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Hidden “Features”

Last updated on August 17, 2018

There’s a trend in modern computing that I don’t understand; hiding features and interactions. Actually, it goes beyond just hiding features to making it difficult to discover or understand what features are available or what is causing things to happen. And honestly, I’m getting kind of sick of it.

Take this gem in Windows 10.

I just upgraded to the Anniversary Edition, build 1607, but this may apply to earlier builds as well.

The biggest outward change for me with AE, is that I can no longer disable the lock screen with a group policy. Given that, I decided, that if I can’t not use it, I might as well customize it a bit.

One of the options you can set on the lock screen is the image. The choices currently are to use; Microsoft’s stream of images, a picture of your own choosing, or a slide show of your own images. I had set a picture, but I thought that a slide show would be kind of interesting. After all I have a number of my own images that I wouldn’t mind seeing there randomly.

Only there’s a big hidden catch. If you turn the slideshow on for the lock screen, instead of turning off your displays after N minutes, it does, but it also would lock the the computer and return to the lock screen. At least that’s what it was doing to me.

Edit: There are advanced configuration options for the slideshow located on a separate screen that you get to by clicking a not-very-link-like-looking text link — this flat UI thing is really starting to be more of a pain than it seems to be worth honestly. In there, there is an option to turn off using the lock screen instead of turning off the displays. Though as long as the slideshow is being used, the computer will lock when it turns off the the displays and you’ll have to re-enter your password.

I don’t want that to happen for two reasons. First, it means I have to type my password every time my displays would have gone to sleep. In my case right now, that’s after 5 minutes of inactivity.

You know, I get it in a corporate wasteland or on a laptop or tablet, you don’t want people’s computers to remain unlocked while they’re not at them. Only that doesn’t really apply to my personal computer at home. It’s on my desk, in my room. If I’m going to leave the house for any length of time, I lock it or put it to sleep. But when I’m home, don’t want to have to type my password every time I haven’t touched the computer for 5 minutes.

Okay sure, 5 minutes is a really short sleep timeout. But that’s the second point. My desktop has 3 displays, combined they consume about 250 W, most of which is turned into heat that’s dumped into my room. Heat, I’d rather not have in my room right now. Hence the 5 minute timeout. They go off, and the 250 W combined thermal load goes away.

I would point out, a 5 min display idle timeout isn’t normal for me. But this summer has been setting record highs all around the world, and it’s hot.

But my point here is that there’s nothing in the Settings for the lock screen slideshow or anywhere else that clearly states that by setting up a lock screen slideshow, Windows will switch to that instead of turning off the displays.

This just isn’t good design, on all kinds of accounts. First, you have unrelated behaviors tied together. Setting a slide show on the lock screen shouldn’t also imply that I want to use the lock screen as a screen saver instead of powering off my displays. Moreover, it’s bad design because nothing communicates that unanticipated behavior.

The thing is this kind of stuff is all over the place now.

The gesture for undo on Apple’s iOS is to shake the device. How is that intuitive? How are you supposed to discover that? And how is shaking something synonymous in any way with undoing some action?

USB Type-C’s promise is to be the one connector to rule them all. With alt modes, it can be all kinds of non-USB connectors; form Thunderbolt, to Display Port, to HDMI, to Ethernet. The thing is though, according to the standards the only thing it’s required to be is USB 2.0. And so far I’ve seen absolutely nothing from the USB SIG or anyone else, to explain to me how I’m suppose to easily determine the capabilities of any given Type-C port at a glance. Or for that matter, which of those features any given device that uses Type-C requires.

I just don’t get it.

Published inComputersDesign FailWindows