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The most irritating part of the Windows UI

Its come to my attention that blog has way too much helpful technical information and not nearly enough bitching & complaining. With today's post, I hope to tip the scales a bit.

During the course of the day, I use a variety of operating systems. Most of my desktop computers use Windows, most of my servers use some version of either linux or bsd, and a large number of my customers use Macs (which I know underneath the branding is also linux, but we are talking about UI stuff in this post, and in that department OS X qualifies as its own thing). Over the last 20 or so years I've alternated between which operating system I use most frequently, based on what kind of work I'm doing as well as what is inexpensive, secure and effective at the time.

Lately I've had a series of Windows laptops that I've spent a fair amount of time working with. It is what it is, I don't want to get off topic. This isn't some mouth-breather-y attempt to measure the manhood between the various OS'ses. This post is about bitching.

So Windows, like just about every operating system, is built for multi-tasking. Its designed to let users run more than one application at the same time. That's one of the core ideas behind an operating system. If you didn't need to multi-task, you wouldn't need an operating system at all, you could use other stuff, like embedded circuits, to run the one application you need, kindof like a calculator.

The problem that is bugging me is how Windows handles multi-tasking. So its a biggy. Nearly everytime I use more than one application at the same time on Windows, there the problem is, like an over-excited dog jamming its nose into my crotch after a particularly stressful day.

Specifically, the issue is with how Windows has opted to notify users that an application has completed a task, when that user has gone off to work with another application. For example, let's say I have decided to run an application that needs to perform a very length task that requires no human intervention - like scandisk or a defrag. Such a task could take hours. But, because Windows can *multi-task*, I can go off and do other things while that boring task is being taken care of. I can go check my email, look at cat pictures, whatever I want to do. So far, so good.

The issue occurs when the long boring task completes. So this application has been in the background for hours. I may have forgotten it was running. I may be in the middle of another task. That other task could be critical. I could be about to, I don't know, complete a series of calculations that would let me cure cancer. I've got the numbers allin place. I just need to hit return, and then, just like that, cancer is CURED. But NO. That's when Windows happens.

You see, Windows has decided that when a background application completes a task, it needs to let you know about it immediately. And by immediately, I mean it will take you out of your current Window and force you back into this other window that's been running in the background. So far, kind of maybe annoying, but no big deal, right? Well, it gets worse. You see, Windows doesn't care if you are in the middle of typing when this switcheroo occurs. And the background application that has just completed its operation may just present you with an option. Going back to my example where I am curing cancer (you're welcome), I was just about to press return when I am forced back to that background application. That background application presents a prompt:

        Would you like to format drive C?
        Press [ENTER] to continue, [ESC] to cancel

And with that carriage return press, my cure for cancer is gone for good.

This is a silly example, but similar things have happened to me regularly because of this stupid, stupid UI decision. I've deleted important files. I've screwed up installations. And when none of those things have happened, the work I was doing in my active application when this notification occurred was disrupted. It stops me in the middle of writing a new line of code, or a new line in this blog for that matter. No matter what I am doing, it interrupts me, usually to inform me that, wow, my antivirus signatures have been updated successfully or some other useless rubbish.

I hate it.

Its very possible that the other operating systems do exactly the same thing. But I don't spend a lot of time in linux outside of the command line, and the only time I am using a Mac is when I am fixing one that belongs to somebody else. It doesn't matter though. Even if this "feature" is considered to be god's own gift to computer science, it's dumb and I hope it dies.

That's all for now.