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As Windows 8's arrival is imminent, we look back at the once-must-have features in earlier versions of Windows that got killed along the way
From revolutionary to roadkill
With the final version of Windows 8 now out and about, we can confirm that it’s killed off many Windows 7 features. That's nothing new: Over the years, Windows has spawned -- and then annihilated -- hundreds of technologies. Windows 8 may be an extreme case, in terms of numbers, but it’s by no mean the first version of Windows to kill features that were ballyhooed as must-have reasons to upgrade just a few years before. Let’s step down memory lane and see what’s gone by the wayside, paying our respects as we go.
Born in DOS 6.0, departed in Windows XP. Back when hard disks were physically huge but logically tiny (and expensive) DriveSpace (née DoubleSpace) worked a bit of magic. It would take the entire contents of a hard disk, compress it, and store it as a single file in the root directory of the disk. When you logged on to Windows (or cranked up DOS), DriveSpace assigned the drive letter to point to the compressed file and took care of system calls that accessed the data. A long series of bugs and highly publicized data loss led to DriveSpace being severely restricted -- to removable media only -- in Windows Me, and to its eventual demise in XP.
Program Manager and File Manager
Born in Windows 3, died in Windows 95. Touted as the major improvement in Windows 3, File Manager liberated Windows customers from the DOS command line when working with files, such as renaming, copying, moving, and even printing them. Breakthrough technology showed the directory tree on the left and subdirectories and files on the right. Program Manager, by contrast, contained icons for programs, grouped in directories. In Windows 95, the reimagined Windows Explorer combined file management with simpler navigation and program launching, interspersing program and file icons, thus obviating both Program Manager and File Manager. (Historical note: Windows Explorer lives on in Windows 8, but it’s been renamed File Explorer.)
The Microsoft Network
Born in Windows 95, then quietly faded away. If you think of today’s MSN as being the Microsoft network, you probably weren’t around in the early days. Part dial-up Internet service provider, part BBS wannabe with an AOL slant, part CompuServe forum competitor, the Microsoft Network tried to fit in all the niches, only to miss them all. MSN finally hit its stride as a completely different beast, which we would now call an Internet portal. The Microsoft Network aped Windows Explorer, by using icons to represent forums. According to Alexa, MSN.com is now the 17th most-visited domain name on the Internet, right behind sina.com.cn.
Born in Internet Explorer 4 (for Windows 95), died in Windows Vista. The precursor to the modern Metro tiled interface, Active Desktop was an abomination that rarely worked correctly, frequently froze machines, and led to many Windows users thinking they just weren’t smart enough to figure it out -- although it was flogged as a major improvement justifying the upgrade to Internet Explorer 4. Microsoft’s first foray into push technology let Windows users place items on the desktop that are updated directly by websites. It was replaced in Windows Vista by the revolutionary new Sidebar and gadgets.
Key: 1. An active desktop item. 2. Toolbars. 3. The Quick Launch toolbar. 4. The Channel bar.
Windows Desktop Search
Born in MSN Toolbar (for Windows 2000), died in Windows Vista. So what do you do when Google releases a free desktop search product that runs rings around your antiquated built-in search engine (remember Rover, the search companion)? You grab those old hip waders and strap on a kludge, that’s what. Originally called MSN Desktop Search (part of the MSN Toolbar suite), the product brought a new dimension to the terms “slow" and "buggy.” Fortunately, Microsoft took a hint and baked the renamed Windows Search into Vista.
Born in Windows 95, died in Windows Vista. It used to be easy to write Trojans. The creators of Conficker learned that they could put specific files on a USB drive rigging things so that when the drive was inserted, choosing the option Open Folder to View Files would run the infection routine. Microsoft took the “feature” that allowed such subterfuge out of Vista, but didn’t push a fix for Windows XP until 2011, with some claiming to the very end that it was a feature, not a security hole.
Quick Launch toolbar
Born in Internet Explorer 4 (for Windows 95), died in Windows 7. Introduced as part of the Internet Explorer 4 revolution and usable on all versions of Windows from Win95 to Win7 (where it didn’t appear by default but could be cajoled into existence with proper incantations), the Quick Launch toolbar let you put icons to launch specific programs next to the Start button. The icons could be invoked by pressing the Win key and a number -- 1 for the first icon, 2 for the second, and so on. Although some diehards still prefer the Quick Launch behavior, it’s been largely supplanted by the “super” taskbar in Win7 and Win8.
Born in "Longhorn," died in "Longhorn." The file system that never was. MSDN Magazine said the “revolutionary file storage system lets users search and manage files based on content,” but there’s one little hitch: WinFS never saw light of day. One of the major stumbling blocks on the road to getting Windows Vista (code-named "Longhorn" when in beta) out the door, the fully relational WinFS scheme looked great on paper, demoed well, gave rise to engineering flights of fancy -- and, in the end, just didn’t work. Some parts of WinFS are rumored to be living inside SQL Server.
Born in Windows Vista, died in Windows 8. The “authentic, energetic, reflective, and open” interface, touted as one of the most compelling new features in Windows Vista, led to a lawsuit when consumers were duped by “Vista Capable” stickers on new computers that couldn’t handle Aero. Microsoft now deems Aero “dated and cheesy,” further opining that “we’ve seen a clear turn where Aero is the past and Metro is the future.” Except, well, there isn’t any Metro, but that’s another story.
Born in Windows Vista, died in Windows 8. A more uniform and size-constrained cousin of the Active Desktop, gadgets were hailed as another killer app in Vista. Per Program Manager Brian Teutsch, "Anything you've ever seen in a Web page and then some will be possible in a desktop gadget." Last month, a team of security researchers showed how gadgets present inordinate security risks, and Microsoft released a patch that disables gadgets entirely. Win8 doesn’t support gadgets.
Born in Windows 95, died Windows 8. We here at InfoWorld have been asking and begging Microsoft to restore the Start menu functionality in Windows 8. You know that. Here are two things you might not know. First, the Start menu was originally designed to replace Program Manager, with the Start hierarchical menu structure hailed as vastly superior to the unnestable icons in Program Manager. Second, both Brad Chase and Brad Silverberg were involved in convincing Mick Jagger to let Microsoft use “Start Me Up” for the Windows 95 launch. Perhaps Mick could chime in on this one? Keith? Ronnie? Charlie? I’m looking for some backup here!
Born in Windows 3.0, died Windows 8. Solitaire isn’t so much dead as it’s being, er, reimagined as a gorgeous, full-screen -- and optional -- Metro app. The old Solitaire that we all know and love, and have spent countless hours perusing and pursuing, is headed to the big bit bucket. I haven’t seen any comment as yet from Wes Cherry, who wrote the original Solitaire while an intern at Microsoft. Apparently Microsoft still hasn’t paid him a penny beyond the original intern wages. (Makes me wonder how much they spent to have the Xbox team put together the new version.) Minesweeper’s in for a makeover, too.
Born in Windows 3.1, died Windows 8. The hosts file, which contains redirects from URLs to IP addresses, has been a fixture of online computing since the days of the ARPAnet. Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, Unix, and Linux all have variants of the hosts file. Windows 8 has a hosts file, but Windows Defender protects it in an odd and as yet little-understood way. Apparently if you add entries to the hosts file manually, Windows Defender may remove the entries in some circumstances, even if the file is marked read-only. We’re still waiting on details from Microsoft.
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