Rogue feature: Docking a folder at the edge of the screen


Starting in Windows 2000 and continuing through Windows Vista, you could drag a folder out of Explorer and slam it into the edge of the screen. When you let go, it docked itself to that edge of the screen like a toolbar. A customer noticed that this stopped working in Windows 7 and asked, "Was this feature dropped in Windows 7, and is there a way to turn it back on?"

Yes, the feature was dropped in Windows 7, and there is no way to turn it back on because the code to implement it was deleted from the product. (Well, okay, you could "turn it back on" by working with your support representative to file a Design Change Request with the Windows Sustained Engineering team and asking them to restore the code. But they'll probably cackle with glee as they click REQUEST DENIED. They will also probably add a buzzing sound just for extra oomph.)

The introduction of this feature took place further back in history than I have permission to access the Windows source code history database, so I can't explain how it was introduced, but I can guess, and then the person who removed the feature confirmed that my guess was correct.

First of all, very few people were actually using the feature. And of the people who activated it, most of them did so by mistake and couldn't figure out how to undo it. (Sound familiar?) The feature was creating far more trouble than benefit, and by that calculation alone, it was a strong candidate for removal. Furthermore, the design team was interested in a new way to use the edges of the screen. Nobody could figure out how the docking feature actually got added. We strongly suspect that it was another rogue feature added by a specific developer who had a history of slipping in rogue features.

Comments (31)
  1. Jon says:

    That's one feature I don't mind seeing maliciously deleted from Windows 7 – it's worthless if you can't turn off auto-sorting anyways. </xpclient>

  2. John says:

    The problem with dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator is that eventually your product ceases to be compelling.  I know from firsthand experience; it's a tough balancing act.

  3. Skyborne says:

    Fortunately Aero Snap smartened things up more than this (allegedly) dumbed them down.

  4. Muzer says:

    Well, I personally hate it, but at least it can be disabled.

  5. Jack B Nimble says:

    @Jon, you assume that removal of features is malicious?

    @Raymond, why do they limit how far back into the code history you can look?

  6. Jesse Gallagher says:

    I remember using that feature back when Windows 2000 first came out – I made some sort of task-launching thing by tossing a bunch of shortcuts into a folder and docking it across the top of the screen. I think it lasted there for about five minutes (I then switched to putting it on the desktop as an Active Desktop panel – I think that stuck around for a couple days).

  7. Joshua says:

    In my experience, many good features start out as rogue features when an engineer encounters a usability problem.

    [So do a lot of bad features. -Raymond]
  8. This is what happens when idiots are put in charge of the UX and maliciously delete features giving random unbelievable excuses. These idiots truly deserve Windows 8: pbs.twimg.com/…/A1-xjLjCcAE7SOv.jpg:large

    [You need to get your story straight. Now your'e saying it's a mix of stupidity and maliciousness. You previously claimed it was pure evil. -Raymond]
  9. Joshua says:

    It would be very interesting to find out which engineers at Microsoft run either old or hand-hacked versions of Windows because of the disaster of Windows 8.

  10. "You need to get your story straight. Now your'e saying it's a mix of stupidity and maliciousness. You previously claimed it was pure evil. -Raymond"

    Well how would I know if its stupidity or evilness or both? I didn't randomly delete features like a madman based on telemetry.

    [You were the one who insisted that it was pure evil with no possibility of incompetence. So you're arguing with yourself. (And I'm assuming "like a madman" was a metaphor rather than a claim that insanity was the reason.) -Raymond]
  11. John Fringe says:

    To do something randomly based on measurements. That's a whole new concept to me!

  12. Lockwood says:

    xpclient vs Raymond.

    Place your bets now!

  13. Joshua says:

    [(And I'm assuming "like a madman" was a metaphor rather than a claim that insanity was the reason.) -Raymond]

    lol

    @John Fringe: I've seen it. Comes from measuring something that has no bearing on what was being attempted to be measured.

  14. JM says:

    @Lockwood: whoever wins, surely the rest of us lose. Or run out of popcorn before long. Either way it's not a good thing.

  15. Muzer says:

    But no matter who wins this duel, in the end, they're both losers… I mean winners. Yeah, winners. (Points if you get that reference without googling ;))

  16. I noticed Aerosnap mentioned says:

    and don't get how it is related. If you are dragging a window you want the snap if you are dragging a file or folder than you want your toolbar docked folder. I find the feature somewhat useful. I work on a corporate network with a lot of subfolders in a "Departments" folder that I access all the time. I'd have my desktop full of shortcuts if I wanted a direct path to them but with them mounted I can dock the my computer to one of my sides and presto the folders are directly accessible saving me opening up my computer just to click on something else immediately afterwards.

  17. I believe it was introduced with the "Windows Desktop Update" or whatever the thing that shipped with Internet Explorer 4, that changed the shell in Windows 95 to something closer to what Windows 98 ended up getting. From what I recall, the desktop update introduced the taskbar being split into multiple toolbars ("coolbars"?), one of which was Quick Launch, and at the same time also let you dock those toolbars to other edges of the screen.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Warning: Speculation ahead, proceed with caution

    I suspect Raymond's lack of permission for history (which is a crime against humanity IMHO) is caused by lack of maintenance. Microsoft changed source control between Windows 2000 and Windows XP (SLM => Source Depot), and history migration probably didn't carry over pre-SD branches, especially since SLM had poor branch support. So if this feature was developed in some sub-branch, then Raymond can only see a giant "merge" check-in, and can't follow the code to the branch where the specific dev made his check-in.

    As long as I'm speculating, maybe this feature was introduced as part of the IE4 Desktop Update, which presumably was developed separately from Windows, and only merged later.

    [All history prior to Windows 2000 has been archived into a salt mine in Montana somewhere. I could probably get access if I had a valid business justification. -Raymond]
  19. pcooper says:

    I'm curious if "archived into a salt mine in Montana somewhere" is literal or figurative.

    Also, I would think that "Raymond makes great blog posts about Windows history which helps people like Microsoft better" would be a valid business justification, but I suppose others might not. :)

  20. KS says:

    Niels: Correct. The feature got added with IE4. I used it since then until Windows 7 (I didn't ever use Vista). But, alas, I'm still using XP on my main workstation. So, I still have it on some machines. It's a pity it got removed.

  21. Cheong says:

    I think I've read a magazine back when I was in secondary school, stating this is the response from Microsoft regarding request to let toolbar from Office 95 builtin in Windows. So that magazine was giving false information.

    [A lot of people claim that Microsoft did X thing because of Y. Doesn't mean that they're lying when that turns out not to be the case. Just that their guess was wrong. (Docked folders are superficially similar to Office 95 toolbars in that they both dock to the edges of the container, but they behave very differently.) -Raymond]
  22. forrest says:

    Regarding "did so by mistake and couldn't figure out how to undo it" — I still think that double-clicking near the top of task manager causes pretty much all UI elements to disappear is bad.  I know about it now, but the first time it happened (almost 15 years ago) I had no idea what was going on and assumed it was a bug.

  23. @cheong00 says:

    > So that magazine was giving false information.

    Like 99% of the magazines (and basically 100% of the IT ones).

  24. asdbsd says:

    insanity was the reason

    "Insanity was the reason", says Microsoft employee in a thread where people discuss "the disaster of Windows 8"! "It's a mix of stupidity and maliciousness", he paraphrases someone's opinion in a reply to another comment.

    I'm curious if "archived into a salt mine in Montana somewhere" is literal or figurative.

    So am I… But if Raymond never tells us, it will become another MS legend. Which is not bad.

  25. Skyborne says:

    @"I noticed Aerosnap mentioned", I thought it was obvious–if the folder-docking feature were still present, how would it interact with Snap?

    (And at least on Vista, it's ugly and maximized windows still cover it, so it's not like it was a well-designed feature to begin with.)

  26. asklar says:

    those Sustained Engineering guys are the worst…

  27. @xpclient: "these are not the features you're looking for".

    I wonder, though, what was the reason for removing the clipboard ring from Visual Studio 2010. It was so handy. I guess telemetry. I also wander what was reasoning behind making the main menu in VS2012 all caps. It's like an eyesore.

    OK, now for those who doesn't have a salt mine at their disposal, there is a new DVD archival media, called M-Disk, sold at major electronics stores. It's using inorganic record-once layer and is expected to last thousands years. But it requires a compatible DVD recorder, and so far there is only one brand. But the good news is that the recorder doesn't cost more than other brands.

  28. Bob says:

    @pcooper:  If you google* : Microsoft Montana

    you'll see that Microsoft has an "Accessibility Center" in Montana.  I now believe Raymond's claim, because it is funny to think that the source code is inaccessible because it is archived in an accessibility center.

    * I know…  but if you Bing : Microsoft Montana

    it converts it to Microsoft MT  and gives you lots of machine translation results.

  29. Paramanand Singh says:

    I came to know of this rogue feature by reading your blog even though I have been using Windows XP from 2001. It really seems to be a very very rarely used feature. After using this feature I could not find any specific use for it (I don't deem any folder so important as to have its contents displayed in a toolbar). Its good that the feature has now been deleted.

  30. Grey Hodge says:

    I am one of the very few people who used the feature on purpose, and loved it. I did not whine when it went away though, as I understood it was a very niche features that easily could have caused more pain than it was worth. I would us eit like the QuickLaunch bar, but on a different edge than the taskbar so that I had a raft of quick access links, and still a full taskbar. It was really nice. :)

  31. Random832 says:

    With some experimentation, I determined that A) it is still possible to make a folder into a toolbar, by the rather more sane method of right-clicking the taskbar, selecting "Toolbars > New Toolbar…" B) it is not still possible to separate toolbars (whether one of these, or built-in taskbar toolbars such as the address bar) from the taskbar, either to float or to be on a different edge of the screen, and C) it is still possible to dock the taskbar itself to the left, right, or top edge of the screen, which does not interfere with Aero Snap.

    Point C somewhat invalidates the "Furthermore, the design team was interested in a new way to use the edges of the screen" argument, and it's not clear why A was left in when B was removed. Was the whole toolbars thing a rogue feature, or just the "drag a folder window to the edge to create a toolbar"?

Comments are closed.