. It was on purpose. (A decision which was revisited and changed in Windows 2000, by the way, not a service pack.)

Another commenter argued that any windows that don't appear in the taskbar should be always-on-top. I suspect a lot of people would be upset that all property sheets suddenly became always-on-top. Among other things, it would mean that you would have to close all your property sheets and control panels before you ran a business presentation or played a game.

Comments (63)
  1. Will says:

    " "The point of the taskbar is to show you what you have open." Strange, I don’t remember you at the design meetings or the usability sessions. "

    An unfortunately typical remark in this Blog, with the usual holier-than-thou attitude.  The rest of your post is similar.

    I find it amusing that instead of embracing or exploring the opinions/desires of your users, you instead prefer to critise and belittle them.  I suppose it’s typical MS behaviour – tell the user what they need.

    I don’t enjoy reading your blog much these days – it typically feels as though I’m being scolded.  The mere act of thinking differently from you seems to draw scorn and condemnation.  You can see this in the, frankly, rude, replies you post to your readers.

  2. If a programmer makes a window act incorrectly by accident, it would be classified as a bug.  But what if the designer makes it act poorly?  Is it a design bug?  Or was the purpose to make it poor?  I prefer to think of Microsoft having made mistakes rather than having had them intentional made some things hard to use.  Mistakes are natural.  Making some windows impossible to reach once they have lost focus or forms disappear and have to use non-obvious techniques to retrieve are, I hope, "design bugs" and not Mac promotional items put in by a disgruntled designer.  It might be semantics but it reveals underlying motives.

  3. Dave says:

    Okay, I think we agree that not all windows (things that pump messages) should show in the taskbar. Yet the barrage of questions and requests about this shows that SOMETHING is wrong with the design. It doesn’t matter how much you justify it, many users and developers “don’t get it.” You can either ridicule them and continue to enforce the rules, or figure out why the rules contradict their expectations.

    [Given that there are people with strong, opposing positions on the matter, it’s clear that no matter what you do, there will be people who say that your design is wrong. Attempt to satisfy one group and the other will tell you that you are off your rocker. If the people who want all windows to appear in the taskbar could get in a room with the people who want to hide from the taskbar and work out their differences, then maybe a design could be arrived at that both sides agree on. (Of course, it’ll probably not survive usability testing.) My point is that no matter what you do, somebody will tell you that you’re an idiot. That people are doing so doesn’t undermine the point; it reinforces it. -Raymond]
  4. JS says:

    So is a window that appears in the Alt-Tab list and not the taskbar "just plain wrong" or not?  The newsgroup poster can’t be blamed for asking how to do that, since he was only following Microsoft’s property sheet example.

  5. B.A. says:

    I usually don’t respond, but I’m going to defend Raymond and his "attitude" here.

    He is ragging on people who do have a holier-than-thou attitude who believe that Microsoft threw together an operating system without considering what was going on.

    Now, in some cases, maybe all avenues weren’t explored. And maybe some were done contrary to conventional thinking outside of Redmond.

    But, Raymond has bemoaned many choices that they have made and has done his best to clarify those that he can. In this case he is pointing out the many instances where the initial question is just plain short-sighted and why other avenues weren’t persued. He also mentions that he agrees on some points but does not have final say and that the person who did make the decision might have a valid point.

    A comment like "The point of something is…" is ignorant when not coming from the developer of the software in question (or someone who has talked to developer) and Raymond is right in pointing that out.

  6. Neal says:

    Haha, take a chill pill Will.  The attitude is one you’re reading into it.  

    I’m 42.  In my lifetime you could count the number of times my dad has been correct about what I was thinking or why I was doing something on one hand, yet he still believes he’s got perfect grasp of every thought I’ve ever made. I frequently relate that and, with a roll of my eyes, make some joke or another about him not being in my head.

    Someone told Raymond what the point of the taskbar is, but like my dad they had no clue, as is typical for most people who complain as such.  Raymond is merely relating that, rolling his eyes, and joking that they weren’t there.

  7. Carlos says:

    "The rules for which windows appear in the taskbar have been documented in MSDN for years, so changing the rules now would mean doing so after the game has ended. Consequently, this is not the sort of change that can be made lightly."

    Is anybody suggesting that the rules should be changed?  Fixing the retarded property sheet behaviour is trivial; just change the window styles on the property sheet windows.

    As has been said many times before, the disappearance of property sheets confuses normal users, and annoys users who know what is going on.  I don’t know anybody who likes it.

  8. Nathan says:

    Sounds like a dead horse, but if you want to kick it a few more times, I’ll join in..

    Does alt-tab always work ?

    The situations I’m thinking of are when I’ve brought up, say, system properties because I need to add an environment variable. So I have a property sheet (system properties), then (not sure what the correct term is) a pop-up from it for creating/editing variables. That’s now two winders not on task bar. I’ll usually have to switch back to the documentation I’m reading to cut/paste the variable name and/or syntax to fill in. I like to read in full screen, so now after cut/paste from the source, I’ve gotta find the winder again to paste it in. Winders aren’t on the task bar, glad to see alt-tab works, but would rather see it on the task bar. (Fill in other situations where you’re going back/forth to a winder with directions and wherever you need to apply the directions).

  9. Neal says:

    I would like to see property sheets have a "pin on top" button.  For Windows’ own property sheets they should stay above all but modal dialog windows when pinned.  For application property sheets they should come to top when the application had focus if pinned.

  10. I agree.  The "pin on top" feature has been available on my Linux desktop for so long that I have no memory of not having it anymore.  It is such an obvious feature to include and so obvious to use that it is quite noticeable in its absence from Windows.

  11. Steve Wolf says:

    As a long-time MS supporter, developer, and general user, I find the fact that prop-sheets fail to appear in the task-bar annoying, and a design flaw.  I find nothing incongruous about naming it a design flaw, and requesting that something be done about it (which it, thankfully, has).

    That any sufficiently large group of users have seemingly contradictory or mutually exclusive needs is childs-play when it comes to software.  Why is this insurmountable?  Why is this something wrong with the users, or requiring of a great deal of attitude?  Having users with various levels of aptitude, needs, and preferred ways of interacting with software is normal, should be expected, and should be dealt with accordingly.

    In a case like this, what is difficult about providing a user-preferences for whether such windows should be "always on top, and independently perhaps, always shown in the task bar"?

    It may well be that MS’s intent in designing the task bar was to only show "tasks" – but given the level of frustration that exists in the general user community it seems vain to ignore your users needs and not address this.  I can’t tell you how often we add a feature in our software that allows power users or special needs users to get a simple feature that isn’t the default, but is simple to implement and makes a whole chunk of users happy.

    The suggestions that your users provide should be grist for your future design discussions, bug fixes, etc..  They are a resource, and although too often we are all guilty of using too much attitude in our writing, that too is par for the course.

    One last item: I have been a professional developer for MS Windows for over 12 years now.  And I DO NOT HAVE A SOLID GRASP WHERE ONE CAN FIND OUT WHAT EXACTLY MS BELIEVES IS THE CORRECT GUI for its applications.  Hell, MS itself keeps changing its mind, trying new ideas, etc., so to claim that "it has been documented in msdn for years" is just goofy.  Who has read every article in msdn?  Seen every KB item?  Read every API, addendum, GUI white paper, etc., etc.  Finding relevant information is one of the fundamental skills required in this current age of software development and it is not easy or obvious where one can get at this information.  At the risk of Kvetch a bit, I would suggest that the msdn interfaces still leave a lot to be desired, and that MS does a lot to help dev’s understand how things should work – that this is so much a moving target that often finding the information needed is lost in the general noise of information overload.

    Perhaps someone here can provide me with a link to a "UI standards for Windows XP, Vista" with examples for C++, C#, VB, etc., that is updated at least annually and covers such topics as these?  I’m not being facetious – I would really appreciate such a resource.

  12. For those wanting "pin on top", use a utility such  as PowerMenu: http://www.veridicus.com/tummy/programming/powermenu/

  13. Nekto2 says:

    Why not just create “PropertyBar”? ;)))

    Everyone could turn it on or off if they like it.

    That would be just onother toolbar like links or taskbar.

    [And if a program’s windows appear in the PropertyBar when it shouldn’t or vice versa, is it a bug in the program or in the PropertyBar? Should it be possible for a program to hide its windows from the PropertyBar? -Raymond]
  14. Tim says:

    It’s an interesting issue – I have a program that I believe (of course) is the exception and sits somewhere between the two.

    It’s a program for making collections of small notes – you can make as many little text windows as you like, and type stuff in.  They automatically get saved and restored (before you say ‘Why not just use Notepad?’).

    Now, the windows are supposed to be compact and unobtrusive, so I used the WS_EX_TOOLWINDOW style to give it a small window caption/font.

    This worked fine until I realised it would be handy to be able to set up some notes to appear on the task bar (you’re making notes from a program; so you keep Alt-Tabbing between that program and the note).

    So I added the option, which sets the WS_EX_APPWINDOW flag, which forces the window to appear on the taskbar even though it’s a ‘tool’ window.

    When I tried this, and read all the documentation I could find, it became clear that this is an edge case that Windows doesn’t handle all that well – the Z-order of the note windows gets corrupted during various operations.  However, it was a useful enough feature that I left it in my program, with the warning that "Hey, this seems to work, but it’s a bit screwy, so be warned".

    My problem, I believe, actually stems from using WS_EX_TOOLWINDOW for a top-level (unowned) window – it seems I can’t have the compact window appearance without also affecting the behaviour of the window.  I could get into NC painting and size the window myself, but then that is a bunch of work and the results usually look like hell on different versions of Windows, and a lot of the system metrics lie about the sizes of controls, etc, so you have to fudge them to make it look right.

    What I really need is a flag that allows me to get the appearance of WS_EX_TOOLWINDOW, without altering the window behaviour in any other way.

    Of course, it’s probably a design decision that ‘top-level’ windows shouldn’t look like tool windows, and I’m doing it all wrong, and storing up compatibility nightmares for Raymond in the future.  

    Oh well, c’est la vie. :-)

  15. Jason says:

    “property sheets didn’t appear in the Alt+Tab list…. A decision which was revisited and changed in Windows 2000, by the way, not a service pack.”

    Damn, I’ve been using W2K at home for 6 years now and I never saw that. Of course, I was already in the habit of minimizing/moving everything to get the property sheet to be visible again, so I never would have thought to alt-tab my way back to it.

    Has the ability to have an alt-tabbale, non-taskbar window been in place since W95 and they just made a (IMHO) poor decision about property sheets? Or was the programmer stuck between cluttering the taskbar and having the prop sheet be hard to find again?

    [It was available in Windows 95 but shell property sheets didn’t take advantage of it. -Raymond]
  16. Damian says:

    Put it another way, from my mother’s POV:

    Start -> Programs -> Office -> MS Word … and MS Word appears in the grey bar at the bottom that show the applications that she has opened.

    Start -> Control Panel -> Printers and Faxes -> HP Printer … Printer queue appears in grey bar at bottom.

    Start -> Control Panel -> Mouse … noting appears in grey bar at bottom. It gets lost, and she gets confused.

    Just because it is implemented as "hosted" or something does not mean that users will want, or expect, it to behave differently.

    Besides, the control panel should be implemented similar to Computer Management. A single app with a tree on the left and property pages on the right and a search facility. Have you seen the length of the control panel list in Vista??

  17. Dave says:

    "If the people who want all windows to appear in the taskbar could get in a room with the people who want to hide from the taskbar and work out their differences, then maybe a design could be arrived at that both sides agree on."

    Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but from the responses on this blog it would be easy to get the "hide from the taskbar" people together in a room. They are the designers of the UI inside Microsoft. The people on the other side are Windows users all over the world, and they expect any substantial window to be represented as a button on the taskbar. Do not ask my mom to use Alt-Tab, she doesn’t know what it is. "Alt Tab, is that like Diet Coke?"

  18. stegus says:

    Raymond, I fully understand that the keeping control panels and property sheets out of the taskbar was a deliberate design decision so it is not really a bug.

    On the other hand, I (and obviously many others) think that this was a very bad design decision.

    The only rationale I have ever heard for why these windows should be kept out of the taskbar is that they are not applications – they are "auxillary helper windows".

    This is an extremely technical distinction – something that is very obscure to any normal user.

    A normal user expects that when he starts a program it creates a window and this window is available in both the taskbar end in the alt-tab sequence.

    Almost all programs work this way – except for control panels and property sheets.

    It does not matter for the end user how the discussions in the design meetings went or who made the decisions – the behavior is still confusing.

    I know – control panels and property sheets are not applications – but from the end user perspective they really look and feel very much like applications, so it is very reasonable to expect them to behave like applications.

    So, a more interesting question is really: Why has this design decision not been changed ? Do you (Microsoft) still think it is a good decision that benefits the end user ?

    Are there any political reasons why the decision can not be changed ? (Perhaps it was Bill Gates who made the original decision and nobody dares to change it)

    Maybe there is some weird appcompat reason for not making the change ?

    Or maybe it is simply that Microsoft does not think that the problem is big enough to bother with ?

    Note that nobody is requesting that "the rules be changed" or that "all windows should be visible in the taskbar". The only necessary change is that the shell sets the appropriate styles on control panels and property sheets so they show up in the taskbar. As someone pointed out this is after all the default behavior for top-level windows.

  19. Jim says:

    Amongst the many WTFs that is the whole UI of the MS Management Console is how this problem bites me almost every day.

    Open Active Directory Users & Computers, navigate down to something you’re interested in, bring up the properties on that object, now switch back to Outlook, Word or whatever. Four hours later and you’re ready to log off your PC, click the MMC entry on the task bar, click File -> Exit (or red X or whatever), up pops a box "Close all property pages before closing Active Directory" aaaaaarrrrg

    It knows I want to close the MMC, it knows what’s stopping me close the MMC, and it knows what I need to do. Why can’t it just silently close all the open property sheets, it could even give me a "Save" "Cancel" box if I’ve stupidly not applied a change yet, if that’s what the designers were worried about.

    And there’s also the fact that MMC windows are the only one that you can’t just right-click on the Start Bar, mouse up one entry and click Close. Why is "Help" the bottom option on their context menu? Why must they force me to break my muscle memory? Its not even as if its useful help for the Console that I’m using at the time, its just general MMC related help!

  20. stegus says:

    Another thing: You say that there are people with “strong opposing positions”.

    It would be very interesting to hear the argumentation from someone who strongly belive that the current behavior of the control panels and property sheets is better than putting them in the taskbar.

    I suspect that you yourself do not really have such a strong position on this, but maybe you could find someone at Microsoft with such a “strong position” that could write a small article on your blog about it ?

    [I’m not referring to the designers, I’m referring to the programmers who want to hide from the taskbar. Is your answer to them, “Sorry, you lose”? -Raymond]
  21. El Guapo says:

    “The point of the taskbar is to show you what you have open.” Strange, I don’t remember you at the design meetings or the usability sessions.

    Ah yes, because whatever comes out of a MS design meeting MUST be GOSPEL! Who cares what the stupid users think, they weren’t at OUR design meetings! STUPID USERS!

    [It’s one thing to say “In my opinion, the point of the taskbar is..” and it’s another thing to state that opinion as a fact. The design meeting is where the fact was established. -Raymond]
  22. David Walker says:

    I agree with B.A., who says that Raymond is "ragging on people who do have a holier-than-thou attitude who believe that Microsoft threw together an operating system without considering what was going on".

    Decisions like how to structure the taskbar were not made lightly, and they can’t be changed lightly — even if a consensus could be developed on how the design should change.

    Microsoft generally puts lots of thought into every aspect of their programs; otherwise, those programs would not be as successful as they are.  

    I know that some of the compatibility decisions, especially, are where many people have disagreements.  Yet you wouldn’t want a new version of the OS that was "technically perfect" and yet would run no old software, would you?

    Give Raymond a break here.  I think he’s right about this subject.

  23. Will says:

    Sorry, I should have been clearer.  I was not saying Raymond was wrong in anything he said.  I’m just saying he didn’t say any of it in a particularly friendly way, that’s all.

    I’ve noticed Raymond’s comments (especially answers to posts) getting shorter and sarkier every day.  Perhaps it’s just long term exposure to posters like me.

    Still, the excellent technical content is why I am here, so I try to look past (what I see as) the we-can-do-no-wrong attitude.  (I understand it, in fact, since I put it on when someone questions my designs.  But I’m not a famous MS employee.)

    [I apologize if the attitude came across as “we can do no wrong” since I’ll be the first person in line to admit that there are mistakes in Windows, many of which I was personally responsible for. My point was that (1) things are more complicated than they appear, (2) the people who designed these things aren’t morons, and (3) for every person with a strong opinion you can find somebody else with the opposite strong opinion. -Raymond]
  24. stegus says:

    [I’m not referring to the designers, I’m referring to the programmers who want to hide from the taskbar. Is your answer to them, “Sorry, you lose”? -Raymond]

    I do not think that anybody is suggesting that you make it impossible to create windows that are hidden from the taskbar.

    The only issue here is that it was a mistake to hide control panels and shell property pages from the taskbar.

    To fix this issue should be very simple indeed.

    Why do you pretend that people are requesting something that is impossible, when all they really want is a simple fix to how the shell cretes these two window types.

    [Because I misunderstood the question. I thought people wanted a global solution not a specific one. Statements like “I think that anything that isn’t modal should show up in the task bar” tell me that people want this rule to apply to everything, not merely shell property sheets and control panels. -Raymond]
  25. stegus says:

    [Because I misunderstood the question. I thought people wanted a global solution not a specific one. Statements like “I think that anything that isn’t modal should show up in the task bar” tell me that people want this rule to apply to everything, not merely shell property sheets and control panels. -Raymond]

    It is hard to understand how you can “misunderstand the question” when the title of your own article you are referring to in this post is “Why don’t control panel programs and property sheets show up in the taskbar” – you even say yourself that today’s post is just a follow-up to the original post.

    Anyway, I understand now that today’s post was mostly to tell people that there are good reasons why not ALL WINDOWS are shown in the taskbar.

    I am still quite interested in the question from the original post: why have you (Microsoft) not changed the behavior for control panels and property sheets ?

    Is it not obvious that the current behavior is bad ?

    Can you show me one person who really strongly feels that the current behavior is better than the more normal one where the windows are visible in the taskbar ?

    [It is a follow-up to the discussion that ensued from the article, not to the article itself. And I don’t know why it hasn’t changed, but remember that every proposal begins with minus 100 points. -Raymond]
  26. Cody says:

    "I’ll be the first person in line to admit that there are mistakes in Windows, many of which I was personally responsible for."

    At a local renaissance faire there are multiple blacksmith shops.  One of the blacksmiths at one of the shops was asked by another faire-goer if he made all the swords.  The blacksmith said, "I made every mistake in these swords.  Everyone wants to take credit for the swords, but no one wants to take credit for the mistakes, so I will."

  27. Stephen Jones says:

    As a long-time windows user I have never had any problem with control panels and property sheets not showing in the taskbar.

    Why do people want them to?

  28. "As a long-time windows user I have never had any problem with control panels and property sheets not showing in the taskbar.

    "Why do people want them to?"

    Because it’s easier to find the windows that way, and, in my opinion at least, it makes sense. I got along okay in the previous versions of Windows, but I found it annoying that System Properties (for example) didn’t appear in the task bar. In Windows Vista it does, and it’s especially annoying to use machines with XP on them that lack this feature.

    If I’m changing the system properties (computer name, environment variables, remote access settings, etc.) then in my mind that’s a "task" that I’m trying to complete, just like editing a document or writing an application. The original designers of the task bar may have taken a different view, and that’s fine, but I’m delighted that Vista has taken a new approach.

    PMP

  29. Weiguo says:

    "Yet you wouldn’t want a new version of the OS that was "technically perfect" and yet would run no old software, would you?"

    actually, this seems to be one of the foremost design goals of the Linux community.  No amount of rewriting, wasting the user’s time, and lack of backward compatibility is too much so long as it contributes to an OS that is more technically perfect in an irrelevant, academic fashion!

  30. Arlie Davis says:

    I wish *all* windows had a "pin on top" option, as part of the standard window menu.  Just a single checkable menu option, "Keep On Top", or whatever.  It would give the user a lot of control, be very useful, relatively discoverable, and totally backwards-compatible (except for those annoying apps that replace the standard window menu).

    I know there are add-on packages that do this, and the mechanics of it are trivial.  I’m whining because it’s not in the base OS, not because it can’t be done.

  31. tropedo says:

    But why sometimes in XP a task dissapear from the taskbar and not from alt+tab? In win2k did’t happend that.

    And why the treeview in Windows Explorer do not update it’s contents or icon when I change a CD, even if I press F5?

  32. Anony Moose says:

    Editing the properties of an object isn’t a "task" that I may on occasion wish to briefly put in the background while performing another task such as sending a quick email before jumping back to where I was?  Damn, I gotta get me one of these updated dictionaries you geniuses have.

    Incidentally, there’s something that many software developers and other so-called "power users" have in common, in both the Windows, Linux and Mac camps – their hard-won mastery of computers is the result of years of work, and they get very upset when the "unwashed masses" want any UI changes that will allow them equal control over the computer without the same effort.

    This most commonly crops up as some variant of "I’ve used computers for years and have no problems, therefore change is unnecessary".

    Sorry, grandpa, but even if you really did walk up-hill to school both ways through the snow that doesn’t mean that your grandkids have to put up with the same problem.

  33. El Guapo says:

    "can you still loose everything you typed, even during more hours, just because you answer "No" to "do you want to save"?"

    AC,

    Use Google Docs. It automatically saves as you go, AND it maintains an entire history of every version of every document you have ever saved.

  34. Mark Sowul says:

    [Amongst the many WTFs that is the whole UI of the MS Management Console is how this problem bites me almost every day.

    Open Active Directory Users & Computers, navigate down to something you’re interested in, bring up the properties on that object, now switch back to Outlook, Word or whatever. Four hours later and you’re ready to log off your PC, click the MMC entry on the task bar, click File -> Exit (or red X or whatever), up pops a box "Close all property pages before closing Active Directory" aaaaaarrrrg

    It knows I want to close the MMC, it knows what’s stopping me close the MMC, and it knows what I need to do. Why can’t it just silently close all the open property sheets, it could even give me a "Save" "Cancel" box if I’ve stupidly not applied a change yet, if that’s what the designers were worried about.

    And there’s also the fact that MMC windows are the only one that you can’t just right-click on the Start Bar, mouse up one entry and click Close. Why is "Help" the bottom option on their context menu? Why must they force me to break my muscle memory? Its not even as if its useful help for the Console that I’m using at the time, its just general MMC related help!]

    Amen!

    Anyway the annoying issue I have come across from time to time is when modal dialog boxes sometimes end up behind their apps’ windows, leaving me with killing the process as the only option, as alt-tab/app’s taskbar button only activates the main window, which of course is disabled since there is a modal dialog open which I cannot reach.  This most often happens to me with VS2005.

    Anyway I don’t mind not having control panels/property sheets show up in the taskbar as long as they show up in alt-tab.  Otherwise it’s tedious to multitask in their presence.  The underlying assumption of this is that power users who multitask with control panels/property sheets/in general are more likely to be familiar with cool switch.

    Off-topic, another pet peeve is how some editing keyboard shortcuts (ctrl+delete, ctrl+backspace) don’t work sometimes in textboxes, with no rhyme or reason to this behavior (for example, ctrl+delete doesn’t work in this textbox).  Ctrl+backspace often results in a box character.

  35. ac says:

    I agree that not all “windows” (in having a hwnd sense) should be in the taskbar. However to have “property windows” of the “MSFT Windows(TM)” out of it seems to make the things more confusing and more inconvenient. Otherwise, nobody would complain. I consider that a design flaw, and the one which can be corrected.

    Speaking of design flaws, here’s an illustration of the one I consider much worse: I never tried newer MSFT Word(TM) versions since the 2000 one, but can you still loose everything you typed, even during more hours, just because you answer “No” to “do you want to save”?

    Or, if you answer “Yes” to the same question after you accidentally marked the text and typed something (maybe destroying the text on which you worked for weeks)? And can you still loose everything you typed just because you answer wrong to “do you want to revert to saved blabla.doc” when you have the opened document and click to the document in the explorer?

    I know that the people are used to any behaviour once it is published, but that doesn’t justify keeping the design errors indefinitely.

    I’d love to see the designers of such features teaching their programs to their mothers, and to see how they would explain that to them. Would it really be “you don’t understand it, but it must be that way”?

    I actually *had* to teach my parents, and I told them more something like “I know you have the computer which can save a thousands of the pages in one second from RAM to the hard disk. But some <censored> designer in MSFT decided that program shouldn’t save the few paragraphs, containing a few thousand characters, for which you needed hours to type them in, and the computer had as much time to save them without disturbing you. They just didn’t want to let you undo the answer to that stupid dialog”.

    Back to the subject, I imagine that the only logical answer to the “property windows” problem, when explaining to the mother is: “No, you can’t reach it with the mouse, unless you spend a lot of time. and you can’t see that it’s opened somewhere in the background. Why? Well, the <censored> designers in MSFT decided that it’s *a feature*”.

    Again, I try to imagine how these designers explain that to their parents.

    [It’s very simple:
    Mom: “I can’t find the control panel that I had open.”
    Designer: “Go open it again.”
    Mom: “Ah, there it is, thanks.”
    -Raymond
    ]
  36. Mike Weiss says:

    I think it Raymond’s "attitude" reads harsher then is what is intended. It almost always is connected with people who don’t think before they talk/post/question.

    Anyway, back on topic. All I know is that I *contantly* loose explorer property windows and control panel windows on my desktop. With only one screen of desktop real-estate nowadays (changed jobs, dual monitors not working on my workstation) I notice this more. On the flip side a very cluttered task bar becomes almost worthless. Alt-tab is OK, but with only a small icon and text make finding things teadious at times (every replacement alt-tab I’ve tried has been buggy).

    I look forward to Vista’s improvements in this area.

  37. Steve Wolf writes "As a long-time MS supporter, developer, and general user, I find the fact that prop-sheets fail to appear in the task-bar annoying, and a design flaw.  I find nothing incongruous about naming it a design flaw, and requesting that something be done about it (which it, thankfully, has)." and I basically agree.

    The task bar should show me the top-level non-trivial windows. It just seems confusing and almost every time I watch somebody use Windows they run up against the same confusion.

    I’m not saying there aren’t people who like this behavior, just that they seem to be the minority and the behavior is largely inconsistent. Every-day users simply do not care if their "window thingy" is a property sheet, web page, dialog box or overlapped window. They do know they "clicked the picture thingy" and got the "window thingy" but they can’t get back to the "window thingy" via the "button bar thingy."

    I suspect it wouldn’t cause too many (if any) compatibility problems with existing software to list top-level property sheets in the taskbar.

    I certainly know I find it annoying (maybe I should look into TweakUI to see if it can fix that).

    -MYG

  38. Norman Diamond says:

    > It’s very simple:

    > Mom: “I can’t find the control panel that I

    > had open.”

    > Designer: “Go open it again.”

    And then sometimes:

    > Mom: “Ah, there it is, thanks.”

    Or other times:

     Mom: “It won’t let me open it again.  It just

      beeps.”

     Designer: “Oh, that application was made by

      some other designer, who wasn’t in the room

      that day.”

     Mom: “Can’t you fix it?”

     Designer: “Sorry, no.  Microsoft is big.

      Different departments do different usability

      studies on different sets of users, so each

      department figures out THE best way of doing

      everything.  No two departments share the

      same results.”

     Mom: “But I just want it to work.”

     Designer: “So did our competitors, when they

      used to be our competitors.  See where that

      got them.”

    Oops, sorry, too cynical.

     Designer: “Phone Microsoft and pay them 4,200

      yen to ask.”

    Oops, sorry, too cynical.

    I’m sure there’s an answer somewhere, I just have the wrong personality to find it.

    The taskbar is very highly visible to users with nearly every degree of geekiness as soon as they log in.  It displays clickable icons for 90+% of the windows that users might want to click on to access them.  Alt+tab isn’t visible and isn’t easily discoverable.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007 8:43 PM by Anony Moose

    > Editing the properties of an object isn’t a

    > “task” that I may on occasion wish to briefly

    > put in the background while performing another

    > task such as sending a quick email before

    > jumping back to where I was?  Damn, I gotta

    > get me one of these updated dictionaries you

    > geniuses have.

    Yup, and in fact that’s an understatement.  Who would ever want to briefly put the properties in the background and READ an e-mail that told you what to do in the properties.  Not anyone who participated in certain usability studies, right?

    In the past I worked for several companies which knew that they knew customers’ needs better than customers did.  In some cases it was even true, but it most cases it wasn’t.  One of those companies still exists because it’s a monopoly (in a limited geographic area, not like Microsoft).  The others don’t.

    [“It just beeps” -> “Well that’s a bug.” -Raymond]
  39. Courtney says:

    [I just want to prefix this reply with a note saying that I understand the debate is on whether ALL windows should appear on the taskbar, and I am satisfied with the reasons against it.  I’d like to make come comments on just control panels and shell property sheets]

    hehehe

    Here’s a way to annoy *everyone* at the same time.  Make control panels and shell property sheets modal (i.e. the window that spawned them cannot be accessed until the control panel/property sheet is closed)!

    I can understand the current behaviour (but it is annoying sometimes).  It is also not consistent, since some control panels have become applications (Add/Remove programs, User Accounts) and hence show on the taskbar.

  40. Craig says:

    It’s funny, one of the underlying issues here seems to be that the taskbar gets cluttered far too easily. In fact, it may have been intended to be a "task" bar, but I would argue that this is not the model most, if any, users have of the taskbar, given that many of what users think of as tasks include several windows, emails, etc. Ironically, Microsoft Research made a real "task" bar, called GroupBar which would have gone a long way toward solving the clutter issue. I can’t believe it didn’t get into Vista! :(

  41. Stephen Jones says:

    Editing the system properties is a normal task you often do and you obvously want it a way to access it while you send a quick email in the middle of the task.

    Get real! How often does your average user deal with the property sheets? How often does he ever open Control Panel? Have you not noticed there is no minimize window on the property sheets? That is because you do the job and they go away

    I don’t know if there is a cogent argument for treating Control Panel applets separately,since you can close Control Panel and the propery sheet stays open, but you certainly don’t want the task bar cluttered with all the other ‘windows’ a program may have open.

  42. Miral says:

    I fully agree that the taskbar should be for tasks, not windows, and I also agree that applications should be able to hide windows from the taskbar (eg. if they do not count as tasks).  However like many other commenters here, I feel very strongly that property pages (especially control panels) *are* tasks, and should appear on the taskbar.

    And since you mentioned the .NET ShowInTaskbar property: that’s actually one of my pet peeves, that it defaults to being True.  I feel that the main window should appear on the taskbar, but any modal dialogs (or owned windows) called up by that window should *not* (since clicking on any application window will bring all of them up anyway), and the default behaviour in .NET is to have all of them show up regardless.  Still, at least it’s readily changeable.

  43. Chris Becke says:

    My Grandfather, with his small 14" CRT monitor, did not understand why some windows got lost. I’d frequently find stacks of property sheets "stuck" behind his stock-trading app or web browser.

    I on the other hand have 4 17" LCD displays with (counting using the taksbar) on average of 37 taskbar trackable windows open at a time. (this might explain my inability to focus on a single task). Its not unexpected for me – on those occasions when I do shut down the PC – to find stacks of property sheets, as well as error dialogs from the shell telling me that some or other network resource could not be found, all over my desktop.

    I do rather wish I could get those un-owned windows to show up on my taskbar so I could at least remember which network resource I was trying to access and try again.

  44. stegus says:

    [It is a follow-up to the discussion that ensued from the article, not to the article itself. And I don’t know why it hasn’t changed, but remember that every proposal begins with minus 100 points. -Raymond]

    I thought you where a senior shell developer who sits in on all shell deign meetings. Strange that you do not know why this hasn’t been changed…

    As I see it the reason for not changing this must one of these:

    1) The shell team is not aware that this is a big usability issue for many regular users.

    2) The shell team is aware of the issue but does not think it is important enough to fix.

    3) The shell team is aware of the issue but strongly feels that the users are wrong, and the current behavior is somehow better.

    4) The shell team is not allowed to work on these things because management has decided that they should focus their work on something else (vista perhaps)

    It sure would be interesting to know which of these are true…

    [I am not a designer. Why should I sit in on “all shell design meetings”? I’d be in meetings all day and not get any work done! -Raymond]
  45. Surge says:
    1. Would it be really hard to put a checkbox somewhere (off by default) for ‘show control panels and property sheets on taskbar’? Could that be considered for xp sp3/vista sp1? And in general, are this kind of minor interface additions discussed/implemented after a windows version is released?

    2. How about a button to pin windows on top?

  46. Al says:

    Sorry if someone has already said this, but there were a lot of posts to read and after reading the first few I gave up!

    Raymond:

    First point is that the taskbar is called the "taskbar" and not something like

    the "open windows bar". The name already suggests that the purpose is to

    display tasks, not open windows.

    Is not a property window a task? I think of it as something to get done, completely unlike a tooltip. As someone said in the control panel property window thread (I think), a control panel window is supposed to be a quick in-and-out job. Thus it is a perfect little task that won’t be cluttering the taskbar at all, as you’ll probably only have it open for a minute or two. "Well why bother displaying it on the taskbar if you only use it quickly and then dismiss it?" I hear you ask. Well (again, as someone said), you might be trying to enter details from a web page/word document/text document and then your property page disappears, never to be found again. It’s quite infuriating!

    I suspect a lot of people would be upset that all property sheets suddenly

    became always-on-top. Among other things, it would mean that you would

    have to close all your property sheets and control panels before you

    ran a business presentation or played a game.

    Do people regularly have random property sheets open when displaying a presentation or playing a game? I know I don’t… I see your point – that if someone does need a full screen app that they’d have to close all not-in-taskbar windows, but I’m trying to think of any times I’d ever have property sheet windows or similar things open when I want to do full screen stuff.

  47. SM says:

    I occasionally use a free, lightweight third-party app called deskpins, which mimics a pin-on-top feature for any window (apps, property sheets, etc)

    The only annoyance I have is with property sheets disappearing — this seems to happen a lot when I open some settings window, then maybe open a web browser over it to look up some information about whatever I’m trying to change.  Although I’m not sure if putting property sheets in the taskbar or automatically making them ‘always on top’ is a good answer.  Like Raymond has pointed out, although I’d like it better, many other users would certainly find those behaviors irritating.

  48. Nobody says:

    All the above are very interesting, but I wonder why some times (very few to be honest) I have to alt+tab (or focus) into a window just to see it appear on the TaskBar because else taskbar simply ignores it?

    Windows XP -SP 2-

  49. Damian says:

    There are inconsistencies too. Open control panel explorer window (it’s in the taskbar).

    1. Most open windows (property sheets) that do not appear in taskbar.

    2. Some open windows that *do* appear in the taskbar (Add / Remove programs, Security Centre)

    3. Others are actual folders (Fonts, Scheduled)

    A user, when presented with a set of icons and names, does not know that one is a hosted property sheet, one is an actual task and the other is a folder. I was hoping that Vista would fix all that…

  50. ikk says:

    Everytime i installed and ran a new version of Adobe (Acrobat) Reader it popped up a window with one of those texts that no-one reads and the buttons "Accept" and "Decline".

    The problem is that that window didn’t show in the taskbar. Since Adobe Reader takes a certain amount of time to launch, i usually cliked some other window before i could see Adobe’s accept-decline window… And then it is buried below all other windows, never to be seen again. :-(

    I think to myself: "WTF, that Acrobat Reader takes a hundred years to load". Only when i am ready to log off, i can see what was going on…

    I am curious about how many people hav "strong opinions" on "all windows should appear on the taskbar (especially control panel applets)" and "some windows should be only accessible by alt-tab". I guess the second group is a lot smaller. You can see that from the replies to this blog post… :-(

  51. JD says:

    FWIW…I’ve got a little web server hosting about 8 sites, and I would sure hate to have a million property sheets showing up in the Task Bar on its tiny 15" monitor, while setting up DNS, IIS, POP3, etc…

  52. Asbjørn Ulsberg says:

    All windows should obviously not appear in the task bar, but I’m still finding it extremely annoying that non-modal windows suddenly disappear beneath other windows and then have to be found in the alt+tab-list to gain focus again. If I open the "add new printer" wizard for example, can’t that constitute a task? If not, what’s Microsoft’s definition of "task"?

    Isn’t wizards like "add new printer" enough of an application that it can be considered a task? Is it in the "property window" class of windows/applications? The "add new printer" wizard is not alone in the "I’m only visible in the alt+tab list" club either. There are many more Microsoft Windows-applications like that which don’t have a task bar button and thus vanishes from the user’s view (and very often memory too) when another application gains focus (which can happen automatically for all sorts of reasons).

    PS: blogs.msdn.com can’t handle non-ASCII characters in the "Name" field when the name is remembered. Some type of broken cookie handling I suspect.

  53. Jorge Coelho says:

    This is something that always annoyed me as well, now that you mention it. :-)

    Craig said: “Ironically, Microsoft Research made a real “task” bar, called GroupBar which would have gone a long way toward solving the clutter issue.”

    And you can find the same functionality of Groupbar and MUCH more (including the ability to CTRL+drag task buttons and place them anywhere you want on the taskbar – plus added good looks, which are sorely missing from Groupbar) in the NextSTART component of Winstep Xtreme.

    A lot of people here seem to think Windows customization software is good for eye candy alone, sometimes forgetting that some (like Winstep) like to focus on actually adding *functionality*.

    Anyway, this thread inspired me to make the next release of NextSTART show Property Sheets in the taskbar – a very simple code change, plus the addition of a single check box to the NextSTART taskbar configuration panel (so the *user* can choose whether to display Property Sheets in the NextSTART taskbar or not – everybody’s happy!).

    And since we’re talking about taskbar replacements, maybe someone here can give me a clue or point me in the right direction (err, Raymond?) on how a taskbar replacement can minimize/bring to front/maximize/etc windows which are running on a higher privilege level in Windows Vista when the UAC is enabled.

    I know it can be done because I’ve seen it, I just haven’t figured out how to yet. Would digitally signing an application help at all in this respect (I’m asking this because the application I’ve seen doing this doesn’t even have a manifest – it is, however, digitally signed)? I’ve searched everywhere, but at this point there is very little information on this type of stuff and I’m running out of time because Vista is just around the corner for the general public. It’s a pain when a UAC prompt pops up minimized on the NextSTART taskbar in Vista and the only way to access it is by ALT-TABing into it!

    [I wonder how Groupbar preserves your custom button order between sessions. It turns out that when people say that they want to be able to reorder buttons, that’s not what they really want. They merely solved half of their problem, and arbitrary reordering of buttons gets them the other half. But in reality, the reordering is not arbitrary. I’ll come back to this in 2008, so please hold off your questions until then. -Raymond]
  54. Jorge Coelho’s last comment reminded me of a question I’ve been wanting to ask here for a while: Why aren’t taskbar buttons draggable? I’d like to be able to rearrange them so that I can keep related buttons close to each other. I’m sure that there is a reason the functionality isn’t provided, likely related to usability, but I’m curious about the thought process.

    PMP

  55. Chris Becke says:

    In reply to JD, *AND* as a counterpoint to "changing the rules now would mean doing so after the game has ended.", XP has a neat feature where it rolls up "similar" windows into a single button.

    Actually, tiny monitors I find are the biggest problem. With the small screen real estate available and the subsequent need to use every explorer window covering a rather large % of the available space its bloody easy to loose any (control panel) application that made the "poor" descision to use a property sheet.

    Of course there are all those other control panel apps that … don’t use traditional property sheets that DO show up on the task bar just to cause confusion.

    Lets see.

    "Accessibility options". Opens a property sheet that does not appear on the taskbar.

    "Add Hardware" opens a wizard that also doesnt appear.

    "Add or Remove Programs" opens some kind of wierd task window that does appear on the taskbar.

    "Administrative Tools" actually closes my control panel by navigating to another folder (and, being a folder, therefore appears on the taskbar)!

    Well, the rule in MSDN regarding which windows get on the taskbar might be clear since the year dot. But, in practice, the problem is there is zero coupling between a windows styles  and wether or not its getting used for a "task" or "not quite so tasky" purpose.

    PErsonally I think that everything I do in control panel is a task. "Add Hardware"? Theres even a verb in the name: seems like a task. Not on the taskbar though.

  56. C Gomez says:

    If anything, it reinforces the point to note that I can’t remember the last time I used Alt-Tab.  It was probably before the time the taskbar showed up in Windows 95.  It turns out, I rarely if ever use it.  I find it an absurdly slow way to choose what I want to work on next.

    That said, I also rarely, if ever use keyboard shortcuts.  I am very much a mouse person.  After using DOS since… well… nearly its beginning, I was glad to be as nearly rid of command line as we are today.

    All this shows is the point that people use Windows in drastically different ways.  The fact we can use it in such different ways and be just as productive is really a testament to its value.

  57. Dean Harding says:

    I’ll come back to this in 2008

    Wow, the backlog of articles is getting long! :-)

  58. Neil says:

    I was so annoyed that Control Panels didn’t appear in the Alt+Tab list in Windows 95 that I wrote my own version of RunDLL32.dll (using much the same sort of process that Raymond mentioned earlier) that created an extra window that would appear in the taskbar and thus the Alt+Tab list. (I don’t know if it was possible to create a window that would not only appear in the Alt+Tab list but not the taskbar, but also reproduce all the other "expected" behaviour).

    I’m probably wrong but I always thought that the key combo to switch between dependent windows was Alt+F6 and I am always frustrated that when e.g. waiting for a shell copy to complete I can’t easily switch back to the owner window to do something else.

    [But why sometimes in XP a task dissapear from the taskbar and not from alt+tab? In win2k did’t happend that.]

    It feels as if XP uses SendMessageTimeout to get the title of the task; if the task is busy, the message times out, and XP removes the button (unreasonably, IMHO). Windows 95 was worse, of course; Explorer would simply hang. I am therefore in the position that running an "improved" 32-bit version of some 3rd party software actually gives me a worse experience.

  59. Nekto2 says:

    [And if a program’s windows appear in the PropertyBar when it shouldn’t or vice versa, is it a bug in the program or in the PropertyBar? Should it be possible for a program to hide its windows from the PropertyBar? -Raymond]

    Ok. TaskBar is for Tasks. What is task or not is up to application developer. PropertyBar should containg "property windows" – those with parent=root window, and type=(Dialog). PB should not be visible from the start, but the advanced user should be able to turn it on if needed.

    :)

    If most of such windows has names, but no icons it should be designed to display texts better.

  60. Jorge Coelho says:

    Raymond said: "You only reinforced the point I haven’t made yet."

    Ok, I see where you are getting at and I don’t want to spoil your article – still, half the problem solved is a LOT better than nothing. :-)

  61. Mike says:

    Ah, the memories. God I hated MS for that design decision at the time I wrote that post referred to (that Alt Tab didn’t work for e.g. propery dialogs).

    IIRC the (seemingly correct, as it was that way both pre-bad-change and after it returned in Windows 2000 as Raymond stated) ability to Alt Tab to such dialogs existed in not only Win95, but also the original NT4. It was just with sp..(2,3?) the bad behaviour was introduced (time may fool my memory, but I’m fairly certain I’m correct). Perhaps it was never fixed for NT4, perhaps it was. I’ll have to take Raymonds word for it that it was only fixed (reverted) in NT5.

    As for the "Display such dialogs in the taskbar", I wonder if this perhaps could be not only a flamewar issue, but actually a difference in experience and usage of UI that makes different people expect different behaviour. Let me explain this with a short story.

    I remember seeing a friend that’s been using Windows for many years editing a word document and wanting to move some words. I, Raymond, all other people I know, and probably most people reading this blog would have simply done CTRL-SHIFT-right until it was all selected, then probably preferred shift-del over CTRL-X, moved to target position and done shift-ins.

    Instead, this poor sould painstakingly and slowly used the mouse to select exactly the characters he needed, incl. the trailing space, then he selected Edit/Cut (from the menu) using the mouse, and… you understand the rest.

    Now, this person isn’t stupid, he was just (IMHO painfully) ignorant about system-wide keyboard shortcuts – something we take for granted.

    So what was the point of this story? To display that users have varying levels of experience, and easy to use for me may not be easy to use for you. Users not only want, they may actually *need*, different levels of help, hints and UI-clutter to help them get around.

    Also, we should remember that today, when you can’t even install recent Windows versions on 640×480 – something that was a design requirement for Win9x – design-decisions based on 640×480 requirments both could and should be challenged to remain valid.

    My humble suggestion to resolve this "in taskbar or not" issue would be a user-setting – with the default startup setting being appropriate for the totally ignorant (>80%?) of the users. If I then am a not-so-ignorant user using such a future fictive Windows, I’d hopefully immediately realize "Not even MS can be so dumb as to have made this NOT a setting", I’d right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and check the box "Use pre-Windows-4117 taskbar buttons display-behaviour" (well, whatever, you get the idea).

    Wouldn’t such a thing work (even that it would require some logic to not show e.g. tooltip popups as taskbar buttons :-) )?

  62. Jorge Coelho says:

    In my opinion, it would work. However, I realize that having *visible* choices for everything isn’t a good thing for an OS – too much choice gets ‘Joe User’ confused.

    That’s why I also think that Windows customization software that focuses on adding functionality (rather than just eye candy) like Winstep Xtreme is NOT for everybody – even power users, who like to tweak everything, are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer amount of user choice available in Xtreme. For instance, I’m aware that the Preferences panels of Winstep Xtreme look like the cockpit of a 747, and that is not something you would want Aunt Emma exposed to. That’s why proper default settings are so important, so even Aunt Emma is able to use the software ‘as is’, without having to delve deeper into what I personaly feel is power user’s territory.

    I think something like Raymond’s Tweak UI would be the answer here though – it permits you to change settings that are not available through the default Windows UI. On the other hand, as you stated, logic would have to be added to make sure only Property Sheets appear on the taskbar, etc… This would cost Microsoft time and money, obviously.

    Still, I feel that for important issues like this, it would be worth it – users may be split in this issue, but, judging by the replies here (and my own feelings about this), it is something each side feels very strongly about.

    Raymond said: “It turns out that when people say that they want to be able to reorder buttons, that’s not what they really want.”

    When I added the possibility in Xtreme to re-order taskbar buttons, I did it more by popular request than because I felt it was particularly useful – that is, until I actually started using this feature myself. For people like me, who like to keep 20+ windows open at the same time, it is actually VERY important. I can drag the taskbar buttons of the tasks I use the most to the begining of the tasklist and this way I always know where to move the mouse pointer – instead of having to waste time chasing the apps all over the taskbar.

    Raymond said: “I’ll come back to this in 2008”.

    2008? Gawd, what a backlog of articles! :-)

    [But once you moved it to its new location, you left it there. You didn’t move it around constantly. You only reinforced the point I haven’t made yet. -Raymond]
  63. Albert G says:

    I don’t like to start a 500MB download using Internet Explorer, and then -accidentally- cancel it. Just because I’ve pressed the spacebar key when that lovely (and extremely useful *grin*) "copying files" window appears.

    Oh well…

    Thanks for you page!

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