January 9, 2007
Windows Vista gets criticized a lot in the press, mostly for not being OS X. Some of the criticisms are valid. It is terribly late. And the feature list has grown less and less impressive as the development process has worn on over the years.
But Vista has one killer feature up its sleeve. A feature that, as far as I'm concerned, makes it a must-have upgrade on day one of availability. Vista's Start Menu lets you type what you want instead of pointing at it. Here's what happens when I press the Windows key, then type "studio".
As I type, Vista's start menu displays real time, full-text search matches across multiple locations: the start menu, my user folder, my favorites and browser history, my email history, and so on.
I had ways of doing this in Windows XP, but with Vista, typing to navigate is now quite literally the cornerstone of the operating system. I've gone from tedious, manually defined hotkeys and shortcuts in Windows XP to simply typing what I want and letting the computer find it for me. It also utterly obsoletes the Start, Run (or Windows+R) menu because it works for file paths, too:
Best of all, I never have to take my hand off the keyboard. The first match is always selected; I can press Enter to launch it immediately. Alternately, I could use the up and down arrows to highlight the item I want, and press Enter to launch that. Or I could continue typing to further refine my match in real time.
The start menu has been a usability trainwreck since its introduction in 1995. I had no idea Microsoft would so completely and thoroughly reinvent the Start Menu in Vista. It has completely changed the way I work with my computer. And it's standard out of the box. There's nothing to install, nothing to configure, nothing to think about. It just works. Like so:
- To launch Notepad
Windows key, type "not", then Enter.
- To set my Mouse options
Windows key, type "mou", then Enter.
- To launch Word
Windows key, type "word", down arrow, then Enter. (unfortunately, WordPad is still the first match).
- To navigate to my WinAmp folder
Windows key, type "c:\p", down arrow, type "\w", down arrow, Enter.
- To set the date and time
Windows key, type "dat", then Enter.
- To play Rainbow 6: Vegas
Windows key, type "veg", then Enter.
- To visit codinghorror.com
Windows key, type "cod", then Enter.
This new all-in-one keyboard style of navigation is unbelievably, amazingly efficient. It is by far the single best new feature of Vista in my book. I cannot, I will not, go back to Windows XP, with its horrific mouse-centric cascading start menu, and the utilitarian but unhelpful Windows+R Start Run dialog.
Ironically, Microsoft's revamped Start Menu may be the final sign that we've fully entered the Google era of computing. As Bill de hra noted:
Perhaps the hunt and peck approach of searching is becoming the dominant computing metaphor, replacing nearly 3 decades of user interfaces based on the metaphor of an office desktop.
No more hunting for the right bunch of pixels to click; it's faster and easier to type to get to what you want instead. It's a tacit acknowledgement that Google was right all along. It's not quite a command line renaissance, but it is an implied victory of textual search over traditional point-and-click desktop GUI metaphors. Typing trumps pointing. There's far too much content in the world-- and even on your local computer-- for browsing and pointing to work reliably as a navigation scheme today. Keyboard, text and search are the new bedrock navigation schemes for the 21st century.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
If i am not mistaken all series 60 Nokia's have this same text feature when using the contacts. type in a say 'van' and it will bring up anybody with a first middle or last name beggining with van.
this is not miracle feature but i can see it will be useful.
Version 2 of my Find and Run Robot is now open for beta testing and will go public in the next week. In addition to the kinds of features you have been talking about it includes regular expression aliases to let you perform email sending, internet searching, an advanced autocomplete feature, directory searching, search modifier keywords, hotkey support for custom menu lists.
Although it has a TON of heuristic scoring and other options, it runs right out of the box with default options and no configuration required:
It's donationware (free but sign-up at our forum is required).
Yes, there is a useless scrolling programs list, not a folding out piitn and click menu that youc an keep organized and that folds out your folders that you created to keep things organized.
This is a sack where everyhting goes, and you have to SCROLL it to see your programs, it's absolutely NOT the same as in XP, it's useless.
It's a big step forward to have "Programs" listed at the top and always distinct from everything else.
I used to really like Windows Desktop Search on XP for launching programs, but ever since I included my e-mail in the index, it's become useless for reliably finding programs because the number of e-mails usually overloads the list and the programs never get displayed.
I was worried that Vista would also exhibit this behavior, but it looks like it won't. Excellent. I'd pay the upgrade price just for this one feature, actually, because I like it so much :)
The only issue I'm concerned about with "typing trumps pointing" is that people can't spell which could make searching harder. Won't frustration levels rise if people drop and no results are returned?
Are we going to see Google's "Did you mean" in the Start Menu?
In the current form you do have to type correctly, it does not correct misstakes which makes it even more useless. You have to remember what you want to search for and type it correctly, not very user friendly compared to a point and click folding menu.
In conclusion, typing may trump pointing for computer geeks, not for the general public that just wants to find and start their programs quickly and easily.
After using Vista for a couple of months it does feel liek this system needs a servicepack before it's even released, lots of things that feels unpolished and not thought through properly.
First off, my sincere apologies if some of this stuff has already been said. I would normaly read all the posts but I don't have time.
The advantage of typing to launch a program is very significant. When you are launching a program you know what you want.
With point and click you then have to find what you want, then click it. This is a) Made worse by navigating hidden trees, which then forces you to organise it well - hence the largely flat system in Vista one would assume b) Made worse by having a lot of items to search through.
Now consider you know exactly what you want. You press a key (yes, launch should idealy have a dedicated key on the keyboard. But alas, it's too late for that unless you override the caps lock or some such) and then just type what you want. Launch Key - notepad etc. There are several advantages. a) It is by far much, much quicker than searching through menu's, for anyone of any skill. If you are a slower typer, you are more than likely going to be slower at searching and navigating a tree. b) It doesn't break your train of thought by forcing you to search. All the time you are still focused on the task at hand - opening nodepad and typing a phonenumber. opening calculator to do a sum.
My big problem with Vista's start menu search is that most people use the mouse to click the start menu. So people will have to switch back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse to launch a program, which negates one of the big advantages of typing to launch.
It's an exciting step forward, but not without it's flaws.
so the guys at MS finally discovered that we can more easily do repetitive things fast when we type than when we click. Wonderful!
Now maybe in IE8 and in notepad-vista i will be able to experience the nice "typed and found" approach that we have in Mozilla/Firefox for years and in emacs/vi/less for decades ^_^
BEyond being sarcastic, that's truly a great thing that people will no longer be dependent on the pre-organized way things are presented la XP. "recent documents" list are great, but they require you to read through it every time. When i type gi[TAB] ba[TAB]wa[TAB] and see it completed in "gimp backgrounds/wallpaper.jpg", i only need to check the computer did what i intended, not search how i should tell it.
This isn't actually "typing trumps pointing" - this is "*search* trumps pointing". The reason it works so well is not just that you're typing - remember all the commands from the old command-line days? I certainly don't - but because typing is the fastest way to access search.
If someone found a faster way to search using pointing (say gestures, or "pointing recognition" where it recognises the pattern of your clicking and suggests the targets to you) then pointing would suddenly trump clicking again.
Of course the ultimate killer would be the predictive approach - where the computer sees what you've done, and predicts what you are most likely to need next and offers it to you. *That* would be killer.
I can think of a lot of stuff that would trump searching for programs and much more innovative. How about for example integrating a touch screen into keyboards and when you install a program it would show an icon on the keyboard.
I don't belive in search as a way to launch programs, it's suefull for other things but when it comes to launching programs there are a lot of problems with it.
Kinda late to the discussion, but the built-in speech recognition seems promising as well. I've been using a crummy microphone to try it out and I bet with a decent headset it would be reliable for real use. Saying "Start Word" from whatever activity you're in is also a pretty fast way to launch an application...
Speech recognition does seem to be pretty good. I don't know how often it would get used though, many people are in office environments etc.
Two more annoying things:
If you search for files the top result is not highlighted, only programs are slected so that you can press enter.
All the included windows programs have translated names in other language versions and if you search on the english name you get no matches which makes it really hard to google for answers. Would it have been hard to put the english name as a "tag" on the shortcuts so that you could search on the sme name across all langauge versions ??
Ya because the future is full of typewriters and people typing is very hip and progessive. Except that OS X has Quicksilver and Linux has Catapult, so this is still the last one to the game.
Well, if you want to get the old school menu back in Vista, right click on the start button, select properties, change the setting and bob's your uncle.
Whatever is good in Vista is nice to see, but I cannot accept all the DRM and freedom restrictions that MS has shoveled into it.
I will not buy Vista until all that stuff is removed, or until MS sends a couple of thugs to drown me unless I do. And Windows Genuine Advantage doesn't make ME feel advantaged.
Keyboard entry shouldn't take anything GUI away.
other than you will seldom have to have your hand
on the mouse.
My search engine has inset numeric keypad abilities
for the left and right hand.
I have been hounding them at channel9.msdn.com about:
"Does your GUI design, ignore the KeyBoard?"
(free) program's that work just like the vista search property:
- Colibri, SlickRun, Launchy, Keybreeze
Do you only have one hand or something? Why are you so ridiculous about using a mouse?
OMG THIS INFURIATING AND IMPOSSIBLE MOUSE CENTRIC START MENU, BLAST!
This isn't the 1980s anymore, computers are mouse centric, genius. Live in the now.
Just want to say that I teach and have been teaching Microsoft Windows and Office for many years. Change has always been great, especially when Microsoft listens to its users feedback and does something about it. But, I ask, who usually leaves that feedback. Not the general user, no, but those above the general user status that use the computer all day and look for customizations. And, let me tell you, this typing thing to navigate, isn't going to go well with the general user for quite a while. Most of the time, those that I have taught (over 1000 now) look for the icons - even in the start menu. They have trouble remembering what everything is called let alone what to type to get it. I think this feature is great, but the end users should still have a choice - at least for a Windows version or 2 - before it's changed completly.
haha. ill stick to my desktopbsd.
I regularly write comparisons on my website if anyone wants a peak.
my website is http://www.sitelancers.net
I dont hate windows or anything, but viruses in windows really are annoying. FreeBSD forever.
people check out http://www.DesktopBSD.NET
you will loveeeeeeeeeee it.
Your article brings up some intresting points. I have been a long-time user of Slickrun, so when I upgraded to Vista last-year... I naturally just brought my MagicWords with me. Will have to try this out. Thanks.
Jeff - This (for me) is one of the (few) Vista features that is compelling for me (and BTW - Colibri is at best a crippled version of that functionality. It just doesn't work as well as I'd hope, for me).
One question, though - does Vista learn from your usage patterns and make it quicker and easier to use your regular programs? That, for me, is a killer feature of Quicksilver (the OS X program mentioned several times before in these comments). For example - my OS X RSS reader is NetNewsWire. I start this by entering 'NNW' in Quicksilver. The first time I did this, the first choice was some Cocoa documentation HTML page - so I had to select NetNewsWire from down in the list somewhere. Nect time, NNW went straight to NetNewsWire.
I can only say three words. Oh. My. insert patron/matron deity here..
IMHO, if Vista wants to impress me; it should be sold on it's merits based on how it leverages NEW idea's and technology(not a cheap hodge-podge of products someone else had to go invent FIRST at their own cost). Until it can honestly do that, our software suppliers can send all the "discount upgrade coupons" they want, at least I'll have lots of spare toilet paper
Just one quick comment, the problem with mouse navigation for me is that I have to move my hand from the home row over to the mouse. With the example that Jeff gave (and others that the Spotlight users gave), it seemed like he had to type down arrow a number of times. That's about as bad as going over to the mouse, albeit slightly quicker.
Is there not a way to bring back my old favorite of tab completion for navigating paths? Or are we stuck with down arrow?
Meh. AppRocket and Google Desktop both do essentially the same thing. Yeah, Vista's start menu is a little "slicker", but it still isn't going to convince me to upgrade. Most of the apps I use more than once a week are in the quick launch or pinned to the start menu anyway.
To all the RDFies babbling about Spotlight - do you think any of us care?
Neat feature, yes. Earth shattering, no.
Here's an interesting experiment - a blank post titled Vista. See how many comments you get. Lots of canned responses here.
I like the Vista launch feature, but I'm still using Colibri quite a bit because it does fuzzier matching. For instance, I can type "vs5" and it finds Visual Studio 2005. The Vista launcher matching isn't as friendly.
Vista does seem to be learning which programs I run most often (as does Colibri), which is pretty cool.
"You have to remember the names of the programs and you have to type it correctly (type ntpad or xplorer, how stupid is that?)"
Actually that's not quite correct. I'm not sure how the Vista menu works but I imagine it's similar to Launchy which does not require you to type perfectly consecutive letters. So for "Microsoft Visual Studio 2005" I can type "vs2" or just "v5" and get the right result. "Nero Burning ROM" I can type "nbu". "ntpad" or "xplorer" would definitely turn up the right results.
Again, I'm not sure if Vista's start menu does this, but if not then MS had better get cracking (I think it's really just a simple regex to code).
So in that sense, it really is a major improvement. You do have to remember part of the name, but if you can't remember the name of the program you want to open then I don't think an enormous point-and-click list is going to help you either; not unless it's very well-organized like a shopping site.
I guess the only thing I can think of is that it removes having a tool like slickrun installed. I do not use the start menu at all anymore due to the way that I have customized slickrun for my work pc, so I can see the desire for this, but I dunno if for Vista to have it built in is a must have.
Jeff, I am trying to send this great article to some friends, with a quote from the article, but anything after the first picture is impossible to select. Nice, Hunt the Wumpus icon, btw. Reminds me of the old TI-99/4A. :)