Microsoft Working to Sunset Windows Control Panel

Microsoft is moving ahead with plans to sunset the Windows Control Panel by moving its functions over to the Settings app, just as the company announced on July 1. Build 20161, which also debuts an updated Start Menu, moves the System applet to redirect to the Settings System About page. Instead of seeing this:

System-Applet

You’ll see this, instead:

One of the biggest things I wish Microsoft would change about its UI design is the absolute oceans of useless whitespace it creates on any large-screen monitor. The screenshot above doesn’t look so bad, because I run my 13-inch laptop at 200 percent magnification. If I fall back to 100 percent at 1440p, the Display page in Settings looks like this:

This is, simply put, an absurd waste of space. If Windows 95, 98, 2K, XP, Vista, or 7 had wasted desktop real estate like this, developers would have been rightly angry about the stupidity of seizing vast areas of app real estate for no reason whatsoever.

The design “language” used in Windows 10 has its roots in Windows 8, and Microsoft’s disastrous attempt to create a touch-first OS with that operating system. Many of Windows 8’s UI design cues and language were taken from Windows Phone, and its conventions make perfect sense on small screens, and none whatsoever on large ones.

This reliance on low-density data display is, I suspect, part of why it’s difficult to retrofit Control Panel applications into whatever name Microsoft has for its UI at the moment. Try stuffing this into a low-density, mostly-text display:

Microsoft could theoretically transform the nested menus on the left into selectable subheads within a larger category, but the standard UI design in Windows 10 does not provide this level of detail granularity. Microsoft has never shown a higher-density version of its UI design to bridge the gap between the old Control Panel and the new Settings app.

I’ve changed my tone on the challenges facing Microsoft as it pushes ahead with this idea after doing some additional research on what Microsoft really needs to tackle to shake off Control Panel for good. There are a lot of under-the-hood places where Microsoft has never shown a UI design that seems remotely capable of replacing Control Panel without making sysadmin lives drastically more complicated and requiring a lot more clicks to access the same functionality.

This kind of dislocation and growing pain made sense when Microsoft was attempting to pivot Windows towards the tablet and smartphone market. It’s not clear at all what kind of sense it makes now. So many of the changes Microsoft made in Windows 8 and carried into Windows 10 — like the fact that applications may or may not appear in the Start Menu without needing to search for them by text entry, or that there’s no way to organize the Start Menu except alphabetically — were basically justified because of a need to function on small screens intended to be navigated by thumbs, not mice, with pixel-perfect accuracy.

I’m not trying to criticize Microsoft for missteps it made with Windows 8; that ship has sailed. But it’s simply past time to stop pretending that devices with tiny screens are a huge part of Windows’ future, and to start designing UI elements that can scale up to take advantage of 27-inch+ displays, offer people more flexibility to arrange various pages of system settings, or both. There’s nothing wrong with taking small displays into account when designing the UI, but stop assuming the future of Windows belongs to hardware with a 5-7-inch screen. It doesn’t.

I’m open to the idea that Microsoft can build a better Control Panel for Windows 10 than what we have today as a legacy instrument, particularly given that some parts of that instrument are over 20 years old. But what they’ve debuted to date doesn’t qualify. In its blog post announcing these changes, Microsoft asks: “If you rely on settings that only exist in Control Panel today, please file feedback and let us know what those settings are.”

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