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Designing Windows 95's user interface
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-02-10 00:11:34

Three years ago I came across an interesting paper written up by a Microsoft employee, Kent Sullivan, on the process and findings of designing the new user interface for Windows 95. The web page has since been taken down - one reason why I’m a bit of a digital hoarder.

It specified some of the common issues experienced from Windows 3.1's Program Manager shell and looked at the potential of developing a separate shell for 'beginners'. Admittedly my inclination was that this was possibly inspired by Apple's At Ease program that was reasonably popular during the System 7 days. I remember At Ease well during my primary school years, so kids couldn’t mess with the hard disk in Finder.

So here's what Kent had to say verbatim in his paper titled "The Windows 95 User Interface: A Case Study in Usability Engineering" so it’s not lost altogether.

However you feel about Windows 95, there's no denying that its user interface is probably one of the most iconic and well-known user interfaces ever designed and developed. Literally everyone knows it and has used it, and it singlehandedly defined what a personal computer's UI should work like. It's incredibly fascinating to read about the thought processes behind its development.

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An unsung triumph
By Moochman on 2018-02-11 12:34:05
Reading this paper drives home the importance of iterative UI design, and indeed UI design and usability testing in general. Without having performed the studies they did, they would have never discovered the deficiencies of Windows 3.1's design and never have been able to come up with something demonstrably better. Rather it would have just been a matter of Developer X or Designer Y insisting one solution is better than another (which is unfortunately still what happens in all too many software projects to this day).

By the way, the "infamous" MS Office ribbon was created using similar methodologies and despite its detractors it's the demonstrably superior solution for casual users to grasp the complex functionality of Office, even if it's perhaps not the best solution for every conceivable application.

https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/...

Edited 2018-02-11 12:35 UTC
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RE: An unsung triumph
By kurkosdr on 2018-02-11 13:54:12
> Rather it would have just been a matter of Developer X or Designer Y insisting one solution is better than another (which is unfortunately still what happens in all too many software projects to this day).

Which is what happened with Metro. Microsoft let some hipsters loose to do what they want. Even on touch platforms Metro looks ugly and initially was full of mysterious gestures, so even of you assume they were fine with burying the Desktop to advance a mobile-first agenda it was still awful.

Edited 2018-02-11 13:54 UTC
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RE[3]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By Morty on 2018-02-11 14:30:40
> Oh come on, stop spreading this FUD. Unless you`re doing something unusual, you don`t have to use cli at all. And that`s real state since at least a few years at Ubuntu
True, but quite sad at the same time. Since this was the situation 10-15years ago with several distributions, it really show the backwards step Ubuntu inflicted on Linux usability.
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RE[4]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By BluenoseJake on 2018-02-11 14:51:42
What distro did you use? Most would have a GUI for that, but if you had one that was less mainstream, or a less supported card, you may have entered the realm of "unusual"
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RE[4]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By ssokolow on 2018-02-11 15:46:55
WiFi is definitely an outlier in that respect. It and printers by companies like Lexmark are throw-backs to the bad old days of driver support and the only situation I've run into with modern Linux where you're likely to need to leave the GUI for "average person usage" on a major desktop like KDE or GNOME.
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RE[2]: An unsung triumph
By ssokolow on 2018-02-11 15:49:34
Reminds me of UX articles I read about touch gestures serving the same role on mobile as the CLI does on desktop.

(Non-discoverable, but high-efficiency once learned.)

It's sad that this is the state we're at in 2018 when there is so much more nuanced stuff we've known for so long.

For example:

http://uxmovement.com/buttons/wh...

(There's good reason why, to this day, when I'm poking at old OSes for retro-hobbyist reasons, pre-OSX versions of MacOS have a magnetic pull on the rare occasions when I interact with them, despite my having much more reason to spend my hobby time in Windows 3.1x and 9x. Classic MacOS was a BIG pile of UX R&D discoveries merged together.)

Edited 2018-02-11 15:54 UTC
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RE[4]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By cmost on 2018-02-11 17:17:33
> > You're obviously not a Linux user so you probably shouldn't comment on things that you clearly don't know much about. Linux distros do not in fact require the command line interface for basic system configuration tasks. Sure, one can use it if one wants but most

Wrong. Installing WiFi drivers is a basic system configuration task and I had to use dpkg to get it done.


So what? Just because you had to manually install a driver doesn't mean everyone will need to do that. I haven't had to monkey around with wi-fi drivers for my various laptops on Linux since the early 2000s. In fact Linux's plug-and-play driver management far exceeds Windows in my opinion.
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RE[5]: Re: (Reasons Windows 95 was well received)
By Vanders on 2018-02-11 18:42:39
At no point, during the installation of a WiFi driver on Windows, will you need to open PowerShell and start copying & pasting commands from a post you found on an obscure forum from a link on the fifth page of results of a Google search.

Just sayin'
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RE: An unsung triumph
By Vanders on 2018-02-11 18:48:27
I don't think the problem with the Ribbon was that it is a bad UI concept, the problem with Ribbon was that it was a different UI concept introduced into the middle of the older Toolbar concept and caused too much confusion.
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RE[2]: An unsung triumph
By Kochise on 2018-02-11 21:23:55
No, the problem with ribbon is that it took too much screen space and showing even less options than a regular old fashioned drop down menu that worked flawlessly. Now for the hidden options, you have to click the little arrow in the lower right corner of each section only to find the old dialog box. Improvement, really ?
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