Surely by now you've heard of Windows Vista Aero Glass. It's the sexy new transparency stuff you see in the operating system. It's very noticeable in a variety of the core applications. However, transparency isn't the only user interface improvement you see in Windows Vista.
Of course the most visible change initially is the icon for the start menu, affectionately called the "Pearl". If someone sees an oyster coughing up Vista Pearls, please call me. The Start menu is now faster, more streamlined, and is more helpful than in previous versions of Windows. The Start menu features integrated desktop search through a new feature called Instant Search which can help you find and launch almost anything on your PC. Eliminating the cascading "All Programs" view, the new start menu can help you get something started more quickly than ever. You'll also notice some glass effects on the Start menu.
So why does glass matter?
This windows in your house or building allow you to see what is going on around you. For those of you that get claustrophobia, I'm sure those windows help you get through the day. I am not making fun of that at all, just making a point about the importance they play in giving us another dimension to our world.
In the case of Windows Vista, it gives us a better view of the activity in our system. Seeing outside the box has a number of benefits. When we demo Aero Glass, it's all too common to see a video or some other animation indicating activity. In my day-to-day activities, glass lets me see progress bars more quickly. Downloads or installation status can be seen at-a-glance through glass transparency or via the Aero thumbnails on the taskbar. If you looked at my Flip3D screencast, you saw a demo of that.
Another really subtle usability enhancement is the highlighting that takes place around the minimize, maximize, and exit buttons for all applications. This gives the user a better sense of interactivity with the application and system. I just think it's a kewl feature. I wondered about this feature from an accessibility point of view. Does it help? I don't know.
What I do know is that there are new fatter frames around the application window. They don't seem that phat because the glass transparency makes them seem lean and mean. I personally like the new thicker frame for re-sizing purposes. Easy to grab!
After you get past the sexy stuff, start looking at the context sensitivity of the new Windows Explorer shell. As you move in and out of the different folders for pictures, music, documents and other stuff you'll see different tasks show on the task bar just below the address bar. Is that cool or what? I'm sure a few years ago we would have come up with an Intelli name for the feature. Intellitask. Intellidoodaad. Glad we seem to have dropped the Intellieverything.
I would talk about search more, but I'm going to save that information for a post coming up.
So pretty picture clips are good and all, but how about a nice streaming video on the subject? You got it. You can watch my mms://wm.microsoft.com/ms/inetpub/keithcombs/usability.wmv screencast directly from our streaming media server or download and watch the video later on your laptop or podcatcher. The attachment below is a RSS enclosure for you podsters. Subscribe to my screencast RSS feed at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/rss.aspx?CategoryID=11416. "See you" again soon.