As part of our issuewide reflection on the Windows that Microsoft has produced during the past 20 years, we thought itd be interesting to consider the Windows we wish we had as well. If we had a magic, Windows-morphing wand, heres how wed wave it to remake Windows.
Along with managing hardware, which Windows does pretty well, the primary jobs of an operating system are to run applications—a task that Windows performs perhaps too well—and to manage installation and updates of those applications—a duty that Windows doesnt handle nearly well enough.
Windows boasts the broadest application support of any operating system in existence, but this support unfortunately extends to all manner of unwanted applications, such as teeming hordes of spyware and malware.
Rather than require users to clean up the messes that Windows doesnt adequately prevent, the Windows wed like to see would do a better job of managing the process in the first place.
The first step is to make it easier for users to run with limited privileges, the way Linux and the Mac OS already do—and something that Microsoft is finally attempting to get right in Windows Vista.
The next step, which isnt yet slated to be part of Vista, is building into Windows a rigorous, broadly embraceable software management framework, such as the one Debian GNU/Linux offers.
As in Debian and other Linux distros, wed like to see every piece of software in the core Windows installation—from the kernel to the little applets that live on the task bar—track back to a package that includes application binaries, config files and scripts, and information about the other packages on which the software depends.
Our ideal Windows Add and Remove Software dialog wouldnt be stacked with cryptically named hotfixes.
Instead, it would offer a view of everything installed on the system, including components that had been updated, and a way to trace incompatibilities or function changes back to specific packages.
Smart package management would enable administrators and users to update or upgrade software in a single step, rather than through a host of separate update checkers and installers that live in the system tray. It would also allow administrators to limit software installations to trusted software repositories.
The Windows we want would be a champion of standards support, beginning with Internet Explorer.
As more of the world comes online, it becomes more important that we—or at least our browsers—all speak the same language.
Along similar lines, there are too many tongues that Windows doesnt speak out of the box—the Windows wed like to see would support SSH (client and server) and NFS shares, and its built-in compressed-files tool would support gzip, tar and b2zip formats, as well as a native PDF viewer.
Windows also should ship with an instant messaging client thats conversant with other popular IM protocols.
The IM clients that ship with typical Linux distros (usually Gaim or Kopete) can talk to MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Jabber, IRC and others—Windows native IM client should be just as capable.
The same goes for WMP (Windows Media Player). Microsoft should offer a media player with Windows that can play and manage all sorts of content.
Our ideal Windows would spare us from having to manage QuickTime, WMP and RealPlayer installations on the same box.
More GUI options
One of the more disappointing side effects of Windows domination has been an overall dumbing down of the Windows interface.
The command line is still a great place to get things done, and the Windows we want would return the command line to first-class-citizen status.
Wed also like Windows to be clearer about whats on our machines, even if it means having things look more complicated.
For instance, we find maddening the Windows default that hides file name extensions. These extensions are important bits of information, and hiding them creates unnecessary confusion.
Along with our dream Windows giving users more credit for their intelligence, wed love to see Windows be more intelligent itself.
With Vista, Microsoft is doing some interesting things with desktop search and with information categorization.
But wed like to see Windows take this further and attempt to learn about the way we work by watching us.
Were big fans of Popfile, an application that automatically classifies e-mail into arbitrary buckets by monitoring the way users classify these items.
Windows should attempt to do the same, but with all the file information that its search tools index.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.