Configurability and Voiding Your Warranty

In The Problem with Configurability, I noted the tenuous balance between the opposing goals of customization and convention. Kam VedBrat, one of the Microsoft Windows UI designers for Vista, riffs on a similar theme. Why isn't Windows Vista completely skinnable out of the box?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/10/configurability-and-voiding-your-warranty.html

I think a simple uxtheme.dll patch is all it takes. No need to run an entirely new service to run different themes on Windows.

The worst part about all these demands for configurability is how much harder it makes to develop an app. Themeing really sucks from a developers point of view. All of a sudden I have to revisit the dirtiest, trickiest parts of my app, just so end users can be dazzled by some useless eye-candy. The worst part is that they will cease to notice that eye candy 2 weeks after I give it to them. I have to re-write every custom widget, learn a whole new API, AND support backwards compatiblity mode for people who turn off themeing or are running on a pre-XP OS.

Personally I’ve always felt that the only people who need to sit around customzing their desktops are people who don’t actually use their computers productively (specifically real-world results), rather they use them to pass time (i.e. geek kids with nothing else to do)

Mind you, I don’t expect that what I am saying is 100% true. There are artists who effortlessly come up with new themes, because thats what they like to do (create art.) But I can’t help but feel that 95% of the themes out there are just the result of teenage geek-angst.

Personally I’ve always felt that the only people who need to sit around customzing their desktops are people who don’t actually use their computers productively (specifically real-world results), rather they use them to pass time (i.e. geek kids with nothing else to do)

Very funny-- and probably a kernel of truth there as well. How many automobiles do you see driving down the street that look like the ones on Pimp My Ride?

Microsoft broke it, Microsoft should fix it. There should be a button somewhere that temporarily turns off all skins and other such stuff. The Ctrl-Alt-Del box sounds like a good place to put it. Call it visual safe mode.

Umm … I would assume that a person who knows enough to pimp their desktop would be able to:

  • figure out what the “start menu” means
    OR
  • disable WindowBlinds during the tech support call

If that’s giving users too much credit, then I like Loren’s idea (above).

Hell, when I called Dell customer support after hosing my system, the first thing the woman asked was whether or not I had installed Partition Magic (bingo!).

Personally I’ve always felt that the only people who need to sit around customzing their desktops are people who don’t actually use their computers productively (specifically real-world results), rather they use them to pass time (i.e. geek kids with nothing else to do)

but, of course, deary. your Auntie Em has done numberless studies over the last 20 years. they all show that the PC, in particular, has not led to a productivity increase. generally, quite the opposite, IIRC. people who spend 20 minutes deciding which font to use on Some Particular Memo are among my favorites.

I’m only 23 now, so still pretty young. But when I was younger and get my first Windows computer, I used to customise the hell out of them.
Mainly because, as already touched on, I loved computers but didn’t really have a work purpose.

These days, I couldn’t be bothered to really customise Windows.
It didn’t seem that many years ago (Win95 era) when everybody has different wallpaper, sounds and mouse icons on their computers.

I guess these days, people are actually using Windows to run programs, instead of trying to customise it! :slight_smile:

I think another factor on configurability in general is how many different OS installs you sit in front of in one day. Most of the populace has at least work vs home, many more add on laptops, lab machines, virtal machines…

There’s nothing worse than feeling helpless because you’re absolutely dependent on Ctrl-Alt-C to start calc.exe. Or if you really need your maximize button to be in the bottom left corner. My work buddy has the close button on his mouse, where your thumb goes, which is just awful for me. At some point you just give up and live with the standard (wincing whenever you do come across the lemon yellow ducky theme you have to troubleshoot on).

It is very easy to avoid this “tech support” problem by providing some key combination that is not frequently used and that will turn off the skin…

Here’s a great primer on XP Skinning from Brad Wardell of Stardock software:

http://www.joeuser.com/index.asp?c=1AID=92719