After using Windows XP for almost five years, I’ve become very,
very accustomed to this operating system’s user interface (UI). So much so,
that when I’m working on systems running Windows 2000 Professional or Windows
98 SE, I find myself feeling a bit lost when looking for such things as
applications/items/commands on the Start menu, configuration settings in the
control panel, and information in the Help system. For lack of a better description,
I coined the phrase “UI Shock” to explain the situation in which I
experience a momentary lapse of composure.

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Well, by now you’ve heard a lot about the revolutionary UI
changes that Microsoft has implemented in the December CTP of Windows Vista
(build 5270), so you can imagine the UI Shock that I’ve encountered as I began
investigating this most recent build of the new operating system. Only this
time, instead of reaching back into my memory banks for information about an old
operating system, I find myself really working to adapt what I know about XP’s
UI by overlaying that information with what I’m seeing and experiencing in
Vista and trying to build a new sense of orientation and comfort. And while I’m
making the transition quite well, that sense of UI Shock still lingers and
occasionally pops up in full force when I look for something that I know should
be there or when encounter a change in operating system terminology. 

As such, when I sat down to write this edition of the
Windows Vista Report, I decided that I would cover a couple of the things in
Windows Vista that really threw me for a loop. My goal is to prepare you for,
and hopefully ease some of the Windows Vista UI Shock that you’ll experience
when you actually get an opportunity to work with the new operating system for

Start menu

Of course, the first place that you’re going to encounter UI
Shock is with the Start menu. I’ll start with the Start button. Of course, I’m
talking about the fact that the Start button is now a large round graphic
rather than a rectangular button. While this new button is very intuitive, it
still takes some getting used to–especially when you consider the fact that
we’ve been staring at a rectangular Start button now for the last eleven years.
In addition to the change in shape, you’ll discover that the button only contains
the Windows flag graphic–it no longer contains the word Start although if you hover your mouse pointer over the button, a pop-up appears
that does indeed contain the word Start.

Once you click the Start button, you’ll discover that the
Start menu itself has also been dramatically streamlined. It’s still a two-paneled
menu structure with the most recently used applications appearing in the left
panel and the standard items appearing on the right panel. However, you’ll
notice right away that the standard items in the right panel no longer contain
individual icons–only text. A single icon appears at the top of the right
panel and changes according to the item you point to. For example, when you
point to the Control Panel item, the Control Panel icon appears at the top of
the right panel, when you point to the Help item, the Help icon appears, and so
on. You’ll also note that the ubiquitous “My” lingo has thankfully
been dropped. For example, My Computer is now just Computer. 

Clicking All Programs no longer opens a separate submenu
that pops up over top of the Start menu. Instead, the programs menu simply takes
over and occupies the left panel. There’s a Back button that when clicked reinserts
the most recently used applications into the panel.

Furthermore, the two exit related buttons
at the bottom of the Start menu have been streamlined and stripped of title
text. By streamlined, I mean that they immediately perform the associated
operation rather than bringing up a secondary dialog box from which you’re
prompted to choose a related option. The first time that I clicked the Shut
Down button, I was surprised when the system immediately shut down. That really
threw me at first, but now I really like the fact that I’m not being forced to
confirm a shut down operation when that is what I really want to do. The other
button icon is, appropriately enough, a lock and clicking it immediately locks
the system. The lock button has a pop-up submenu attached to it that contains
the Switch User, Log Off, Lock, Shut Down and Restart options.


If you’re like me, you right-click everywhere in Windows XP
and use the commands on the pop-up context menus to perform any number of
tasks. I’m very familiar with the list commands that appear on these context
menus in Windows XP and had a major UI Shock the first time that I accessed the
context menu on the Windows Vista desktop. However, I soon discovered that
these new context menu items bring a lot of configuration power right to the
forefront very quickly.

The first item on the menu is Choose Desktop Background, which
is very intuitive and one of the more common reasons for right-clicking on the
desktop. Selecting it brings up the new Desktop Background Control Panel page.
I use the term page here because Desktop Background looks and feels more like a
Web page than a typical Control Panel dialog box like those found in Windows

The next item on the menu is titled View and provides most of the functionality found on the current
Arrange Icons By menu in Windows XP. The View menu allows you to change the
size of the icons, alter their arrangement, as well the ability to completely
disable desktop icons altogether. The next menu item is titled Sort By and provides
quick access to the other items on the current Arrange Icons By menu, thus
allowing you to quickly organize the icon display and Name, Size, Type, and
Date Modified.

The next major item on the desktop context menu is titled Look
in Folder and will very quickly patch you through to the root of the new
Virtual Folder paradigm, which is destined to augment Windows Vista’s Search
capabilities by providing preconfigured and always
available search results. I wrote about Virtual Folders early on in An
in-depth look at Windows Vista’s Virtual Folders technology
. I’ll be
writing more about Virtual Folders and how to take advantage of them in the
near future.

The last major item on the desktop context menu is called Personalize
Computer and provides access to the types of scenic configuration changes that you
would expect from the Properties item on Windows XP’s desktop context menu.
Like the Choose Desktop Background item, the Personalize Computer item takes
you to a new Control Panel application, but this one takes you to Desktop
Background’s parent page, which is simply called Personalization. From within
the Personalization page, you can select Theme, Color Scheme, Screen Save and
Sound Effects. Unlike Desktop Background, which appears as a web page, these
other four items on the Personalization page access standard dialog box
configuration interfaces. However, I’ll wager that these too will eventually be
migrated to a web-based interface.

The sounds of Vista

In last week’s edition, I pointed you to Microsoft’s Channel
9 to watch a video discussion about Windows Vista’s kernel architecture. Well, Channel
9 is now featuring another video that takes you inside a recording session for
the sounds that will be in Windows Vista. Check out this video and
watch as Robert Fripp, from the 70’s rock group King
Crimson, records music for the Windows Vista operating system soundtrack.


I’ve only covered a few of my initial Windows Vista UI Shock
experiences in this edition. There are more that I’ll be sharing in upcoming articles
as the December CTP is literally packed with new features. Keep in mind that
Windows Vista’s official release date is over a year a way and some of the
information presented here may change. As always, if you have comments or
information to share about the Windows Vista December CTP in general or some of
these UI Shock experience, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area
and let us hear.