Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines is online and downloadable

Get it before it's obsolete. The Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines document is available in PDF format.

Comments (40)
  1. John says:

    It already is obsolete; all the text and graphics in the HTML guide have already been updated for Windows 7.  The PDF still appears to be Vista-centric, though.

  2. someone else says:

    Seeing as Windows 7 is just Windows 6.1, do the Vista guidelines still apply?

  3. Mark says:

    Next week: "there are no obsolescent MSDN articles this week…"

  4. Andrew says:

    It’s good to see Microsoft has a sense of humor (or at least, self-correction):

    A couple of the "incorrect" examples were Microsoft’s own UI decisions.

  5. I liked the following statement about font types:

    Readers generally prefer serif fonts used as body text within a document. The serifs provide a feeling of formality

    and elegance to a document. For UI text, the need for a clean appearance and the lower resolution of computer

    monitors makes sans serif typefaces the better choice.

    Which was in "sans serif" font. (It might have been on page 655 or so.)

  6. DWalker says:

    I know it is too late to complain about this, but the statement at that says "These translucent frames give windows an open, less intrusive appearance, helping users focus on content and functionality rather than the interface surrounding it" is completely wrong for many people.

    I hate, hate, hate seeing part of the window background leak through the window frame.  What does the window background have to do with the window itself?  They are too different things.  (Leaky abstractions come to mind.)

    I know that I can turn off translucent frames, BUT, there is still some sort of gradient in the title bar that is distracting.  It makes me think that something is still leaking through from the background.  PLAIN, single-color title bars are not distracting; title bars with patterns in them (like Vista and Windows 7 use for non-translucent title bars) are very distracting.

    I need to find one of those XP themes for Vista.  I want my title bars to be completely single-color!

    This business of "open, less intrusive" is complete hogwash.  My eyes can’t possibly ignore the "interface surrounding it" when the interface is obviously leaking and needs to be patched…

  7. dave says:

    re: DWalker59

    I quite agree about the translucency. It seems like a bizarre decision to me. I kind of assumed that windows came with frames specifically to separate window content from desktop background. So now we have frames that don’t do that.

    Mind you, I’m the sort of curmudgeon that thinks a high-rez photo on the desktop means you lose the icons in the visual clutter.

    Perhaps there needs to be a high-level UI question: "do you prefer your interface to be (a) useful, or (b) pretty?"  ;-)

    This sort of stuff reminds me of why I never ever ever want to do user interface programming.

  8. someone else says:

    @DWalker59: But you do know that you can turn off the Themes service in Vista?

  9. blah says:

    > Another example of “No matter what you do, somebody will call you an idiot.” <

    No, Raymond. Read it again. For every single window, Vista gobbled up a SCREEN SIZE buffer in main memory! Imagine a multimonitor scenario.

    [I’m not going to read the entire E7 blog to hunt down the one thing you’re talking about. But a lot of people did say “I’ve got a 128MB video card, 126MB of which is sitting around doing nothing. Stupid Microsoft.” I know this because they’ve said it to me personally. -Raymond]
  10. blah says:

    NO! Vista uses main memory for all this. That means every stupid message box and notification balloon would eat up 8+MB of memory if I were to use Vista on my work machine. I also have a bad feeling that this idiocy was not limited to top-level windows.

    Win7 finally offloaded it to the GPU. I just hope they also used proper dimensions this time.

  11. Leo Davidson says:

    I think you’re confused Blah. If not please point out the actual section of the article so we don’t have to re-read it when you’re the one asserting the point.

    The memory wastage in Vista (with DWM enabled) is that it allocates two copies of each window, not the entire screen per window AFAIK. (One copy in video memory, one in system memory.)

    Windows 7 reduces that by only keeping the copy in video memory. (Which means certain operations like buffer read-backs are more expensive, some ops are probably cheaper, and less memory is used. Seems like a good result given people’s impressions of Windows 7 so far.)

    Given that I’ve got a 17.5MB screen buffer (2x1920x1200x32) I think I’d notice if every little window ate 17.5MB of RAM. :) Maybe you’re right though, but if you are it should be very easy to point out the line which proves it instead of just giving us the URL to a long article that covers various subjects.

  12. Joseph Koss says:

    I for one support the OS managing window surfaces.

    In the days of Windows 3 it was obvious why it didnt (4MB systems, 256KB graphics cards), but by the time Windows 98 came around (256MB systems, 16MB graphics cards) it started to become an obvious deficiency.

    As far as Vista not maintaining these top-level surfaces in video memory, are you sure that that is not simply a video card driver deficiency?

    In my experience, even Windows XP would try to keep DDB’s selected into a hDC in video memory (but not DIB’s.) .. but that could very well have been up to the video card driver. Maybe Vista is different..

  13. DanStpry says:

    The Desktop Window Manager in Vista required two bitmap buffers (one in system, the other in video memory) was due to backwards capability with GDI/+ applications. the GDI/+ API was never hardware accelerated by the GPU. So applications using GDI/+ to draw graphics (which is a very high percentage) required a bitmap in system memory. Trying to read/write video memory by the CPU would be much slower, so having a system memory bitmap to draw to, then updated to a video memory copy was a better route. In Windows 7 they updated the WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) to include the top most popular GDI/+ API methods. In thous making the GDI/+ in Win 7 hardware accelerated and being able to eliminate the system memory bitmap copy.

  14. blah says:

    Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines

    1. Make everything appallingly slow. See the E7 blog for a great example of how system memory is guzzled for a 32bpp screensize image of every single window in the system.

    2. Take away useful functionality that was readily available in the previous operating system.

    3. See 1 and 2.

    [Another example of “No matter what you do, somebody will call you an idiot.” Other people said Microsoft was stupid for *not* saving the pixels of every window and forcing each window to implement WM_PAINT. -Raymond]
  15. Worf says:

    I was under the impression that excepting embedded stuff (that I work with daily), all modern videocards had 2d accelleration. In fact, most are done in 3d as the GPU is much faster than 2d hardware…

  16. Chris Nahr says:

    Joseph Koss and Worf are correct, GDI has been hardware-accelerated since the 1990s.  The claim that it wasn’t comes from some Microsoft engineer on the Windows 7 blog, but it’s still wrong.

    I’m not sure whether this 2D acceleration operates on video memory or main memory, though, and whether it still delivers a relevant performance improvement compared to modern CPUs.

  17. Joseph Koss says:


    You are right about GDI+, but when you type "GDI/+" it sure sounds like you are implying both GDI and GDI+ are not hardware accelerated and that is patently false.

    Regular GDI most definately *IS* hardware acceleratable if the drivers support it on windows XP, and is accomplished on a function-by-function basis via DDI entry points (see the DDK for info.) Modern nVidia/ATI cards/drivers accelerate almost all of GDI on windows XP, while Intel graphics chips might be significantly behind the times (I really don’t know.)

  18. Chris Nahr says:

    Okay, I just found the old Greg Schechter posts prior to Vista’s release that were discussing how the Vista DWM worked.  Here’s the relevant post regarding GDI and double-buffering:

    The fact is that video double-buffering in system memory was *introduced* by Vista.  It is by no means necessary for GDI itself; rather, it was necessary for GDI *under the Vista DWM* (Desktop Window Manager) because the Vista DWM wants to draw everything to a DirectX surface in video memory, and so needs a secondary main memory buffer for GDI drawing.

    So double-buffering in main memory is by no means a GDI requirement but rather a hack for the Vista DWM that was fixed in Windows 7.

  19. DanStory says:

    Joseph Koss, Worf; my mistake, your right the GDI can be hardware accelerated (if supported by the video drivers) on XP and below. If you reread that Win7 blog, it actually says GDI is not hardware accelerated under Vista (only). I’m assuming they had to remove this because it wasn’t passing through Direct3D for this acceleration. so what Chris Nahr said, the DWM used Direct3D for the composition, which required the system memory and video memory copies.

    What would be nice is if some of these performance enforcements can be patched to Win Vista. And/or features (like the new media foundation interfaces), Makes it questionable if a development team should go through the hassle of using some of these great new technologies yet to be limited to it only working fully on Win7. It’s troublesome enough with the XP vs Vista share percentages. I’m just going way off topic now. :P

  20. ulric says:

    There sure are some bizarre choices in Vista, including the translucency, which I believe to be marketing decision ‘retconned’ as something done for usability.

    The large font blue text in Vista’s message box doesn’t work for me.  My eyes never "read" it, it’s the last thing I’ll read in the dialog box.

    I think the intent was to make it big so that people read it, but I think the result is the reverse, possibly because it looks too different from the other text, and therefore registers as background artwork.  

    I believe it triggers the same thing part of our brain that makes us ignore ads on web sites.

  21. ulric says:

    And what’s the deal with the "Press CTRL+ALT+Delete" or "Update..Do No Shutdown" text that’s drawn on desktop.  

    Where is that font coming from, why isn’t it anti-aliased (gaahh!).  It doesn’t look at all like a "live text" you should be paying attention to, especially right above the also white but static "Window Vista Pro" at the bottom of the screen.

    It bizarre and I know for a fact that people do not ever read that ‘installing update’ text because they assume it’s part of the wallpaper. The family calls me to tell me it’s taking a lot longer to shutdown and they don’t know why – or they’d gotten in trouble because they’ve flip the switch on the powerbar too early.

    A message inside window with a frame, was the appropriate UI there.

  22. Anonymous Coward says:

    I just read the part on window frames, and I’m getting the impression that the writers were more concerned with what looked flashy than what actually makes your computer nicer to use (or more elegant for that matter). It’s like Apple arbitrarily deciding that from now on half your applications will look completely different from the other half, it makes no sense at all.

  23. someone else says:

    I just realized that there’s no XPS version of the guidelines. What, your own dogfood not good enough anymore? (Especially as that shouldn’t involve more work than just printing the PDF on the XPS printer)

    [If you actually read the page, the PDF version was created due to popular demand. That’s gratitude for you. There also isn’t a .docx version so there. -Raymond]
  24. Your Manager says:

    Are you running low on blog postings for the month and republishing KB articles?

  25. nick foster says:

    I think vista is not a good system. I prefer XP more. Our company used vista to replace the xp last month. however most of the people asked us back to xp system. They found it is not easy to use of the vista system.

  26. Brother Laz says:

    So what are they going to do in 5 years when the Vista/7 interface is ubiquitous and neither them nor the company knows how it works?

  27. someone else says:

    “[If you actually read the page, the PDF version was created due to popular demand. That’s gratitude for you. There also isn’t a .docx version so there. -Raymond]”

    Aw, come on. Shouldn’t you, you know, promote your own standards more?

    Also, docx isn’t really a replacement for PDF, is it?

    [Let me get this straight. The UX team responds to public demand instead of self-interest, and you chide them for it? -Raymond]
  28. Bob Speckler says:

    I had to laugh when I read the title mentioning Vista’s User Experience, "Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines is online and downloadable". The Vista User Experience is an utter and complete disaster. It’s horrible and sadly Microsoft the same people who designed the horrid Office 2007 "ribbon-concept" are working on the new Office interface. These people are still employed by Microsoft? What part of flop and failure doesn’t Microsoft management get?

  29. Ulric says:

    The office ribbon is very cool, and necessary to change the competition landscape. However, as a user interface designer I very sadded about this "war against the menu".  I think the concepts of is great concept, now we have a mess of buttons, ribbon, tabs, round buttons that open flyout menus, all applications are different and work differently. It used to be that windows were more consistent than Mac apps, now we lost all of that.

    Menus provided text commands, listed keyboard CTRL shortcuts, but also provided automatic shortcuts with ‘alt’ key, meaning it addresses everyone from newbie to power user.  See how in Visual Studio they try to bring back two-sequence shortcuts when a standard menu already does this, naturally!  There were other places to go with menus, like tear-off.

    Anyways, I’m not done reading this massive document, but I noticed it says to not add your own buttons to the windows frame — but of course Office is the first one to do this does this, not that I really understand the need for an undo/redo button.

  30. someone else says:

    “[Let me get this straight. The UX team responds to public demand instead of self-interest, and you chide them for it? -Raymond]”

    No, I’m chiding their supervisor. And your marketing department. The UX team is still cool.

    [Okay, so when the marketing department promotes some Microsoft-only technology, they get ridiculed. And when they don’t do it, they get ridiculed. Just checking. -Raymond]
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  32. DWalker says:

    @someone else:  Yes, I know that I can turn off Themes, or use old-style windows.  I like the rounded corners better than the square Windows 2000-like frames, though.  

    As far as XP and Vista, I think that if you turn off themes, you don’t get the nice rounded corners.

  33. DWalker says:

    @Bob Speckler:  Do you use Office 2007 every day?  The improvements to the user interface in Word and Excel were absolutely necessary, since there were WAY too many menus and submenus.  

    The user interface improvements to Word and Excel certainly take a little getting used to, but everyone I have talked to who has used them for a little while has recognized what a big improvement the ribbon interface is.  

    There is a whole blog about the reasons for the overhaul ( which doesn’t have any new posts, but was very busy during Office 2007’s user interface design.  It explains the reasons why this redesign was done.

    I didn’t like the ribbon for the first week, but now I think it’s a vast improvement.

    MOST programs don’t need this rich of a user interface; the standard menu can accomodate enough options and sub-options for MOST programs.  Word and Excel are different than most programs.

    I am always amazed at how much effort has gone in to these programs over the years.  Just think, if you had to rewrite all of Excel in C++ or C#, how long would it take you?  Even the open-source lookalikes don’t handle all of Excel’s features, or all of the programmatic interfaces (VBA and VSTO and such.)  Excel is one very impressive program.

  34. James Schend says:

    My big gripe with Office is that they went through a ton of effort to redesign basically the entire UI… while leaving tons of low-hanging-fruit bugs around.

    What’s with Excel’s continued reluctance to open every document in a new window? Word does it by default now, but Excel has to be cajoled into it. (I think Powerpoint, too.)

    Why does Excel still have the weirdly moronic problem where it can’t open two spreadsheets with the same filename at the same time? I can’t even imagine what WTF-y code underlies that particular quirk.

    And I won’t even get into the craptacular CSV importer. It’s sad that Access is 10 times better than Excel at importing data.

    That all said, I do appreciate Excel and it’s still years ahead of the competition. I just wish they’d fix some of the fundamentals before working on the more visible parts of the program.

  35. SuperKoko says:

    > but by the time Windows 98 came around (256MB systems, 16MB graphics cards)


    Common computers on which Windows 98 has been installed had 16 or 64MB of RAM and a 2 to 4MB video card (you must take in account that the OS is installed on 2-3 years old computers as well as brand new computers).

    The *recommended* RAM for Windows 98 is 24MB, not 256MB.

  36. Anonymous says:

    James: the filename issue is because cross-book references are presented by filename (without path), which is a bad decision in itself, but hard to fix.  However, I’m totally with you: Excel has some serious data-loss bugs, retarded keyboard mapping, no formula debugging, and a frustratingly unpredictable modal entry system.  And for all back-compat’s benefits, the function list is a historic mess (Excel hasn’t really changed in 10 years).  I suspect they’d need to do some serious use-casing to fix it.

  37. acq says:

    In my opinion too Vista and Windows 7 generally suck for GUI. Removing "File Edit" menus and replacing them with "something, nobody knows what" is mean!

    And int the light of always less vertical pixels avaiable to do the real work:

    Windows 7 steals even more vertical space with the new taskbar. And can anybody explain me why all MSFT GUI "experts" now believe that showing small icons is better than showing icons and text? The common knowledge was that text is easier for people to recognize and click than "some small icon?"

    Now they substituted "File Edit" text with some icon, somewhere (not even on the same place in different apps) and taskbar also doesn’t have text by default. A

    On another side Office team everywhere speaks of Ribbon as "success." I guess everything repeated often enough becomes truth. In terms of people who got promoted it is certainly success. For people that need vertical space to work (and at the same time don’t want "autohide" of any ui element) and who want the ui elements to appear always on exactly the same place it’s utter failure.

    Ribbon is even in Paint in Win7! All these things that up to now politely didn’t take vertical space are now in Ribbon! "Progress"!

  38. DWalker says:

    "always less vertical pixels avaiable to do the real work"

    Have you read the Office 2007 user interface blog, specifically the part where they compare how many vertical pixels are taken by the ribbon?  It LOOKS a lot bigger, but:

    Word 2000: 143 vertical pixels devoted to UI

    Word 2003: 140 vertical pixels devoted to UI

    Word 2007: 135 vertical pixels devoted to UI

    And have you ever seen anyone get lots of taskbars appearing (Word was especially prone to this) without knowing how to get rid of them?  THAT left very little room for the user window.

    I’m not claiming that Excel doesn’t do some weird things….

  39. someone else says:

    “Windows 7 steals even more vertical space with the new taskbar.”

    That I didn’t notice. On my installation of Windows 7 (and Server 2008 R2) the taskbar is roughly the same size it has been since ’95.

  40. ... says:

    > [Another example of "No matter what you do, somebody will call you an idiot." Other people said Microsoft was stupid for *not* saving the pixels of every window and forcing each window to implement WM_PAINT. -Raymond]

    Well, finally with Vista Microsoft outdid itself and managed to combine the worst of both worlds: saving the pixels *AND* having to implement WM_PAINT.

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