Vista's recycled applets should have been polished

The "new" Microsoft Vista is not all new--despite a few new applets, many of Vista's features seem very familiar. Greg Shultz visits a few old features in new packages.

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 Vista.

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

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

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

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.

Calculator

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.

Conclusion

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.