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4 aging Windows 10 user interfaces that need to be updated (now)

Windows 10 Cloud Wallpaper

Windows 10 Cloud Wallpaper (Image credit: Microsoft)

Most of us are probably aware of Windows' big problem when it comes to design consistency ... it doesn't have any. That's mostly due to the fact that Windows 10 is built on decades of old code. While Microsoft is trying its best, there are still plenty of areas in Windows 10 that throw you back to UIs that were first introduced years ago.

Here I'm pointing out four obvious old UIs that are still present in Windows 10 today. This list isn't limited to "legacy" UIs, like those first introduced in Windows 95. Everything up to Windows 8 is considered old UI in Windows 10, now that Fluent Design is a reality.

Music control

The current music control UI found in Windows 10 was first introduced with Windows 8 in 2012 and is using Microsoft's Metro design language. While Microsoft's current design language is a spiritual successor to Metro, a lot has changed since the Windows 8 days, making the current music control element seem somewhat out of place.

It's not using any Fluent Design effects, and its iconography screams Windows Phone 8. Give it some blur, change up the icons, give it a dark and light mode, and perhaps even make it a little denser for mouse users, and you've got an updated music control that follows along with Windows 10's design.

USB popup

Upon inserting expandable storage on your PC, a popup will appear asking the user to choose what they want to do with the device they've just plugged in. This is yet another UI that was first introduced in the Windows 8 days, and it hasn't been updated nearly enough to follow along with today's design language.

In fact, the dialog itself still appears at the top right of the screen, even though toast notifications have moved to the bottom right on Windows 10. As a bonus, it'd also be great to see Microsoft update the scan and fix UI, something that hasn't changed in Windows since Vista.

Windows 10 clean install UI

This is something I've complained about many times, but the offline, clean install UI for Windows 10 hasn't changed much since Vista. Sure, it's been flattened a bit, but it's been pretty much the same since Windows 8, meaning it's not following along with the new Windows 10 design language in use today.

Microsoft should drop the old-school window design in favor of a more modern experience that looks similar to the out-of-box experience on Windows 10. Something simple, but using a refreshed design that leaves behind the old flattened Windows Aero design.

We already know File Explorer is an old bit of software. It's engraved deep within Windows' legacy roots, and as such, it can't easily be updated with anything that involves the word "modern." Still, it'd be nice if one day we did see File Explorer updated with a design that follows the rest of Windows 10.

The file properties dialog boxes use designs that span back to Windows 95. You'll find some of the oldest UI elements buried in File Explorer if you look hard enough. Control Panel is another excellent example, with several control panel applets such as cursor settings that span back decades. Microsoft is slowly moving Control Panel into the modern Settings app already, though, so we give that one a pass.

What do you think?

There are hundreds more old UIs that are still present in Windows 10, and we simply can't (or at least, won't) list them all. What old UIs are you hoping Microsoft gets around to updating next?

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

77 Comments
  • The music control UI has been something I've been asking Microsoft to do for a long while now. There's still a lot for them to do.
  • The visuals have no impact on the functionality of my computers, and I worry that way too much effort is spent on tweaking the appearance of the UI, and not enough on making the OS bug-free and smooth. When I began programming in the 70s-80s, I took a class in efficient coding, in which our goal was to make programs that did what was required, and nothing else, and we were scored on the compactness of the code (never use 2 lines/words/characters when 1 will work). However, since hardware capabilities have improved dramatically, the drive for clean coding is gone, and software (OS and applications) have bloated correspondingly. The result is software that tries to do anything and everything, whether it is needed or not, and the coding and interactions are so complex that making even "trivial" changes can have unintended impacts. I do realize that there are many users who are interested in the "look" of a UI, and that the marketing divisions expend great energy to make their products look different, so that they can sell new versions, but often at the expense of the need for efficient productivity. I wish that Windows was a bare bones OS, which users could add UI features to, but not baked into the OS itself.
  • "and we were scored on the compactness of the code (never use 2 lines/words/characters when 1 will work)" This sounds absolutely horrible. Never use 1 line/word/character just for the sake of typing less, when multiple lines/words/characters would be either more readable and maintainable, more flexible and extensible or just downright faster.
    One of these usually applies.
  • Jonas, what you're not taking into account was that every bit counted back then. Sure, it was difficult to write code, but when a PC only had 128k of RAM and some of that was taken up by the OS, there was absolutely no room for code bloat. Of course, it would have been wonderful to have been able to spell everything out and be as descriptive as possible, but that just wasn't the reality. The problem now is that RAM and storage are almost non-issues, the pendulum has swung too far the other way and programmers rarely care about efficiency, figuring the hardware is fast enough to make even some of the sloppiest coding acceptable. If coders still worked the way they did back in the 70s and 80s, our PCs would be amazing today.
  • Just to age myself: The very first IBM PC had 16K of RAM and only a Cassette interface to load programs, and had a low-res CGA adapter. Pricing started at US$1,565 (equivalent to $4,213 in 2017)
    It was not until the IBM PC XT came out that luxurious things like floppy drives (originally single-sided single-density 5 1/4) were standard, then there was that $1000 10MB Hard Disk Drive......
  • Or the ZX81 (or Timex 1000 in the US) with 1K of ram shared with the display. More character on the screen meant less space for your program..
  • Back in the 80's with a Mac SE, my dad bought an external 20 MB Hard Drive. We labeled it 'The Big One' and pondered how we could possibly fill it up... :D
  • Khaaannn, the early PC computers IBM PC came out in 1981 had 1 or 2 floppies and I think 256 K of RAM as options (driving the price to about $5k).
  • That might apply to writing a book, but it does not apply to writing code, if anything bloated code is HARDER to read because it takes longer to actually find the section you need. All extra coding does is puts more strain on the system, and yes, in this day and age that's less of an issue obviously, but if EVERYTHING you are running has all this superfluous data that it needs to crunch it can add up.
  • That depends on code structuring and not its length. Shortest code is when your code is full of lambda-like expressions. They will sure be short, but nobody will support them.
    Also, most of the code will always go through an intermediate language and will be optimized for machine code. No matter how horribly you are formatting your code. (IF-THEN-ELSE, ?:, SWITCH-CASE will always be interpreted by the compiler the same way and will be optimized according to its context the same way.
  • unless the old UI is hard to use why risk breaking things?
    windows will always have its old UIs available all the way back to NT 3.5 for backwards compat.
  • The UI really should be the last thing breaking the code.
  • To move on. They broke Win16 apps. They broke native CMD since Vista. It's important because those components don't matter and hinder progress a lot of the time. Sometimes it becomes extremely hard to fix bugs or add new things unless stuff is rewritten.
  • So untrue. No, it will not always have it, it hasn't already. What does the UI have to do with backward-compatibility? As of skinning Windows, it has nothing to do with compatibility. There is simply nothing that cannot be wrapped and masked. And one thing that Apple had gained its advantage over Microsoft because of was its ergonous user interfaces and experience. And that is the reason why everything should be kept uniform and comprehensible.
  • I’m willing to bet they are in the verge of retiring win32 the same way as old dos programs... Because .net is better than win32. The problem is that Microsoft is running out of steam to convert fully to .net because of JavaScript and Java are eating all of their developers... look at success of android and iPhone... all apps that no body bothers writing for windows environment...
  • I hate to be "that guy" because I know there are multiple reasons people need to specifically run Windows but it sounds like what you're describing is Linux. You can get down to the absolute bare bones with it adding in only what you want. Also, while I fully admit to being one of those people greatly interested in a fancy UI, I also happen to agree with your point that not nearly enough attention has been given to stability and fixing bugs. Microsoft's failures (in my eyes) both with horrible design decisions and failure to avoid/fix numerous issues has lead to me to Hackintosh my computer. (It'd be linux but it's not friendly with my GPU.) Microsoft definitely needs to focus more on bug squashing but also it seems so many Windows program developers have next to no interest in UI design. I believe there can be a balance and see it properly executed in countless other places. And those places are where I'll be until Microsoft (and other Windows program developers) can find it themselves.
  • You can pare down Windows to bare bones too if you are using the server, embedded, or IOT variant. Linux is great if people actually take time to pare it down to the bare bones, but in practice, I rarely come across an optimized version of Linux in the workplace. They almost always come with all the bloat that they don't need while still costing as much or mare than windows because companies seem to only want to run Red Hat or some other enterprise version.
  • Now the focus is on readable, maintainable, and testable code. Problem is Windows was developed back before this, so there is a lot of legacy code. Modern code uses a lot of obfuscation with decoupled abstractions. Making changes, shouldn't break anything if those rules are followed.
  • And theoretically that sounds fine... Code is often rushed and not taken enough care of. That's when you end up not following those rules entirely but get something to work. Afterwards, make a change, and you discover a bug after you've deployed that you couldn't imagine was connected to that part of the code.
  • Count me in on the music controls. It's the weirdest possible oversight. It's not like they haven't gotten feedback on it, so what's the deal.
  • Yeah, it's also likely the easiest to change. Seriously, it just needs to update the iconography, apply Acrylic into it with shadows, and change the slider to new design guidelines and it suddenly fits to new Windows 10 UI. They don't even have to design it if we are talking about the least amount of work. Though ideally wish they will add few features to it like opening the app playing media when clicking the icon/album art. Other than its pretty much all of it.
  • Actually it never occured to me, but from now on I will not be able to unsee it. :)
  • For me, music control just needs a bit of Fluent UI polish and a dark and light mode, the USB pop up just needs a tidy up and Fluent design, the clean install UI is fine since you only see this when doing a clean install and explorer should get a more modern design at some point with the Control Panel going the way of the dodo soon.
  • I'd rather have it look exactly like the taskbar or a notification. No dark/light is needed.
  • The bubble "work-in-progress" animation reminds me of Windows 8. Maybe that should be updated too.
  • The spinning dots? I loved them in Windows 8 but they've aged badly. They need to go, yeah. They tested a change for the anniversary update but ended up reverting it because they're also using so many different variants of it that it's impossible to leave fragmented controls here and there.
  • I like the one Skype has. Could be replaced by that.
  • There's a reason the file manager is still around. It's highly effective and fast. There are some improvements but it's basic interface works well. We do not need a Windows 10 highly blotted file manager to slow us down even more than it already does.
  • Problem is that the aging explorer interface is that it just doesn't fit with Windows 10, it needs a more modern update with the Fluent design that fits with Windows 10.
  • File manager is a travesty and cant even handle long folder paths correctly. Total commander still works better even after all these years.
  • Okay, since Microsoft is trying to rid Win32, this simply cannot be the reason why it is around. The reason is that there is not a fully functional UWP replacement available. The fact that the UWP explorer is getting some add-ons is the sign that Microsoft is actively trying to trash the outdated explorer. It also scales horribly. The more extensions and shell integrations you are adding to the old explorer, the worse it gets. With well built-up structure and scalibility a new explorer built from sketch could even be faster. And as UWP is fully scalable UI-wise as well, it could still remain effective.
  • I guess they have finite resources and prioritise what those resources are focused on. I understand that there are channels to give feedback. I doubt that saying. .. "This is what you should do now" will somehow do the trick
  • They may have finite resources but they still have a lot of resources. They could easily hire more engineers to focus on bringing the legacy up to date. And this wouldn't be a case of too many cooks either as these could be handled as separate projects
  • Having more people does not always help. There are no two women who can carry a baby in 4.5 months.
  • That metaphor only works if you think they already have enough people. They don't.
  • Thank you for this article. I thought maybe I was the only one annoyed by all UI artifacts still hanging around in Windows 10. Especially the file explorer and related dialogs. I consider it, well frankly ghetto. I mean Windows in the biggest OS in the world you would think they would clean up the details.
  • I never use File Explorer. Directory Opus is so easier to use and has far more features. It's expensive, but well worth it. I have six licenses for my various computers. I started using it on Version 9 and am now up to Version 12. Windows File Explorer would do well to copy some of their features. To name a few: multiple tabs, better search, ability to create and save multiple layouts, per-folder configuration, powerful search and rename, duplicate file checker, etc.
  • The two I think matter most are File Explorer and USB. Only because a user could be uploading files into either a personal or more importantly corporate OneDrive account. Rule of thumb: if something doesn’t affect Azure, OneDrive, Xbox, Surface 2 in 1s, or Office 365 then it is not a priority. Let’s face it, the most profits are from cloud, gaming, and Office subs. Everything that doesn’t contribute to the growth of these cash cows should be left to rot on The vine for all I care, whether they are... mobile devices... operating systems... apps... store ecosystems... digital assistants...
  • found the corporate shill! :P
  • Not an issue for me but the file manager seems difficult to use efficiently. I have no idea how much work would be required to update. Let's get CoreOS up and running and then worry about tweaks.
  • In order for CoreOS to work they need to have a new file manager because the old one is Win32 based and CoreOS will not run Win32 Natively only sandboxed and virtualized so it wouldn't have enough access to be effective.
  • All the more reason to just have a 'fit and finish' release to tidy up all the loose ends and inconsistencies within Windows. They can worry about new features or whatever later.
  • I wish they would add some of the old UIs back into windows. Example, in Firefox I can press f10 and presto, it’s a file menu! Select the menu item then presto it disappears again like it’s not there. Why can’t Microsoft play that trick with edge and office products and bring back the only menu interface for desktop users. I feel that windows was actually more powerful and logical for desktop users when they organized tasks by menus...and showed the alt-key shortcut next to menu task... file save was just alt-f-s, print was alt-f-p , everything was easy to remember and fast... now we just have click around hell as desktop users...
  • Don’t get me started with the stupid file “start menu” like button they replaced the started file menu with just because it’s doesn’t make sense when placed on a ribbon... that file button interface from windows 8 has always looked like complete crap and look like amature code the way it takes over the window...when you click it
  • They borrowed it from Windows 7 Paint and Live Essentials which borrowed it from Office 2007. Office moved on and looks so much better but Windows stuck with the crooked 2007 ribbon unfortunately. It's not even the 2010 ribbon. 13 and above are so much better.
  • I agree with all of the suggestions. But... There are a lot more. For me what stands out as a sore thumb is the half baked tablet UI, elements and experience.
  • Its not "half baked". Its not baked at all. It seems they fired all the UX teams from Windows 8.1 because the tech press promoted the notion that the Windows 8.1 UX was bad for productivity. The same tech press that wrote those hateful articles on MAC books. MS should have never listened to them and gradually evolve the Windows 8 (perfect tablet UX) into a more streamlined desktop UX.
    Interestingly enough I could always "get work done" on Windows 8.x from the beginning. It never ever had the same problems Windows 10 still has to this day.
  • The music control discontinuity is a minor issue; sure, it needs an update, but it's visually passable for now next to the other examples.
    The USB pop-up is a daily eyesore, and needs fixing immediately!
    The Windows reset is perhaps the single most unimportant feature - one hardly ever uses it (most people never), and so this can easily be relegated to the end of the line.
    The file explorer is like the USB pop-up; it should have been dealt with yesterday!
  • The music control isn't really that jarring at all; I forgot it had been unchanged since Win8.
    The UBS popup? How many people really use USB anymore where this is in a top 4 list? I know I personally would never see it if I backed up my finance files to OneDrive instead of USB.
    The clean installer? Unless they need to add features, this one is totally irrelevant.
    File explorer and its dialogs could be modernized, since that is still used daily by most user's I think. The dark theme helps a lot. This list overall though is pretty silly; if these are the things that most need attention, then clearly there's very little to complain about with Win10.
  • USB pop-up: Every single time you connect your phone, which for me is quite often.
  • Plenty of companies that will not allow Onedrive or any other cloud service for files. Same reasons all usb drivers are enforced to be encrypted with bitlocker as soon as you connect them to computers here. Besides usb drivers, charging your phones is the most common way to use usb here.
  • "How many people really use USB anymore?"
    Answer: A lot
  • It's not only a USB popup, it also pops when putting a CD/DVD in the drive too and I do that often still, I know I'm old school, I still buy my movies and music on physical format :-)
  • All of this needs to be reworked in the CORE of Windows, so it is not needed to change design of one element at a time.
    If the core is consistent, the complete UI of the system will be consistent.
  • Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't always follow a core set of controls implemented everywhere. Different parts will often have custom implementations. Changing that will affect all the parts that's based on but leave the rest the way they are.
    That is what Microsoft is doing. They're not reskinning the high level things.
    In addition, they need to make sure third party integrations don't break when changing light to dark etc.
  • I think the important distinction to make is not the look and feel, but whether these things are running Win32, or using UWP. When going to Windows Core OS, assuming Win32 is going to be jetison, there is a lot of stuff on classic Windows 10 using Win32 that will need replacing. Classic Windows did a lot through the shell and when you explore a node in the shell via its properties, you get a classic properties dialog that is usually tabbed. You see these all over the place. This sort of design mentality of a tree of nodes and nodes having properties and a shell view of the node carried forward into a lot of other UIs. Off the top of my head are Regedit and Device Manager, but as you mentioned, Control Panel is largely programmed into the Windows Shell using properties and shell views. This design is foundational to the functioning of Windows, so I'm wondering how Windows Core OS is going to handle shell type of stuff.
  • What Microsoft needs to do is completely get rid of live tiles. They're not going to change the game and most people don't like them. They need to throw away the live tiles and completely trash the tablet UI in Windows 10. They need to create a new tablet UI for Windows 10 that is easy, intuitive, and powerful, so Surface can really be competitive against the iPad as a tablet device. What they have now is a mess to use on a tablet device like Windows 10. Using it a SP like an iPad is just not a great experience. They could at least fix that. I'm not sure they can ever fix the app situation unless progressive web apps take over, but they could at least fix the tablet UI.
  • This UI unification is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. You use a phone and a desktop for completely different things, you shouldn't be running the same OS. You can't have a UI that works good for both desktop and tablet. They need two separate UIs, and give me all my old interfaces back, I still liked XP.
  • They already trashed the tablet mode. Using their own top of the line Surface hardware with Windows 10 is a UX nightmare!
    Live tiles are just fine. You are like the people in the Windows 3.1 times that missed their beloved Program Manager and did not wanted the Start menu. Now you are complaining about a Start screen, which does not even exist in Windows 10 anymore.
  • When switching to tablet mode, the start menu becomes a start screen.
  • I like live tiles. The problem is developers don't utilize them enough and people don't see a reason to use them. I use them because it's a quick way to get info I need. I also like the way tiles look.
  • Ever since it came out in Windows 8 I've wished the music control UI had panels for every app currently playing audio so you could easily mute them etc. it might be clunky but I'd love to see it as an option.
  • Install EarTrumpet, it gives you a custom audio control in the system tray with volume control for every app, even Windows Store apps which the regular Audio mixer doesn't do.
  • Honestly the older ones are better anyways. Who can find anything in the new (since 7) control panel? Changing any nonstandard settings for a network connection is a chore and takes Google and a YouTube tutorial. A redesign on the audio control center and I'll never be able to adjust my microphone sensitivity. The talk of doing away with the volume mixer already has me nervous, I adjust my discord and game relative volumes every time I play with my buddies. /Rant
  • Sharp edged tiles still boggles my mind.
    Windows despereaelty needs a visual makeover.
    And of course bug fixes is another topic.
  • 1) The printer controls need to be re-written from the ground up and safely integrated with the security software. As things stand now there are two UIs, Printers and Scanners, and Devices and Printers each in their own way performing the half a function and failing to deliver a consistent end-user experience. Windows Printers and Devices code should be retired and CUPs should be re-integrated into the HAL with its own sandbox so that ordinary users can plug in without having to reach out to a technician everytime the device is out of the cardboard. 2) The package manager, Programs and "blah-blah-blah" needs to be retired in favor of true multi-threaded multi-tasking package manager that is capable of secure remote administration. I would suggest dpkg or yum.
  • There seems to be this strange mentality in the Windows community that everything new is automatically an upgrade and better than what we had before. That isn't true, and Windows 10 is a great example of that. We still have TWO control panels (Settings) due to a half-baked plan to replace the former version, and yet certain functionality (WiFi network priority, for example) is still missing when it worked fine in previous Windows versions. I doubt most users care what those settings screens look like, they just want the ability to change a setting if needed, yet Microsoft now seems to be adopting a form-over-function approach. I guarantee if you asked most Windows users what they really wanted from Microsoft it would be to fix the bugs, irritations and quirks of the OS. That's what Microsoft should be prioritizing, not trying to reinvent aspects of the UI that were fine as they were.
  • Actually I welcomed the dark themes of Office. And I was only partially disappointed that it did not fully follow the online version which looks even better.
  • I think Microsoft should just give up on windows (for consumers) and start a fresh, somewhat like Google's fuchsia. I am tired of people yapping about feature vs. usability debate. Give old folks/Companies/Legacy guys a well tuned Windows 10 and a whole new OS for the rest, which can get to be something people embrace.
  • OK, 1st, I really don't like this article. It promotes change for the sake of change, called modernizing. If it does what it is supposed to do and everyone is familiar with it, don't fix what is not broke. I hate having to relearn where things are in newer Windows. But fix and add things that do need fixing. For example, the scrollbars have never worked right in any Windows. The bar is supposed to show where (proportionally) the focus is and also the size relative to the full text. It never does that right nor even consistently. Also, stop adding things (apps). It is an operating system, not an app. Put the add-ons as apps in the Windows Store so, if you want it, get it. That would cut the bloat by 80%. And cut the testing so new versions actually worked without needing tons of patches. Finally, a lot of the commenters are arguing over modernizing code and such but this is a different situation. While it is difficult, code can be re-written in modern code form but not change the UI. It is poor UI that changes just so it looks modern. The amount of work it takes to learn the new interface is inefficient, costly and error-prone. Cutting the bloat (to the core (kernel plus some utilities) would make this much more practical. Linux, you might notice, allows "Windows" UI to be an add-on user choice. Do your modernizing there.
  • Microsoft seems to be concentrating on developing other things that forget about these changes. Users have responded and asked a lot of Feedback Hub and MS has seen, but they are too slow to change these changes. Music control: I use a laptop running Window 10 and have touch when controlling the volume. This display has not been changed, it is the old Metro version of Windows 8. I want it to completely change to a UI of Fluent Design (UWP). And outside the lock screen when I'm playing music also has an extremely bad old UI!
    - Does anyone have ideas for bringing this Music Control to the Action Center? I long for that.
  • The old UI elements in today's Windows 10 are like comfortable old shoes for longtime Windows users who are NOT Windows Insiders. We'll adapt if those UI elements change but we're not interested in trying on new UI elements until then.
  • I think they should compeletely get rid of the present file explorer. It is so bad comparing to any other modern systems. On IT classes we often use linux, and even if Im not a big fan of it, I love how the file explorer looks, and feel on there. Also the context menus works a way better, they are all the same across the entire system, and I never need to wait for them to appear, what often happens in windows. No matter what's the distro: ubuntu, mint, centos, even if the UI may look ugly, it feels like it's modern, and better designed under the hood. On windows even scrolling, is like jumping a line. The icons, often loads very slowly, or refreshing with no reason. I think windows problem is that it wants to stay compatibile with the old software. They're trying to build all these new, cool features on the old legacy code. It's like disguise. Windows is still very old, and insecure, and it looks like even its engineers have no control on it. It's amazing how apple could add a dark mode to MacOS, with only a one update, which feels consistent, and looks beautifull across all the applications. On windows that would never have happened. I hope their efforts on making windows modular, will impove the situation a bit.
  • It was just last night I mentioned that aged music control UI, and how frustrating it is when you press the volume button and it pops up covering the program you're working in and it takes it's merry time to remove from the screen. that needs a revamp.
  • They may need Win32 controls updated to reflect the new UI design. That would be great to allow older programs to look new again.
  • Agree with most of the article, and to add, I'd still love an updated modern version of Windows Media Player, that doesn't strip out any of the functionality.
    WMP has survived Zune and will likely survive Groove long after that is also eventually discontinued, but it needs a modern interface.
  • Windows tablet mode needs a huge update. everything from completing autorotate snapped apps between landscape and portrait orientations, smoother animations at least as good as desktop mode, universal drag- and drop working natively between legacy and uwp apps and between uwp apps themselves, imporved support for ink-to-text boxed for every textbox in windows in tablet mode, edit multiple live tiles (was windows 8 feature, still not in windows 10 after 4 years), more live tile personalization options, more live tiles, interactive live tiles, get rid of MyPeople and integrate it into the people app, multiple instances of People app contacts in new uwp windows, a simpler app switcher in tablet mode (windows 8 is faster and smoother than windows 10) and more.