I've been working on a project to use LaunchBar Commander as an alternative to the Windows Start Menu. For the moment I'm building it in Windows 7 but eventually I'm going to create a version for Windows 8 as well. When I'm done - or at various points along the way more likely, I'll be writing about it for AfterDawn.com and putting up at least a video or 2 up on our YouTube account.
Now that I've waded hip deep into the Microsoft manure pile I've reached a point where I either need to spend at least a week researching and testing 12 hours a day. Or I could do something sensible for a change and actually ask for advice. Fortunately for me this is exactly the kind of place I'd expect to find some of the answers so what the hell. I always wondered what doing things the easy way felt like.
First I should explain the premise a little more. My projects tend to balloon to ridiculous proportions sooner or later and this one is no exception. Originally I planned to focus on simply organizing the various configuration tools and utilities in a way that's intuitive for ordinary people. I've tentatively settled on 4 categories - System Information, System Configuration, Interface Configuration, and System Mainenance - each of which will have a separate menu. I'm not completely happy with the names but I'm pretty settled on the categories themselves.
For a saner person the rest would be pretty straight forward. Sort out the Control Panel applets by category, do the same with any relevant programs, maybe throw in a few significant tools that don't have Start Menu shortcuts and you're done. For the final touches I figured I'd add in some third party software for adjusting settings lots of people want but are buried in the registry.
Did I mention easy isn't my thing? More importantly, organization isn't Microsoft's thing. Control Panel applets, as a group, suffer from several major flaws. Settings that a user would reasonably group together are separated not just into different applets, but also using inconsistent names. You adjust the your monitor's color profile is in Color Management but the resolution is in Personalization. That can be fixed by simply changing the names on the menu. In most cases you can even open a specific tab so I can use a task oriented scheme.
Others are just a confusing mess of unrelated items that don't belong together. They do, however, fit perfectly with one or more other applets. The real difficulty, though, is these are also the oldest applets. The old System (System Properties) applet has 5 tabs which launch 10 other windows between them, one of which has 3 basically random tabs of its own. And on top of all that there are reasonably compartmentalized applets like Default Programs that make the simplest, most straight forward tasks torturously painful.
I thought this was going to be a face lift but what this patient needs is reconstructive surgery. What I need are the tools for the job. I'm looking for alternative programs to do the same tasks so I can cut out the bits that are just too diseased to save. I already had some programs I was looking at. I hadn't gotten very far because I wanted to ease people into the unfamiliar interface first. Now that I've tried that for myself I'd rather not put people through it.
Any suggestions are welcome, whether it's an improvement over something Windows has or an addition it should have. Here are some specific tools or tasks I'm particularly interested in, and the tools I've identified to at least consider:Advanced System Settings (aka System Properties):
This is the poster child for everything wrong with the Windows interface. It's also going to be the hardest one to replace because of all the ground it covers. If I could find a way to at least work around the Performance Options window (Visual Effects and Pagefile settings mostly) it would fix the biggest problem. I've already been playing with Rapid Environment Editor
as a replacement for the Environment Variables dialog and I'm pretty happy so far.Default Programs:
It's hard for me to express just how much I loathe this worthless pile of shit. If it isn't intentionally designed to prevent you from changing the file associations I can only conclude Microsoft put a team of retarded monkeys in charge of developing it. I've tried a couple alternatives - Default Programs Editor is the only one I can think of now. It's an improvement but still not as easy as I think it should be. Ideally I'd like something that divides things into a couple simple tasks - basically like the command line tools but with a user friendly GUI interface. The first task is associating multiple extensions as a single file type by selecting them from a list. Then I'd like a second option to set the program association for the file type. If it showed the common options like Edit and Preview so I could set them easily that would be great. If not I can do that myself. But I don't want to do it from scratch just because I reinstall Windows. If I'm going to do the work I want a way to save and load it later.Device Manager:
I know there are a lot of good tools that provide a lot more information about your computer's hardware than the Device Manager. I've just never taken the time to compare their features or interfaces. When I need one I download the first one I find and if it works I stop there. By the next day I've forgotten all about it. If it included Device Manager's options for loading, disabling, and removing drivers that would be a bonus but I'd happily settle for just a good interface and detailed usable information - especially for USB devices. Whenever I see "Composite Device" listed in the Device Manager I want to punch Steve Ballmer in the face.Taskbar and Start Menu:
This isn't such a bad applet but what I really need is a good program for setting a delay for unhiding the Taskbar. Because I basically have a HDTV monitor (16:9) instead of a regular computer monitor (16:10) I don't like wasting any vertical space so I use Autohide. However I've also moved it to the top of the desktop because it's usually closer to my mouse that way (also my new launcher is at the bottom). I found an old program somebody wrote to use with RocketDock called Total Taskbar Controller. The delay works fine but it has some quirks I find annoying. If I don't find anything better I can live with it.Devices and Printers:
I have no idea what problem this applet was intended to solve. I can launch the Add Hardware and Add Printer wizards directly but it would be nice to have a general printer management program. If not, maybe I'll just ignore it altogether and be happy things are a little simpler.Network and Sharing Center:
I've tried to imagine a developer who would look at this interface and think anything besides, "what a complete clusterfuck!" The concept of the HomeGroup was bad enough to begin with - not so much the idea as almost every aspect of the implementation. Why in the name of everything holy are the adapter settings not front and center on the main window? Ooh look, it's got pretty pictures, just hope nothing stops working because troubleshooting will suck. I'm not hopeful about finding a suitable replacement but on the good side Microsoft didn't just set the bar low. They buried it about a foot down.
I'm sure there's more - not necessarily in the Control Panel - but that's a good start for now. Feel free to throw out suggestions of your own.