All the other articles list the top ten Windows Annoyances. I’m going to list the bottom ten. These are things that work, but they’re sloppy.
Maybe the programmers thought good enough was good enough. It isn’t. Maybe the programmers forgot to stress-test their work. They should have. Maybe they didn’t think about the actual work environment where their software would be running. Oops.
And perhaps, some of these behaviors are my fault—things that are particular to my machine, quirks that have developed over time as the detritus of heavy use piles up like scree at the bottom of a cliff. Whatever the case, they’re still annoying.
1) Microsoft Security Essentials is designed to protect the Windows environment against malware. For the most part, it does a terrific job. But it’s also designed to shut itself off if you’re running an unregistered copy of Windows.
I have legal copies of Windows on all of my machines. But from time to time, I’ll get a warning on my desktop machine that MSE has shut itself off and I need to validate my copy of Windows. The validation process works, but MSE refuses to turn itself back on. The only way to restore MSE is to reboot.
And no, the system isn’t infected with some particularly pernicious bit of code. I’ve run six or seven different malware checkers, dug into the registry, done a Hijack This, monitored what’s happening in the System folders, watched all the running processes, checked Msconfig and Startup, done all the tweaks I could find on the web, and uninstalled and reinstalled. No joy. As near as I can tell, MSE is punking itself when I’m running a batch file that backs up my files.
It seems to me that MSE shouldn’t have to phone home every time it wets its diaper. And if it does have to phone home, it should listen when mommy says, “You’re a good boy and yes, that’s a legal copy of Windows. Turn yourself back on.”
2) Windows Explorer will show me all the drives on my system. If I single-click on a single drive, I select it. If I double-click on that same drive, two folder windows open. The same thing happens if I right-click and select open. I don’t want to open two folder windows, only one. There must be a setting somewhere to fix this—I’ve found several, but they haven’t worked. Go figure.
3) There are a lot of good media players available, but I like Windows Media Player for several reasons, most important being that I don’t have to worry about upgrading it to keep up with Windows. I also have a vast music collection—enough to fill a 3TB drive. Windows Media Player not only plays my music, it also functions as a database, making it easy to categorize, sort, and find tracks, albums, artists, genres, etc.
That said, there are two things Windows Media Player doesn’t do.
First of all, WMP doesn’t always get its album art assigned to the right album. Sometimes—usually when it boots up—it gets confused which cover art belongs with which disc. Arthur Fiedler does not belong on the cover of Carol King’s Tapestry. Beatallica’s art does not belong on Mahler’s 2nd.
Second, it can’t count above 2500. I have ripped over 3500 albums in the past ten years, but no matter how many are on the hard drive, WMP tells me there are only 2500. It can find all the albums, it just can’t count them.
4) This one isn’t entirely Windows’ fault, but it is an annoyance. It varies, depending on which browser you use. In Chrome, you can open new tabs without leaving the page you’re on. In Chrome and IE9, you can open a saved session. This is a welcome convenience. But sometimes, one of those tabs will have a video or an advertisement that starts running automatically. I might be listening to music, I might be on a Skype call, I might be working on an audio file. I don’t want a commercial running in the background—especially one I can’t find unless I click through the entire session I just opened.
I blame advertisers for this problem, and I know I could fix part of it by installing an ad-blocker. But that would work only on the ads, not on the audio/video content on that page. It’s this simple. I want audio files to wait for me to tell it, “Okay, I’m ready to listen to you now.”
5) Windows Explorer has a whole list of things that it will display in the details view, but that list doesn’t include Folder Size or Folder Children. It doesn’t include MD5 or CRC checksums either. These would be great time savers. There’s an add-on for XP that showed Folder Size and Folder Children columns, but it’s incompatible with Win7. And it seems obvious that the Windows’ Indexing function could do MD5 and/or CRC checksums during idle time. It would be a great help in finding duplicates.
Speaking of which—why doesn’t Windows include a duplicate file finder?
6) The single most annoying annoyance? Applications that suddenly pop up and steal the focus. I don’t want any app stealing the focus unless it’s telling me that the flames have reached my office door.
I can be in the middle of speed-typing an email and suddenly a box pops up in front of everything else—and if it’s asking a question, then whatever is already in the keystroke queue answers the pop-up before I can even read the question, and the next thing I know my system is doing something I did not want it to do—like shutting itself down!
I don’t mind warnings popping up in the corner. I don’t mind questions. I do mind when they get in front of what I am doing, especially when it interrupts something critical. I want apps to wait politely. The apps are supposed to work for me—not the other way around.
7) Windows Word stores its configuration information in a file called normal.dot. As long as normal.dot is invisible, I don’t care. But there are just too many circumstances where I cannot close a file or exit Word without normal.dot asking me whether I want to save its changes. And if I say no, it’s still not happy. Sometimes it’s a lot of work just to exit Word. Hello, normal.dot? Here’s your answer: I don’t care. Do whatever it is you want to do. I have templates that I use for everything, letters, stories, articles, email, etc. I don’t need you, normal.dot. Go away. Leave me alone. Just let me exit Word without you demanding my attention, okay? Don’t take it personally, normal.dot, just piss off.
(I know there’s a setting to turn this off. I can’t find it.)
8) I use both Chrome and IE9. Chrome is a memory hog and a cycle hog. If you open too many tabs in Chrome, the system slows down. That’s Google’s problem. IE9 is better behaved on some websites, but…not always. I use Bing as my home page for IE9 and it’s got an annoying little hesitation that Google doesn’t have. If I open IE9 and start typing a search request, Bing drops the first few letters or even the whole request because even though it shows that it’s ready, it really isn’t. It hasn’t finished booting up and it doesn’t bother to check what’s in the keystroke queue. That’s just bad programming. In fact, this problem sometimes shows up elsewhere in IE9 as well. Pfeh. Come on, Redmond? You want me to use Bing? You want me to use IE9? I will. I like the pretty pictures—but get your act together. Who needs that half-second hesitation before they can start typing? (And yes, I am a speed-typist, I do notice things like this.)
9) Windows 7 deleted the Delete button in Windows Explorer. This means I either have to right-click and select from a menu to delete a file or a group of files, or I have to drag it to the Recycle Bin, or I have to take my hand off the mouse and hit the Delete key. Either way, it’s still an extra move.
10) Suppose I change my mind about deleting a file. I open the Recycle Bin folder. I need to see the contents of the file. Recycle Bin won’t show it to me. If it’s a photo, there’s a tiny little thumbnail in the lower left corner, but that’s about it. Why can’t the Recycle Bin let me peek at what I’ve deleted so I can second guess myself more easily?
11) Bonus Annoyance: Windows updates itself once a week, patching vulnerabilities and security holes. I have no problem with that. I think it’s a valuable feature. What I do object to is that every Tuesday, I start getting pop-up boxes asking me to reboot my computer. I can postpone it four hours at a time, but it just keeps coming back. It’s a focus-stealing pop-up, too (See #6, above). More than once it has grabbed a keystroke from the queue and started shutting down my system. Hey, Microsoft? How about just popping up a reminder, without stealing the focus and demanding an immediate answer?
The idea is that the computer should serve the user. All of these annoyances are things that don’t.
What do you think?
What are some of the behaviors of Windows that annoy you?
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