Windows Vista: More Choices, More Headaches

Joel Spolsky writes about the usability aspect of Windows Vista’s having at least nine ways of shutting down. He argues that giving users more choices is more restrictive than liberating, especially since most users won’t know the difference among these, anyway.

Every time you want to leave your computer, you have to choose between nine, count them, nine options: two icons and seven menu items. The two icons, I think, are shortcuts to menu items. I’m guessing the lock icon does the same thing as the lock menu item, but I’m not sure which menu item the on/off icon corresponds to.

On laptops, it’s even worse, since you have the different Fn + function key combination, and you can also close the lid! Then there’s always the power button.

The more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they’ll feel. See, for example, Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice. Let me quote from the Publishers Weekly review: â??Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us.”

The fact that you have to choose between nine different ways of turning off your computer every time just on the start menu, not to mention the choice of hitting the physical on/off button or closing the laptop lid, produces just a little bit of unhappiness every time.

I guess it’s a conflict between empowering the user with more choices, and giving him ease-of-use, with a simplified (or dumbed-down) interface. But with an Operating System with as big a market share as Windows, I would think it’s better to give users fewer choices by default, since a good majority of users aren’t likely to know the difference between Sleep and Hibernate, or between Log Out and Switch Users, and the like. It’s probably best to hide these superfluous information from the eyes of the common user, and let the geeks find and activate the features themselves.

Joel suggests that Vista developers merge these options such that the interface is more streamlined. This way, the end user sees only a few choices, and the computer makes the intelligent decisions itself.

This is where the Mac trumps Windows (again!). You only get a few choices when shutting down OS X. It’s either shutdown, restart, sleep or log out (still a lot, but at least you don’t get superfluous ones!).

If you wanted more functionality, you’d have to get into the terminal and issue some commands–for instance, to turn on safe sleep, which is the OS X equivalent of Windows’ hibernate.

I think Windows XP is even better than Vista in this regard, as you only get three choices when you hit the Shutdown icon: standby, turn off and restart, and that’s apart from the log-off icon, but hey, that’s only four choices.

If you wanted to hibernate, just press the shift key and the “stand by” button turns into “hibernate.” Cool, huh?

Why does Microsoft have to clutter its interface with choices most people would probably just get confused with? Perhaps, it’s an attempt to make everyone happy. But remember than when you try to make everyone happy, you tend to end up pissing off everyone in the process.

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