Before I actually installed the Windows Vista February CTP
(Community Technology Preview), build 5380, a couple of weeks ago, I read the Microsoft
Windows Vista Enterprise Community Technology Preview Fact Sheet and found
actual confirmation that this is the first “feature-complete” version
Of course, this was an exciting revelation and ever since I
installed build 5380, I’ve been exploring and testing all of the new features
and applications that I can find. While on one of these expeditions, it dawned
on me that while Vista is literally packed with new and improved features,
there are some things in Vista that haven’t changed at all.
For example, several of the standard Windows applets in Vista
are identical to those in Windows XP. In fact, almost all of them are
essentially the same as they were in Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows 98, Windows
NT, and Windows 95. Let’s take a closer look.
The unchanged applets
Before I begin, I have to preface this by saying that I
admit that the things that I found are actually really small when you look at the
big picture. Furthermore, my intent here really isn’t to bash Microsoft. However,
I find it surprising that they have put little, if any, effort into improving or
adding new features to these applets.
Notepad has been part of the Windows operating system forever.
It’s a fine text editor, but there is some room for improvement. I compared the
version in Vista with the version in XP and, other than the visual enhancements
provided by the new Aero UI, they’re identical–same menus, same commands, and
same limitations. Just for the sake of conducting a thorough investigation, I
dug deep into my closet and came up with a book called Windows 3 Companion, published by The Cobb Group in 1990, and
discovered that the chapter covering Notepad could, 16 years later, literally be
used as a guide to Vista’s Notepad.
While Notepad is still a very functional tool, a few new
features, such as support for multiple windows or the ability to add line
numbers would have been nice additions.
Wordpad was added to the Windows operating system in Windows
95 as a replacement for Windows 3.x’s Write applet. After another trip to my
closet, I came up with a Microsoft Press book titled Introducing Microsoft Windows 95, and in the section on Wordpad,
found the following sentence:
“Wordpad was written from scratch as a good example of
the user interface style that applications written for Windows 95 should use.”
Like Notepad, Wordpad’s feature set really hasn’t changed
much, if at all, since that time. The menus and commands are the same and the
toolbar displays the same buttons.
The ability to open multiple windows, create tables, or
spell check documents would have been nice additions.
Paint, which in the Windows 3.x days was called Paintbrush, is
a great tool that I use a lot. However, Paint is the same in Vista as it is in XP.
In fact, Vista’s Paint is identical to the Windows 98 version.
Paint should have been endowed with some new features, such
as the photo editing capability used in Windows Photo Gallery.
The Calculator hasn’t changed since it appeared in Windows
95 and has always left room for improvement. Vista’s Calculator looks and feels
that same as all the other Calculator applets in previous version of Windows.
And anyone who has downloaded the Microsoft PowerToy Calculator or Microsoft
Calculator Plus knows that Microsoft could provide a much more feature rich
calculator in Windows Vista if they wanted to.
Some things have changed
To be fair, I should point out that there are several other applets
and standard features that had been unchanged in previous versions of Windows
that have now been improved in Vista. Let’s just take a look at two of them.
While not a very crucial part of the operating system, screen
savers are one thing that jumped out at me. Way back in Windows 3 days, the
Beziers and Mystify screen savers were pretty cool. When Windows NT was
released, the OpenGL screen savers, such as 3D Pipes and 3D Text, were totally
awesome. But by the time Windows XP came out, this same stable of screen savers
was pretty old hat. Fortunately, Vista is sporting some exciting new 3D screen
savers such as Aurora, Ribbons, Bubbles, and a very snazzily
updated version of Mystify. Hopefully, we’ll see some other new screen savers
in the final version of Vista.
Another tool that is sporting new features is the System
Configuration Utility. Like its predecessors, this tool is designed to help you
diagnose start up and configuration issues. Finally all references and tabs
related to System.ini and Win.ini are gone. They’ve been replaced by a Boot
tab, packed with boot configuration options, and a Tools tab, that provides you
with a menu full of links to other handy troubleshooting tools.
As you can see, Microsoft put some effort into modifying
some of the standard Windows tools to make them more exciting and useful. I
only wish that they had done the same with some of the standard applets that
have been unchanged for years. However, I suppose that the old adage, “If
it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” could apply here.
Keep in mind that Vista’s official release date is slated
for the fourth quarter of this year. Some of the information about the applets
and features I’ve covered in this article may change between now and the
official release date. As always, if you have comments or information to share
about the standard Windows applets and how they’ve remained unchanged
throughout the years, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and
let us hear.