Software design choices and the Vista shutdown menu

Windows Vista is Microsoft's very delayed 'next-generation' operating system finally shipping to consumers this December/January. Whilst aesthetically similar to Windows XP it offers a host of new functionality. One new piece of functionality that has drawn a lot of criticism has been the overly complicated shutdown menu. You would think shutting down your computer would be simple but Vista now offers nine different ways of ending your Windows session from the 'start' menu. The result is confusing, ugly and a pain to use. Joel on Software has a well considered article on how too much choice, whilst good in theory is bad in practice and uses this new shutdown functionality as an example of the problem.

Simplification and a healthy dose of logic is usually the answer to these problems but this can only come when the decision making process is clean and crisp. Unfortunately in the case of Windows Vista the decision making process was far from this. Moishe Lettvin was part of the shutdown UI team on Windows Vista and in a blog posting he describes the painful process behind this little piece of functionality (comprising of just a couple of hundred lines of code). The feature is the ultimate example of design by distributed committee as it received input from 43 different people. The consequence of this? After one year of development the 'team' produced a traditional, option packed menu. If his post is an indication of the software development beuarcaracy and process issues within Microsoft then they are in serious trouble. Without significant changes Windows Vista will symbolise only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to overdue, feature-incomplete products emerging from Microsoft development labs in the coming years.