Microsoft software: Ugly and inconsistent
What is depressing about Vista and Microsoft’s other products is that it looks as if no group inside Microsoft agreed with any other group about what a good UI looked like, except on the general dictum of Make It Shiny.
What is especially puzzling is the menu bar, or the lack thereof. In the past, one could count on basic functionality being accessible in the same way in every application: the File menu is where one goes to open, save, or close a document; the Edit menu is where one goes to copy, or to paste, or to cut. This was the case in everything from an audio player to a text editor to an IDE to a page layout application, and was one of the reasons why the desktop metaphor was so much better than what came before. In Vista, some applications have menu bars which are visible by default; others have menu bars which are hidden until you tap the Alt key; others have no menu bars at all. The Ribbon, the big change to Office 2007, is nice in a lot of ways; however, when I switched from using Office 2003 to using Office 2007, I had to relearn how to find just about everything.
It is difficult to find two Microsoft applications or utilities which look alike in Vista. Internet Explorer looks a lot like Windows Explorer, although, for no good reason, Windows Explorer’s toolbar is a blueish green, while Internet Explorer’s toolbar is a purplish gray. The Visual Studio toolbar looks vaguely like an Office 2003 toolbar, but different; the WordPad toolbar looks like a toolbar from Windows XP; the toolbar in Office 2007 is its own beast entirely.
A menu looks different in Office than it does in Visual Studio 2008 than it does in everything else.
In the screenshot above, a context menu from Word 2007 appears on the left, a standard Vista context menu (from WordPad) appears on the top right, , and a context menu from Visual Studio 2008 appears on the bottom right.
Even inside Office 2007 you will find inconsistencies. There are three different appearances of widgets which you will encounter: one for the widgets in the toolbar, a second for the widgets in that little floating window which appears above the context menu in the screenshot above, and a standard Vista widget appearance in dialog boxes.
Unlike any other application I can think of, in Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer the “glass”, the transparent part of the window, contains UI elements other than the Close, Maximize, and Minimize buttons – the back button, address bar, search bar. The only reason I can imagine for this choice is to make the two applications just about everyone is going to use – a file manager and a web browser – include more transparency, so that Vista looks shinier.
And that brings me to my final (for today) complaint about Vista. If one has exactly one window open, with an attractive desktop picture, the transparency in the window titlebar is attractive. It serves no useful purpose, but it’s pretty. When you have many, many windows open, and the windows overlap each other, the transparency eventually becomes muddy and blurry. Worse, it’s difficult to tell which window is active. The text is slightly grayer in the inactive window, the close button is red in the active window; other than that, there isn’t much difference.