Why does the "Install Font" dialog look so old-school?

8 wonders why the "Install Font" dialog looks so old-school. (And Kevin Provance demonstrates poor reading skills by not only ignoring the paragraph that explains why the suggestion box is closed, but also asking a question that's a dup of one already in the suggestion box!)

Because it's a really old dialog.

That dialog has been around for probably two decades now. It works just fine, and since it's not really a high-traffic dialog, updating it takes lower priority than things that get used more often. Development and testing resources aren't infinite, after all. I'm sure that if you look harder, you can find other old dialog boxes. (My pet ugly old dialog is the Character Map program. It's hideous. and I say that even though my boss's boss wrote it.)

Besides, people don't really add fonts that way much any more. When you install font packs, such as the Consolas Font Pack for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, they just install the fonts as part of their setup process. It's all taken care of for you.

Comments (51)
  1. jcoehoorn says:

    "(My pet ugly old dialog is the Character Map program. It’s hideous. and I say that even though my boss’s boss wrote it.) "

    That’s actually a compliment.  Anything written 20 years ago is going to look bad today as a matter of course.  Back then you just couldn’t do as much to make things look nice.  So "it’s hideous" doesn’t really say anything.  But that fact that it’s still in use 20 years later means the author must have done something very right with it.

  2. Mark Jonson says:

    Wasn’t this covered in your book?

    I could’ve sworn either you or Paul Thurrott discussed this before. I remember reading about it right around the same time Vista RTM’d.

    I guess I’ll have to check the book when I get home.

  3. Christian says:

    Are you talking about charmap.exe? For me it looks quite okay: No old 3.11 dialog-styles like the font dialog. Fully themed. Blends in perfectly. Or am I missing something obviuous?

    Michael Kaplan once mentioned that font dialog: I think you might have mentioned that the font-dialog does special things: It seems to find pairs of files that are related and shows only one or something like this…

    If it weren’t for this special functionality, it surely would be trivial to update it!

  4. xix says:

    Don’t bother clicking the Kevin Provance link, it’s just a network solutions parking page now, and brings up all sorts of exciting popups for me to close.  There is also a photo of a girl looking very pleased being on a parking page, I wish I could be so content.

  5. mvadu says:

    Thanks for the Info Ray..

    I as thinking it must be another compatibility issues, as there might be xyz app which looks for some specific stuff on the font dialog or some thing like that..

  6. mvadu says:

    Thanks for the Info Ray..

    I was thinking it must be another compatibility issues, as there might be xyz app which looks for some specific stuff on the font dialog or some thing like that..

  7. Matt B. says:

    <i>Besides, people don’t really add fonts that way much any more.</i>


    You obviously aren’t married to a Graphic Designer.  I swear, half her day is spent downloading and trying out new fonts.

  8. Jan-Cornelius Molnar says:

    In my oppinion this "problem" cannot be handled that easily. There are so many different applications built into Windows or vendored by Microsoft which all use a different UI Framework for itself (Control Panel, Windows Mail, Windows Live Writer, Expression Suite, Office, etc.) Of course in some cases it makes sense to offer a different ui (like office) but if Microsoft used a common ui framework for all applications built into windows they could save architectural and design costs (and they know it as many blog postings show).

    So if you did the UI-thing right in vista, the font dialog wouldn’t be a "resource-intensive" thing …

  9. Ian Boyd says:

    i use CharMap enough that i wish it were "Vista-ified" with instant search.

    You enter a search term and hit search. If you try to change your search, you are only able to hit Reset, which clears the search box, and you lose the next term you were searching for.

    Good candidate for the instant search paradigm.

  10. Drag+Drop says:

    > You obviously aren’t married to a Graphic Designer.  I swear, half her day is spent downloading and trying out new fonts.

    And she isn’t dragging and dropping to the windowsfonts folder ?

    I didn’t even know this dialog existed until I read about it in some other MS blog..

  11. James Schend says:

    I’ve always right-clicked Fonts and picked "Install…"

    But yes, Drag&drop works also. The control panel should really be some kind of crazy last-resort thing. Or … maybe it’s completely useless, I dunno.

  12. Martijn says:

    I always loved that dialog!  It’s so simple and to the point :)

  13. Tom says:

    I don’t think Raymond covered this particular dialog.  It showed up on Long Zheng’s page (istartedsomething.com).

  14. Wow…nothing lifts the spirit when being made to look like the dunce of the Internet.  I already apologized for my ignorance on the suggestion box policy and yes I didn’t read them all.  They go back to 2005 and I didn’t have time to read every one of them.  My bad.  It won’t happen again.  I guess I also have to apologize for my vb6andvista page being down.  I was late renewing and my CNAME record was wiped out.  I fixed it, now it has to propagate.

    Tough crowd.

  15. Dan Ridley says:

    "It works just fine"? Give me a break! It doesn’t even support network locations unless you map a drive letter!

    There are also all sorts of improvements you could make if someone took the time to address this dialog, like a reasonable way of handling fonts that are already installed.

    If MS wants to make drag-and-drop the only supported font install method, why not just remove this dialog box instead of pretending it "works just fine"?

  16. Ulric says:

    Yep, on the internet, there is a lot of people talking about that dialog.  It’s used as an example of Vista being unfinished.  I didn’t even know this dialog existed..  you can drag and drop fonts into that Font folder in the control panel, double-click on fonts to view them anywhere in Explorer, etc.

    IMHO this dialog should be removed completely rather than updated.  Some people have learned to use it, but they’ll learn the other ways quickly.

  17. Raymond, I’m sorry I have to leave this here…but your “contact me” page says “use the suggestion box” and of course the suggestion box is closed…otherwise I would have sent this to you directly.  I was chatting with another MVP earlier today about this, and he suggested that what you printed was a fairly cheap shot, especially since leaving comments to your articles for all intents and purposes is really the only way to communicate here.  I can understand why someone who does what you do would not want to make it easy for the average MS fanboy to send you fluff mail…but suggestion that my reading skills are poor just wasn’t right.  I’m not some MS fanboy who spends the entire day on the net visiting and reading MS blog sites and truthfully I only stop by once every few days and yes, I didn’t take the hour or so that would have been required to read the entire suggestion box…but c’mon, taking such a cheap shot at me for being curious about the font dialog box and not spending half my afternoon reading the mess of fan boy posts that plague your suggestion box really wasn’t called for.  I mean, if that’s how you roll, then so be it.  It’s your site and I’ll accept whatever abuse you deem fit to bestow and deal with the flames I’ll get for posting this from everyone who thinks I deserve it.  Hell, I’ll still read what you post because most of it is interesting.  But don’t demean someone for being curious who didn’t have time to navigate the conundrum of trying to navigate the contact and posting policies of this forum.  I truly am sorry for my egregious errors in this regard.  Peace.

    [(1) It doesn’t take an hour to search the suggestion box. Ctrl+F “install”, Next, Next… hey look there it is. (2) Like it says on the suggestion box page, the suggestion box is full. If you want to make a suggestion, you’ll have to wait for it to reopen. That’s why I closed it. -Raymond]
  18. I just came here to say one thing: the Environment Variables dialog.

    I only need to use it, oh, ALL THE TIME. No reason to make it resizable or anything.

  19. Pax says:

    Quoth Jean-Philippe Daigle:

    I just came here to say one thing: the environment Variables dialog.  I only need to use it, oh, ALL THE TIME. No reason to make it resizable or anything.


    Yeah, non-resizable dialogs sometimes annoy me as well but I think, if you’re using that dialog a lot, there could be something wrong with your processes :-).

    Probably the only thing I change there is the path and that’s only when installing or ditching software which shouldn’t happen very often.

    Other activities which need different env vars I tend to run from cmd files which first modify the environment to suit before running the executable.

    I’m curious as to what activity requires so much use of the env vars dialog.



  20. MadQ1 says:

    @Jean-Philippe Daigle: You could use the Registry Editor† instead. They keys you’ll want are: HKEY_CURRENT_USEREnvironment and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlSession ManagerEnvironment

    †‡ This is irony.

    ‡ Heh. I just used the Character Map to find the dagger symbol. :-)

  21. AK Wong says:

    Don’t worry, Kevin Provance, this explains everything: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38967

    [Original context: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38968]

  22. Xepol says:

    Would it not have been more honest to say "MS apparently forgot it was even in the OS"  rather than trying to convince us that someone couldn’t be bothered to spend a few hours improving the dialog?

    And as you point out, its not a complicated dialog, so PLEASE don’t bother wasting our time with pithy excuses about what is involved with all those many language translations.

    The dialog got forgot, just admit it and move on…

  23. RichB says:

    I think people look stupid when they wear modern clothes with 70s shoes and 80s hairstyle. The whole ensemble just doesn’t gel.

    I think the same about my UEx too.

  24. Dean Harding says:

    I don’t see how you can possibly think the dialog got "forgotten". I mean, people have been complaining about it since long before Vista (for example,check this page out – posted a couple of months before the release of Vista: http://blogs.msdn.com/michkap/archive/2006/07/02/654110.aspx)

  25. Thanks for the apology Raymond…oh wait, I didn’t actually get one.  Just an explanation about why I am the poor communication I’ve been labeled to be.  I guess that MVP I talked to was right, I’ve lost some respect for you as well.

    At least the question was answered…that was something at least.

  26. @MadQ says:


    Irony ??

    You’re a genius. Didn’t know where there.. This basically means reg files could be used and a better version (and easier to access) of the env vars dialog can be built in minutes.

  27. brian says:

    so it looks the way ’cause it’s old? Really, I couldn’t tell.  So all the other dialogs that look totally out of place on Vista, would that be from the same lack of attention to detail?

    so let’s rephrase the question.  Why where some dialogs not brought up to the same visual quality as other windows and dialogs on Vista?

    [I thought I answered that in the third paragraph. You have enough resources to rewrite 10 dialogs and make minor cosmetic changes to 20 dialogs. Choose them. For each additional 3 dialogs, you’ll have to cut a feature. Go. -Raymond]
  28. Mike Dimmick says:

    Raymond, I think there’s a disconnect here between the fact that there were five years between major Windows client releases (i.e. XP RTM to Vista RTM) and how little work seems to have been done – how you seem to have to cut features if you want to improve 3 additional dialogs.

    It would be worth explaining that a lot of resources went into security review for Windows Server 2003, building XP SP2 (both activities that took a large number of developers off the Longhorn project), and that you plain messed up and wasted three years. Windows Vista represents 18 months of work from the point where the Windows team largely ditched what they’d done so far, and rebuilt it on top of (IIRC) Server 2003 SP1. Some components that were engineered properly (IIS, the kernel) were kept but a lot of other things had to be rewritten.

    Given that, quite a lot got done in a short timeframe, but you can definitely see the joins and inconsistency.

    I think you, collectively, need to be much more honest about the screw-up and reset, so people will understand better why, actually, there wasn’t enough time to sort out things like this.

  29. steveg says:

    @Jean-Philippe Daigle: the environment box is too small.

    If it *really* annoyed you you’d locate the dialog resource for it and edit it larger (making it resizable won’t grant magic resizing abilities to the child controls).

    Hint: %WINDIR%system32SYSDM.CPL resource 105. Reshacker.exe.

  30. was auch immer says:

    What I don’t understand about the suggestion box is that in SB2 some posts are marked “Migrated from previous Suggestion box” but none of them are so marked in SB3. Does that mean that items in SB2 are not going to be done, or that items from SB2 and SB3 are all possible topics?

    [SB3 was opened after SB2 was emptied. I didn’t bother adding “Response”s to all the SB2 entries that I responded to. -Raymond]
  31. Matt says:

    Kevin: You were the one who made your ignorance public, that it came to a wider audience is probably uncomfortable but hey – if you didn’t want to take the risk you shouldn’t have done what you did.

    It’s hardly a major crime so I don’t think people care much (though harping on about it is a *great* way to change that)

    Why should he apologise? Because you’re an MVP? develop a thicker skin if you want to play on the internet.

    Raymond’s time is precious*, that he bother’s to read and reply to comments is part of what makes this blog very useful, do not be surprised to find a lot of people here get annoyed at you for wasting his time by not bothering to read the FAQ

    * You may think he is too :), that’s subjective though.

  32. Sean says:

    “I thought I answered that in the third paragraph. You have enough resources to rewrite 10 dialogs and make minor cosmetic changes to 20 dialogs. Choose them. For each additional 3 dialogs, you’ll have to cut a feature. Go. -Raymond”

    The point is that a company of Microsoft’s size and stature shouldn’t be in a situation where they don’t have enough resources to fix their “GUI consistency” problems. I mean, you can blog about the umpteen reasons WHY everything sucks, and how it came about, but eventually developers are just going to move on to a company who doesn’t cater to the developers are 2 decades ago.

    [Resources aren’t infinite. -Raymond]
  33. 8 says:

    WOW, you answered my question from 2,5 years ago :) That’s so cool I can die now ;)

    Thanks for everything you wrote and thanks++ for the inevitable LOLs ;)

    BTW, sorry I’m a day late -.-‘

  34. Sean says:

    Feel free to not publish this to the comments, but cmon – Microsoft’s market cap is $245 Billion. Compare that to Google’s $162b, and Apple’s $150b. I’d say you have a lot of freakin resources.

    [Money is not the only resource. See “The Mythical Man-Month.” -Raymond]
  35. Dog says:

    This is my number 1 issue with the Windows GUI (not this dialog specifically, but the general lack of consistency).

    Windows hasn’t gone through an anything-like-complete UI overhaul since Windows 95.

    Thirteen. Years. Ago.

    Instead, Windows versions until XP gently tweaked the existing UI. Then XP came along and implemented an all-new themeing engine that mostly-worked. At around the same time, the Office and Media Player teams decided that they were no longer going to make any effort to make their apps match the Windows UI.

    Then Vista came along and built on these shoddy foundations to such an extent that Windows no longer even has a standard colour scheme (what colour are toolbars supposed to be?), let alone consistent GUI design.

    In the same time period:

    * Apple have built an entirely (based on NeXT) new OS, with a consistent UI that is flexible enough to undergo some fairly major changes without breaking consistency.

    * The GNOME and KDE environments have grown up from nothing and undergone significant evolution, such that the most inconsistency that general user of a GNOME or KDE based system is likely to encounter is an application designed for the other.

    I, as a user, don’t care why Windows has so many UI problems, (but as a developer I know that a large part of it is back-compatibility), all I want is a consistent, easy-to-use (and not patronising) and pleasant looking UI. At the moment, the closest I have been able to find in Windows is XP with the classic style.

    What Microsoft needs to do (in my opinion) is to build a consistent, nice-looking UI for Windows 7, based on a set of clear UI guidelines and a set of API frameworks to allow developers to easily create applications that match, as well as a migration path for applications using older (now deprecated and clearly marked so in MSDN) GUI libraries.

    Dictate that the Office, WMP, IE, Visual Studio and .Net teams make their applications use these new API frameworks and 3rd party applications will begin to follow.

    Getting out of the Windows UI mess won’t be quick and easy, but it can be done and will benefit users.

  36. mikeb says:

    Beware, Microsoft, heed the old proverb:

    "For want of an updated Font Dialog, the OS market was lost"

    I think we can safely say that Microsoft is doomed!  Dump your shares!†

    † This does not constitute investing advice.  Please read your prospectus carefully.

  37. Dan Ridley says:

    I don’t think it’s the quantity of your resources, but how haphazardly Microsoft appears to apply them. You won’t deal with long-standing problem areas — typified by this dialog box, though we point at it in part because it’s an extreme example — but you’re happy to spend a great deal of time and resources on DRM, on new-but-not-better major interface overhauls for each Windows release, etc. How many times have you redesigned Control Panel, with none of them actually being more logical or easier to work with than icon view? Why does Office 2007 have a new look for title bars that appears to be just painted over the classic title bars which reappear every time the app hangs up for a few seconds?

    Over and over, you appear to be quite willing to spend lots of time and manpower pasting new interfaces over old problems. It seems like the problem is misallocation of resources, not lack of them.

    [Or perhaps the reason is that different teams have different priorities. The control panel team is not the same as the font team. -Raymond]
  38. Dan Ridley says:

    I guess the other thing I’ll add is that while I know money isn’t the only resources, you do have more people and more money than Apple, yet they’re consistently kicking your collective asses when it comes to producing innovations in the operating system space. In the 1990s you had the luxury of being the only reasonable entry in the market, because you stabbed OS/2 in the back and Apple was lost in the wilderness. Today you’re being measured against real competition, and your protestations about limited resources have to be measured against what your competitors can do with the resources available to them.

    The font handling user interface story, looking at all aspects of it, is a dream come true on the Mac compared to Windows, and it’s not just the font installation process. Consider per-user fonts (~/Library/Fonts). Hell, consider network fonts (/Network/Library/Fonts). How about auto-activation of fonts to avoid the performance issues that come with having many fonts installed? Grouping of fonts into user-assignable categories accessible from the standard dialogs, &c &c.

    If Microsoft took the opportunity presented by their outdated font install dialog to look at how to improve the user experience with fonts overall, you could make great leaps forward, but you don’t. I have no doubt that when you do address the font installation dialog, we’ll get a Webby-looking wizard and that somewhere in it will be an "Advanced…" button that brings up the current dialog.

  39. Dan Ridley says:

    “Or perhaps the reason is that different teams have different priorities. The control panel team is not the same as the font team.”

    As a customer, I don’t care. You’re shipping a single product, and if you can’t get your act together enough to prioritize the user experience over internal politics, that reflects poorly on Microsoft as a whole.

    [Having fonts that work is also part of the user experience. Probably a more important part of the user experience than a rarely-used dialog. -Raymond]
  40. Dean Harding says:

    "you do have more people and more money than Apple"

    Microsoft also have more products than Apple.

  41. Robbie Mosaic says:

    Anyway I liked the Install Font dialog, because it is simple and cute.

  42. Matt, thanks for the insight, although to set the record straight, I am *not* an MVP.  I didn’t mean to imply I was (perhaps I should have said "chatting with another MVP that I know") as I know several who don’t think I’m some kind of dunce who needs a virtual bitch-slap.  If it was my ignorance that helped get this entire font dialog debate rolling, then I’m glad I could help.  It has been interesting to see some of the comments posted about it.  And although folks don’t always agree, a spirited debate is always a thing of beauty.  Peace.

  43. Dog says:

    [Or perhaps the reason is that different teams have different priorities. The control panel team is not the same as the font team. -Raymond]

    Which is part of the problem. Windows development is subdivided into lots of small teams that only care about their individual part. No wonder it’s inconsistent.

    What’s needed is for the entire Windows UI to be looked at as a whole (the way users look at it) and to come up with a concise and simple set of guidelines, design principles and common APIs that *all* Microsoft software teams are held to, weather they work on Windows, Office, Visual Studio, or whatever. (Although maybe an exception could be made for the Mac team…)

    In addition, there needs to be a well-resourced team that is responsible for the overall user experience. A team that checks all the UIs produced by all the other applications and can dictate design tweaks and even complete redesigns where they feel that the UI doesn’t fit, without lawyering over guidelines. No UI should be allowed into a shipping product without having its design reviewed by a human.

    I would really like to see a truly polished version of Windows; one where no icon, no dialog or control looks out of place, where everything is pleasant looking and consistent. If first-party applications get it right then third parties will follow, as long as Microsoft doesn’t mess it up (by doing an incomplete UI overhaul for the next point release, or allowing the Office team to do their own thing).

  44. Marc says:

    I agree with the comments suggesting Windows need to start again with it’s UI.

    The problem is older apps will look out of place.

    I suggest doing what Apple did, and make older ("classic") applications keep the old style.

    Therefore users will know it’s old and developers will have a reason to redesign them.

    Currently we get half and half. Vista window frame, Windows 95 style buttons etc.

  45. 8 says:

    Funny how people outside MS think they can run MS. Please, keep it to yourself or post it on your own website. Sheesh.

  46. mikeb says:

    Funny how people who aren’t Raymond think they can tell people that they shouldn’t post on Raymond’s blog…

  47. Dan Ridley says:

    “Having fonts that work is also part of the user experience. Probably a more important part of the user experience than a rarely-used dialog.”

    What’s this have to do with what I said?

    My first argument is that, as a company, you’re frittering resources away on change-for-the-sake-of-change UI, while leaving broken UI in place and burying functional UI deeper with each release.

    My second argument is that even if this problem arises from teams inside Microsoft fighting for resources, it still reflects poorly on the overall product and the company.

    *Obviously* having fonts that work is higher priority than the install dialog or other parts of the font user experience — but if Microsoft has to set the bar that low, I feel quite validated in saying you’re mis-allocating resources.

    [I see. Your suggestion is that some people from the control panel team be moved to the font team. (I think the usability researchers would disagree that it’s change-for-the-sake-of-change.) -Raymond]
  48. Dan Ridley says:

    "I see. Your suggestion is that some people from the control panel team be moved to the font team."

    I’m not a Microsoft manager, I’m a customer. I can tell you the results I want to see, and I can compare your product to your competitors’ products, but I can’t tell you how to solve the issues in your company that created the problems.

    Perhaps there should be a UI team that interacts with both the control panel team and the font team. Perhaps there *is*, and for whatever reason they either don’t do a good job, or their advice gets lost by the time the product hits the market.

    "(I think the usability researchers would disagree that it’s change-for-the-sake-of-change.)"

    Sticking with Control Panel, I don’t doubt that your usability researchers find that there are usability issues with the classic icon view.

    But does their research really lead them to conclude that you can solve this by burying the same old dialog boxes under a few extra layers of wordy hierarchy, and that shuffling them around with each release will help people?

    I’m not saying every UI change is change-for-the-sake-of-change. Some are marketing. Some are experiments. Some are actual usability improvements. But many don’t seem to have any explanation beyond "we wanted it to look different from the last release," which loses its shine when you realize that 90% of the time you’re going to need to press "Advanced…" and bring up last release’s interface anyway.

  49. Marc says:

    This is quite funny for anyone interested, a Windows 1 control panel applet running on Vista :)


  50. NoUiExperience says:

    I always figured it was because of the potential for uninstalling a font that the install-font dialog was actually using at the time!!  

  51. 640k says:

    Non-resizable dialogs already sucked 10 years ago. Monopoly corporations doesn’t invent new features because they can get away with selling 10 years old crap.

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