Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Vista's Powerless Power Users: Someone Neutered My Defrag!

On Monday, Microsoft’s file team posted a Q&A about Windows Defragmenter. I’ve needed an excuse to rant about this for quite some time, so what better opportunity!

Besides "Clear, Confident, and Connected", one of the central themes I’ve seen in Vista is called “Taking the Power from the Power Users”. It’s what happens when Microsoft tries to make things easier for the Windows users who aren’t technically-inclined, then inevitably make it more difficult for those who are trying to figure out how to get the most from it. Windows Defragmentation in Vista is the worst offender of all. It really has come full circle from the Windows 95 days.

Let’s take a look at Microsoft Defrag UI throughout the years:

Defrag under Windows 95/98

Defrag under Windows XP

Defrag under Windows Vista

Microsoft’s gross missteps in this space lead to a huge market in third-party defragmentation software, with Diskeeper leading the way. Microsoft had the opportunity with Vista to fix things, but based on this walkthrough, you actually have less control over the defragmentation process than you did in previous versions. Your options are now limited to pressing one button. You don't even get to select the hard drive anymore. If you want more control, you have to go to the freakin command line for your options. Oh boy!

Incomplete Questions, Misleading Answers
The reasoning Microsoft used for dumbing down the UI beyond ridiculous levels was as follows:

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest and consistent complaints we had from users (broad sample here from home users to experienced IT Pros) in the past was that a vast majority of them had no idea what the detailed fragmentation statistics they saw meant. The Windows XP graphical view also had some limitations and inaccuracies that prevented it from being included in Windows Vista.

So Microsoft’s reasoning was, since people don’t understand what it means, it shouldn’t be there. But the reason people don’t understand it isn’t because the UI in XP is not necessary, it’s because the UI in XP is completely stupid. For one thing, it doesn’t even give you a clue as to when the defragmentation process will be finished. Second, there is no way to tell how many units each “sliver” is. It looks like a progress bar, but it has all these colors and moves around at random. When the UI looks like Frankenstein’s progress bar on marijuana, how is the end user supposed to have clue one on what is going on?

To make things worse, Windows XP defragmentation doesn’t even move all the data to the front of the disk in one contiguous group. When you’re finished, there are still holes all over the hard drive. This may be fine for the operating system itself, but it’s a huge problem when you start to consider how Windows runs on Virtual Machines and what not. You can’t remove all the free space on the virtual image unless the data is compacted into one contiguous block, which mean the built-in stuff is pretty much useless.

Setting The Standard: Diskeeper for Windows XP

The long and short of it is, Microsoft formulated an incorrect hypothesis regarding the UI, because they answered the wrong question. They SHOULD have shown this supposed “broad sample” of users all of the defragmentation products on the market, and had them show Microsoft developers which parts they liked from which applications. But instead, they only asked the question with the Microsoft blinders on.

Where We Stand Today
So, we could have had the best of both worlds: a simple UI that can be found in the Start Menu, and an advanced UI that was available as an MMC snap-in (or, God forbid, an “Advanced” button). Instead of making every user a Power User, every user is a basic user, and the Power User gets the shaft yet again; relegated to memorizing command-line switches. And it’s too late to do anything about it.

Oh well, it looks like Diskeeper & Friends will be around for a while longer.



  • "Houston, my Defrag has no balls".
    July 13, 2006 4:43 AM
  • kulland said:
    I don't disagree that Microsoft has swung too far into the "simplified for dumb users" camp, but I can also see Slashdot and ZDNet and all the other whackjobs out there screaming bloody murder if Microsoft started improving all their little utilities to compete with 3rd parties like Diskeeper.

    People are already disgruntled over Windows Defender and OneCare.

    Damned if they do, damned if they don't.
    July 13, 2006 9:29 AM
  • duanereade said:

    Microsoft is being straight-up gangsta with this new UI. "WHAT? YOU WANT DEFRAG? HERE! GOT A PROBLEM? THEN GET OUT!" If the GUI is gonna be THIS kid-glove, why offer it at all? They should just say "Here are some nice third party apps that may help you" and offer links.

    Then again, I've been to many MCSE/A training classes that tell you "If you need to use Defrag, your problem isn't fragmentation, it's just time to get a bigger disk". Is this Microsoft's attempt at passive-agressively telling people to keep their hard drives 60% empty?
    July 20, 2006 9:34 AM
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