John Topley’s Weblog

Joel On Power

Joel Spolsky is bang on the money when he writes about the confusing new Windows Vista Start menu controls for controlling your login session. The Power icon is particularly problematic. I’ve been running Windows Vista in a Parallels VM on OS X lately and I used to shut it down by clicking that icon. I’d always be puzzled as to why Parallels gave me a warning message that the OS was still running:

A picture of a Parallels warning message saying that I may lose data if I switch off the virtual machine

—I previously put it down to ACPI issues in the RC1 build of Windows Vista that I’m using. After all, Windows has always been plagued by shut down issues. However, it turns out that for Vista they changed it so that a click on that icon actually puts the computer to sleep. All I needed to do was go to the fly-out menu and select Shut Down and all was well.

I think the metaphor behind that icon is ambiguous at best. If I press a power button on a real piece of hardware then I might reasonably expect it just to switch off. The exception is for anything media-related such as televisions, audio equipment etc. and of course, computers. Pressing the power button on the back of my iMac puts it to sleep; do the same with my PowerBook and I get asked what I want to do (although to be fair the PowerBook has an alternative way of going straight to sleep—by closing the lid). I guess Windows Vista is taking the least “dangerous” option by going to sleep because it’s quicker to undo than switching the power off. However, I shouldn’t have to even think about the rationale behind it, its function should be obvious and this piece of UI fails that test for me.

Comments

There are 2 comments on this post. Comments are closed.

  • avatar Nii
    23 November 2006 at 12:28

    "That icon" has always meant "stand by", you know: http://screenshots.leeindy.com/StartupShutdown/turn_off_mouse-over_stand-by.gif

    It's a combination of the old on/off symbols: http://www.dmsiusa.com/images/Traxis/on%20off.jpg

  • avatar John Topley
    24 November 2006 at 08:06

    That's interesting, I wondered what the origin of the graphic was.

However, I shouldn’t have to even think about the rationale behind it, its function should be obvious and this piece of UI fails that test for me.


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