Future Tense: Ten Ways To Improve Windows

Alex Castle

There’s a lot to like in Windows 7.  I like the new taskbar best, I like the jump lists, I like that I can set up my own theme with changing wallpapers.  I like the Devices and Printers page for its ease of use.  I like the Readyboost cache.  I like the Monitor Calibration utility.  And I really like Microsoft Security Essentials.

But no operating system is perfect.  There are things that I would like to see included in the next iteration of Windows.  Most of them are easy.  Some of them are obvious and it’s puzzling to me why they aren’t already a part of Windows.  (And one is probably an impossible pipe dream.)

But I hope someone in Redmond is listening.

Windows Explorer

Can we please have ‘Folder Size,’ ‘Folder Children,’ and ‘File Children’ added to the details view of Explorer?  There is a terrific freeware add-on for XP that does this, but the API was changed with Vista and there is no current utility to do the same for either Vista or Windows 7.  These categories are very useful for sorting folders and discovering where the bloat is hidden.

Oh, and while we’re at it, can we please bring back the delete button in the Explorer toolbar?  Or at least make it an option?  I can understand why it was removed.  Some people were hitting it by mistake.  But not all of us are dummies.  Honest.

Instant Search

Yes, the search function in Windows 7 is the best search function Windows has ever had.  So why am I still using Search Everything instead?  Because Search Everything is instantaneous.

Why can’t Windows have immediate indexing?  Every time a file is written or moved or changed or deleted, how about updating the search engine’s internal database at the same time?  Yes, indexing the contents of an entire hard disk can still be done in the background, most computers have more than enough power for that, but many users look for files by their titles and Search Everything is faster than Windows’ own search function.  So why can’t this kind of speed and functionality be built into the OS?

But the OS should do even more than that.  What if the database also included the locations of all the file parts?  That way, the OS could more accurately report how long it would take to copy a file or a group of files.  (And it might also be useful for recovering data in case of a crash…?)

Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player should recognize FLAC and Ogg Vorbis files.  It should also expand its metatag database functions so that WAV and other files can have the same metatag information as WMA files.  (And how about an accurate-rip feature, like EAC provides?)  Now that I have multiple terabytes of storage, I’d prefer to have my music files unchanged, uncompressed, and unmolested, but with the same metadata as MP3 files.

And could someone in charge pleeeaaase figure out how to standardize Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, and the Zune media manager?  It’s three different interfaces for the same set of functions.  Can’t there be one program that manages everything?  Myself, I like Windows Media Player a lot—shouldn’t it sync more easily with my Zune?

And how about WMP having an extractable database as well, so I could keep a separate record of all the CDs and other music on my system.  It would be great for insurance purposes, I could add sources and prices paid and date purchased and my own notes about each album.  And it would also be convenient to have the whole database available when I’m browsing the stacks at Tower … oh, wait, there aren’t any CD stores anymore.  Never mind that last.

License RAR and 7zip

Extraction of these popular archive formats should be part of the OS.  Users should be able to extract data from all sources transparently.

License DropBox

More than anything else, this needs to be a part of the OS.  DropBox is the simplest and easiest way to back up important files and make sure they’re immediately available on all of your machines.  It works automatically in the background and it also contains a public folder for sharing files with others.    If you’re using it, you know what I mean.  If you’re not using it, you should definitely check it out.

License Fences

Desktop icon management has been out of control since Windows 3.0.  Fences corrals groups of icons and the corrals can be moved around and resized.  A double-click on the desktop hides everything until you bring it back with another double-click.

This license (and the two above) need to be a part of Windows.  For those of us who use these utilities, the operating system feels incomplete and crippled without them.

Browser standards!

Argh!!  This is the one that pushes me to thoughts of violence.  I want to get all the different browser authors into the same room, at gunpoint if necessary, and not let anyone out, not even to go to the bathroom, until all of the browsers—IE, Firefox, Chrome, etc.—display all pages the same way.  I mean it.  This requires a summit conference on standards.  Microsoft, Mozilla, Google, Opera, Safari—all of these folks need to agree on the way that web pages will be displayed.  Once and for all.  Enough.  Too many good people are having to spend way too much time writing code that has to adapt itself to different browsers…including legacy browsers like IE6.


How about an operating system that runs all of its programs—especially browsers—in virtual environments.
Now that we have machines with multiple processor cores and multiple gigabytes of RAM, now that we have mature virtual environment software, why not have the OS create virtual environments tailored specifically to each class of program.
Virtual environments would keep software from interfering or conflicting with each other.  Each program would have its own perfect environment.

Even more important, a virtual environment makes it (almost) impossible for malware to infect the primary OS.  Virtuality could be the strongest way to stop the spread of malicious software.

In fact, why not run the OS from a read-only image, with updates and patches and config files added to the image only as necessary?

Get rid of the registry!

This requires a whole column, but the registry is a mess, filled with strange strings of numbers and letters, unknown identifiers, and codes for functions that have no discernable documentation.  Tracking down problems in a system has become so difficult that even tech support gurus often end up stuck.  (That’s another story, for another time.)  And don’t even think about tweaking.

This is the worst part—every time you install something to your system, the registry grows like the zerg creep in Starcraft.  But every time you delete a program, the detritus of that program is left behind, leaving the registry strewn with trash.  So the registry grows and grows and your system slows and slows.

In the days before the registry, software (mostly) behaved itself.  It stayed in its own folder.  If you needed to move a program from one machine to another, you just copied the folder across.

If you must have a registry, how about this instead?  Every program has a REG folder which includes all of its registry additions.  When  a program is uninstalled, the whole folder is deleted and the registry is rebuilt from scratch, checking all the REG folders in the Program Files folder?  Installation and removal of software would be simplified.

Okay, there are only nine bullet points above, but there are more than ten suggestions.  Some of these should be relatively easy to implement.  Others would require a much deeper level of attention.  And I’m open to the possibility that there are better solutions than anything I’ve suggested here.

But these are the things that I’d like to see fixed in Windows, because these are the things that I keep bumping up against.
What do you want to see fixed, changed, or improved in the next version of Windows?

David Gerrold is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author. He has written more than 50 books, including "The Man Who Folded Himself" and "When HARLIE Was One," as well as hundreds of short stories and articles. His autobiographical story "The Martian Child" was the basis of the 2007 movie starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet. He has also written for television, including episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, and Land Of The Lost. He is best known for creating tribbles, sleestaks, and Chtorrans. In his spare time, he redesigns his website, www.gerrold.com

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