When setting expectations, you also have to deny them when necessary

Occasionally the shell team will get a request from a customer via their customer liaison that requests information on how to accomplish something or other, and before we'll answer the question, we want to know what the support boundaries are. For example, we might provide a mechanism that works on Windows Vista but comes with no guarantees that it'll work in the future. (This sort of one-off solution might be appropriate for, say, a corporate deployment, where the company controls all the computers in their organization and therefore controls what version of Windows runs on each of them.) The customer liaison responds:

Thanks for the information. I do not plan on giving them any expectations on what to expect in Windows 7. Is this okay?

It's not enough not to give any expectations. You must deny expectations explicitly. If you say nothing, then the customer will assume that the solution will continue to work in the future.

Of course, even explicitly denying support in future versions might not be enough. I remember one review of Windows Vista that said that one of its serious flaws was that the Windows XP PowerToys didn't run on it. Even though the Windows XP PowerToys explicitly state right at the top, "PowerToys are for Windows XP only and will not work with Windows Vista."

Sometimes the customer fails to realize what it means to rely on behavior that is explicitly not supported in future versions of Windows. I recall more than once, a customer asked for a way to accomplish something, and we provided a mechanism with the explicit warning that it is not guaranteed to work on future versions of Windows. The customer replied, "We understand that this technique may not work on future versions of Windows."

I got the impression that customer was not a corporation preparing a Windows deployment but was rather a software vendor developing retail software. I asked a clarifying question: "Do your customers understand that this technique may not work on future versions of Windows? Are you going to inform them before installation that the program intentionally relies on behavior which may not work on future versions of Windows? (That way, they can assess whether they wish to purchase your program.) And are you prepared to support your customers when they upgrade to the next version of Windows and your program stops working?"

This was, apparently, a level of understanding that they had not fully-incorporated. Upon realizing that they were making a decision on behalf of their customers, they decided that perhaps their customers wouldn't be happy with that decision they were about to make.

Comments (24)
  1. Jeffrey Bosboom says:

    Many companies would be happy to rely on things that will break in the next version because it gives them a reason to charge an upgrade fee for a new version of the software.

  2. James Aaron says:

    I imagine the review meant that Vista would have been a better OS if the PowerToys had been made to work with Vista or rewritten so that they did, not that they should magically work even though it says explicitly that they won't. That doesn't really have to do with expectations.

  3. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    And when the damn application becomes too popular for its own good, but the developer goes down, Raymond is called to build another compatibility shim for next Windows release.

  4. Michael Kohne says:

    I'm surprised you got someone to understand that they were planning to make a mistake. Most folks just don't get it, and proceed to screw up in spite of the best possible advice.

  5. Nick says:

    I agree with James.  "Flaw" was probably a poor choice of a word to describe it.  If they had said, "A real shortcoming in Vista is that lack of support for the PowerToys available in XP" then there's really no argument (and many people probably agree with the statement).

    To be honest, the lack of PowerToys in Vista and 7 did kind of disappoint me.  I realize you guys may not even be paid to develop them, but I always really liked the idea they represented.

    Do you mind if I ask if the development of PowerToys has been discouraged by MS, or if there's some other reason none have shown up for Vista or 7?

  6. Anonymous says:

    The only powertoy I really really really miss like CRAZY is Super Fast User Switcher. I hope some version of Windows incorporates this fantastic functionality. With recent versions of Windows (read Vista and later), fast user switching is no longer fast. It's slow and requires several clicks to actually switch the user. Although it was pulled, it still works nicely with XPSP3. Also MS could make the Color Control Panel applet which is a .NET 1.1 somehow just run on Vista/7 so we can view the gamut graph of a color profile which Vista/7's CM applet doesn't show.

  7. Boris says:

    What Win+L, click on Switch User isn't fast enough?

  8. Boris says:

    What Win+L, click on Switch User, control+alt+del isn't fast enough?

  9. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    Regarding FUS, there is an unfortunate "feature" that the switch involves video hardware reset. Certain very popular video chipset vendor NNNNNN has 5 second delay in the driver, which makes the user switch very annoying. The delay was there in Vista driver, and it's still there in the latest W7 driver.

    Also, I wonder whose "smart" idea was to make Win+L in Vista+ with FUS to go to "Lock" screen (like XP does with FUS disabled), instead of FUS screen. What was the rationale? Isn't FUS screen good enough as lock? Now everybody has either to use start menu item to switch users, or click "switch user" from the lock screen.

    Also, when on "lock" screen, and another host is trying to connect through RDP, the other host will get "console in use" response. While the console is definitely not in use.

  10. Cheong says:

    @Jeffrey Bosboom: That's sad but true.

    I know of one or two companies that makes software that ALWAYS break in each Windows upgrade, have to provide some "workaround" for certain mission critical functions and people wonders. It's not about software QC because their software are otherwise quite reliable. I can't help but think it's (at least partly) because of the reason you said.

  11. Cheong says:

    @Boris: I think possibly he's not aware that "Fast user switching" is not available to computers joined domain even on WinXP.

  12. kip says:

    I have to say that the inability to use Tweak UI in Vista and Win7 is a big weakness of the OS for me. I completely understand that it wasn't *intended* to work with other OSs, but that doesn't change the fact that I miss them a lot.

  13. gary k says:

    well, raymond, maybe you should spend less time on the blog and update the powertoys to run on win 7.<g>

  14. Anonymous says:

    @Boris, the powertoy I mentioned allowed FUS with one keystroke (Win+Q) combination. Even if you don't use that powertoy, in XP you just have to press Win+L, click on another account name and type the credentials. There's no transitioning between screens involved (which is slow btw) on Vista/7. Plus, currently if you have biometric authentication like say a fingerprint reader, on Vista/7, I have to press Win+L then Other Credentials then Switch User (wait for 3-4 seconds) till it transitions to a screen that lists all users) then click on another user name and type the password. Not exactly fast is it. Even if you go the Ctrl-Alt-Del method, you have to click Switch User then click user name again. And you can't argue that this method is faster.

    @Cheong, What's the speed and steps required for FUS got to do with being able to FUS in a domain? I am fully aware that FUS can't be done on XP for domain computers. However for workgroups, it's so much quicker than 7/Vista. The performance of transitioning between screens where we get a (black screen for few seconds) during FUS has improved in 7 over Vista but still not as fast as XP.

  15. Anonymous says:

    @Boris, and btw somewhat related is the usability of the CTRL-ALT-DEL screen, where keyboard control vanishes, and the user (who just USED the KEYBOARD to enter the CTL-ALT-DEL sequence) must now return to the mouse to enter a menu selection.  Who was the user that asked for these "features"?

  16. steven says:

    "@Boris, and btw somewhat related is the usability of the CTRL-ALT-DEL screen, where keyboard control vanishes, and the user (who just USED the KEYBOARD to enter the CTL-ALT-DEL sequence) must now return to the mouse to enter a menu selection."

    In what world is that? I just tried on W7 and it works just fine with the keyboard.

  17. peterchen says:

    I still have PowerCalc pinned to my Win7 taskbar (compatibility mode for XPSP2), but as it requests elevation, I don't use it as often anymore.

  18. JeremyDrake says:

    Hmm.  I was trying to make this same "your solution may work now, but how about future versions of Windows?" point to Microsoft support not too long ago.  I don't think I got through to them, though, as they never responded to my post.  social.msdn.microsoft.com/…/c14ba77e-53c5-4d7f-9395-0d99af02587c

    After reading your blog for a while, this kind of answer made me extremely nervous.

    I guess, since the support personnel never said that it WOULDN'T work, that I'm safe, since as you say, it needs to be explicitly spelled out if the expectation that my software will keep working on future versions of Windows is not valid.

  19. David Walker says:

    XP Power Toys has a lot of cool features!  This is off-topic, of course, but… the Command Prompt Here context menu item, which gives you a command prompt window on the folder you're pointing at… this is tedious to do by hand when you're WAY deep in a folder hierarchy and you need a command prompt in that folder; Send To Clipboard As Name will send the whole file name and path of a file to the clipboard; TweakUI (which I got from the same place) has Rebuild Icons (yes, there are other ways to do this) and also "light arrow" for the shortcut arrow overlay, which is a big improvement over the big default shortcut arrow; and so on.

    I know the Power Toys were created by some Microsoft programmers in their spare time, and hence they are not supported.  I'm glad MS allowed the tools to be released.  For the same thing to happen in Windows 7, someone would have to take it on their own time to write a program with the same functionality.  There are others (some from non-MS sources), but this was a good collection all in one place.

    [You do realize that the first two have been part of Windows since Windows Vista? -Raymond]
  20. Worf says:

    There is a registry tweak you can do to get the Command Prompt Here – even through you can do it by shift right-click (awful – it isn't discoverable and until I found out in this blog, I used my registry tweak).

    Though, mine had the ability to open an admin prompt as well.

  21. Anonymous says:

    @steven, you're right, my bad. Apparently, the keyword underlines are hidden on the login screen as well until you press the Alt key. And arrow keys or Tab don't work for some dumb reason.

  22. Hethu says:

    [You do realize that the first two have been part of Windows since Windows Vista? -Raymond]

    David, press SHIFT while opening the context menu for "Open Command Window here" and "Copy as Path"

  23. @Anonymous: I hate to pile on, but the arrow and tab keys do work. The highlighting is just terribly faint.

  24. Anonymous says:

    @Paul M. Parks, They do not work after pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del on my computer.

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