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Animations in Windows 10 breathe life into a cold, sterile experience — we need more, not less

How much does adding somewhat frivolous animations to an OS matter? I'm not sure, but I do know that users of Windows will be very vocal as Microsoft experiments with adding them to Windows 10.

In Windows 10 Redstone 5 (due fall 2018) I expect Microsoft to continue to refine, improve, and make more consistent UI elements in Windows 10. That includes adding more animations to simple behaviors like the Action Center, but I can already see push back.

OS animations: Frivolous yet delightful

One of the fun aspects of my job is just covering technology in general. I go far out of my way to also not live in the Microsoft bubble where everything is perceived as being better by simply ignoring Apple's iOS or Google's Android.

As such, I recently began using iOS again – both on phone and an iPad 9.7-inch – to see where Apple is regarding its OS in 2018. Coming from using Android (OnePlus 5, Razer Phone) as my primary phone using the iPhone 8 irritated me to no end. The reason was everything is slower – whether it is the fingerprint reader, the back arrows still in the upper corner, and yes, those animations which are everywhere.

Animations are what makes an operating system delightful. Microsoft understood this at one time too as exemplified in Windows Phone 7's Metro UI, which was full of menus popping in, photos sliding in and out of Live Tiles, and just an "aliveness."

I think one of the reasons why Windows 10 Mobile felt so cold was this stark, non-animation OS that just lacked vibrancy. That situation seemed OK for the first year – giving some leniency to a brand-new OS being developed in front of our eyes – but by 2016 it was clear Windows 10 Mobile was never going to have that spirit of design like Windows Phone 7.

Windows 10 on PC is not much different, but there it seemed a tad more forgivable. Despite the name "personal computer" it is phones where being delightful tended to matter the most. Your desktop or laptop was more about getting work done.

Of course, this distinction never bothered Apple who litters macOS with all sorts of goofy effects like swooping icons that expand into full apps. And people like it.

The good news – for some of us – is we see a bit of life come back to Windows 10. Take Redstone 5 Insider builds, which recently added a subtle fade to notifications populating in the Action Center. It was refined, but I noticed it right away. Microsoft's Jen Gentleman confirmed the change.

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But I foresaw a problem: Windows users. Nearly 700 million people are running Windows 10 and even more running older versions of Microsoft's OS.

I knew some would complain about the animations for the same reasons I criticized iOS – isn't everything now slower? Heck, even I commented that the animation seemed like a split second too long and others chimed in as well.

And yet, since then in using iOS more in my daily life (begrudgingly, I might add) I can't help but think this flair is exactly what Windows 10 needs more of to make it delightful. That's not to suggest there aren't other priorities in Windows 10, but I feel like there are multiple ways Microsoft could make this OS more alive that we're not quite seeing.

"As always, make it optional."

Conceptually there are problems with adding animations and flair to an OS too. Besides getting speed and timing correct the types and styles matter as well. In Windows Phone 7 the concept of motion was everywhere in that OS, which first started in Microsoft's Zune, music player. As fun as that UI was though some people hated it.

It may seem obvious, but designing an OS that everyone likes is very difficult especially when you're packing 20 years of legacy.

I suppose the only solution here – at least the one I would like to see – is Microsoft go all out with an animation spree akin to iOS and what Windows Phone 7 was…but as an option. That is, give users a simple OS-level toggle to enable and disable animations, and maybe even their level.

This"make it an option" is familiar territory to Microsoft as the company famously had its "Aero" system for Windows Vista that users could tweak slightly in the OS itself, or through third-party "tuner" apps.

Did you know?

The "Aero" name for the Windows Vista design language is actually an acronym: Authentic, Energetic, Reflective, and Open. Aero lasted through Windows 7, and was replaced by the complete design overhaul that was Metro Modern UI with Windows 8.

Even in the Microsoft Launcher for Android, there is a "performance mode" toggle that, you guessed it, disables animations. Going deeper in the OS Google lets those who enable "developer mode," which is trivial to enable, an option to disable or change the time duration of OS-level animations.

I abhor cluttering an OS with options for everything, but this is cross that Microsoft faces any time it tries to change a fundamental core of its OS. Heading to the /r/Windows10 subreddit and it is awash with people hating everything from the new UI, the Start menu, frequent updates – you name it.

Regardless, Microsoft is pushing towards a more polished version of Windows 10 with Redstone 4 and Redstone 5. I'd still like to see a grander vision of how Windows 10's UI will evolve presented at its Build developer conference in May.

While adding these bits of Fluent Design System and animations may seem trivial I'd argue they are key to making people love Windows – a core goal that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out in 2015. It's time to make that happen.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

85 Comments
  • Thanks now I miss Windows Phone 7.
  • Coming to write the same comment. Funny how that OS still looks better than anything available today.
  • Had the same thoughts.. nostalgic..
  • Most importantly, WP7's animations weren't motion just for the sake of it. Every animation served a purpose. Turnstile animations between pages in an app added the impression of going in/out or deeper/higher in an app hierarchy, which made navigation in and across apps intuitive, particularly in combination with the system-wide and standard back button. Furthermore, none of WP7's animations added any wait-time, as the author fears might be the case for Windows 10's animations. For example, if the CPU finished loading an app before the GPU-powered startup animation completed, then the animation was terminated "prematurely" and the loaded app was displayed instantly. As such, the animation served as something to look at while the system wasn't yet ready, rather than being just functionally useless eye-candy that added to wait-times. This ideology permeated the entire OS, and together this is what made the WP7 and WP8 UI a great combination of function and form.
  • Well said. For me the sweet spot was Windows Phone 8.0. It had the best of 7's final refinements (as of 7.8), along with a ton of new features. It started going downhill (albeit only slightly) with 8.1, but 10 Mobile was garbage from the word go.
  • That's when the time where their designers did seem to have a big role to the devlopement of WP7 and not just being sidelined. That was the time where they actually care about design. Only issue was that the design language was drastic that may polirize some people, though I don't think that's what WP7 never caught on. Fluent Design System comoared to Metro Design Language, even comparing to AERO is a mess and poorly executed relative to them. It is rather inconsistent and sometimes their implementation is more like designed not by designers but someone without a taste sometimes. There are still alot of good parts though, so its not bad. On Xbox, they manage to implement Fluent Design way better than on Windows.
  • As I understand, fluent design has not been implemented in windows 10. Only in a few areas like the settings menu and other features but as a whole windows 10 UI it has not happened yet.
  • yep..just partially being added into the system with every redstone release or whatever they call it these days..
  • Same 😭, loved how unique it looked
  • WP8.1 was perfection
  • Although I hate your fanboy comments most of the time, this time you are quite correct. Windows Phone 8.1 was indeed great, except that a few cool things present in 8.0, were taken away in WP8.1. But it was fast, blazing fast, reliable and for me at least, a joy to use, especially on a 1520 or 930...all until wincrap10 mobile came out :|, that half baked junk in the Nutella era.
  • Kind of sad how focused on experience Windows Phone used to be, now we're excited about a fade in an action bar.... Oh how the mighty have fallen.
  • It was nice to be reminded how good Windowsphone was. Great design ideas compared to the Android phone I have to use now.
  • I know most people like to hate on Vista, but I loved it and never once had any problems with it. I also thought Aero was absolutely beautiful! I wish there was a way to apply the Aero look/feel/icons to my W10. I had Vista Ultimate and it came with an option called DreamScene and came with some samples of videos that could be your desktop wallpaper. I really liked the night scene with raindrops. It was subtle enough that it wasn't distracting.
  • I miss dreamscene! I know it can be more taxing on the system, but I like live wallpapers!
  • Ooow yes Dreamscene was sooooo nice. I loved that rain background.
  • I miss Dreamscene. It would be nice to have this again built-in, especially when most PC's should able to handle this just fine.
  • Deskscapes works fine with Win10 and the .dream files are free on wincustomize.
  • Same here, it's one OS people love to hate but what a lot of people fail to realise is that the hardware around at the time was able to just about run XP, anything higher it would struggle with. As time moved on though systems became more powerful, probably thanks to Vista, which meant that Vista ran without issues. Not only that but Vista introduced a lot of the under the hood improvements that we take for granted today.
  • Vista was amazing and it was an all around tremendous update over XP.
  • @Daniel, there is a disable animations in Ease of Access Settings in Display options. Under the header "Simplify and personalize Windows" includes a "Show animations in Windows"
  • Did anyone really believe fewer animations in Windows 10 is a good idea?!
    In 2018 when UX has replaced UI thinking animations are bad would be funny if it weren't so sad.
  • Its actually frustrating at times. But I guess solution is put subtle and faster animations. Make wiser choices.
  • I agree about making wiser choices. Personally I'm more to put more animations as much as possible, if and only if it is logical to do so and making sure that it does look good, not just putting animation for animation sake. The fade effect implemented in Action Center is actually unecessary and makes things slower. The Action Center panel itself already have sliding animation. If they really want, the animation should follow the sliding animation, so as it slides open it fades with it. What I wish to have animation instead is on Start menu when opening All Apps with sliding animation, where it follows the fingers as you slide open/close it.
  • Vista came at a time when I cared a lot more about visual flair. It was the same era I was constantly tinkering with Ubuntu and all kinds of animations it could do. It's just too bad most people didn't computers powerful enough to handle those animations without slowing down. I don't care nearly as much now as I've gotten more utilitarian in my priorities, but if my desktop can have all those animations without slowing down at all - and it should - they are definitely still nice to have.
  • I've always disabled animations, as far back as Win2k & love that I can disable them completely on Android. To each their own.
  • Disabling is fine, which is why I highlight that as a priority, but would you agree that having animations for the masses, or at least some visual flair is a good thing that makes people enjoy using an OS? I mean, if you want utilitarian there's command line, but there's a reason why GUIs exist.
  • I guess, an OS just feels snappier to me if the swirly flourish stuff is cut out. When I push the button I want the action to happen as quickly as possible. For me the OS is just the vehicle I have to use to get to the programs/apps I want to use, it's not a destination itself.
  • Daniel, did you try comparing your iphone and android device side by side? In most cases, the iphone is faster than most any android phone on the market. hell, for alot of things, my lowly iphone 6s is faster than the galaxy s9. I thought the same thing as you until you compare them side by side. I have nova launcher on my galaxy note 1. Using one of the settings makes it seem like it's a screamer for speed. That is until you actually want do something, then it bogs down and that nice speedy fresh feel is suddenly gone. As long as the hardware is up to the task, the animations are great. For the most part now, most any computer with 10 loaded on it will be able to handle animations etc. it will seem slower because of the animations doing things, but it's really not.
  • Except feedback app, is there another way to share our ideas directly with MS?
  • you can use their slew of user voice sites.
  • We definitely need an anilatio'for the for the windows+D shortcut
  • Good and well timed animation is critical to good UX. It isn't just about looking good and accomplishing things in fewer clicks. It needs to move and feel good too. Every time I work on a design, I spend more time thinking about how the design feels/moves than I do about how it looks. To quote Maya Angelou "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
  • Totally agree! Animation should be implemented not because they just can, but it should be always logical and feels good. An example of badly implemented animation that it doesn't feels right is the new XAML Touch Keyboard in later builds on Windows 10. Yes it slides, it has animations but it doesn't feel right at all. It feels rigid and unnatural. That is because they forgot to apply ease-in and ease-out on sliding animation, it needs physics. Applying physics to the animations makes it more natural since we humans perceived it without having to be fully aware of it, because that how physical objects works in reality. There are also several animations that are unfinished and broken. On Start menu/screen and All Apps, when you open a folder, there is a nice animation, but closing it lacks any. I don't know what's on the mind of the development team and it seems like their designers weren't involved to QA the design. As if Microsoft doesn't seem to make use of their talented designers and put to sideline.
  • I've been giving feedback since Windows 8 and Insider Ring began that to me, Windows 8 Modern UI was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too bland, dull and flat. In short, boring. Windows 7 IMHO was the last version that blew me away graphically. XP was too much, Vista refined it, but 7 to me was the last WOW Windows. I welcome the addition of more flair to Windows 10 but for me, every step closer to what it looked like in Windows 7 is great. Bring on the AERO, Glass and all of that, colourful icons please again. My PC isn't a mobile Phone.
  • I think that while Windows 8 was boring, the 8.1 update added some much needed flair to the OS with the animated backgrounds on the Start Screen.
  • Yup, for me, Windows 8.1 was the best tablet OS and the best touch friendly OS :P
  • Agreed davo_svk. What 10 should have been, is, the windows 10 normal experience in laptop mode, and then when you hit tablet mode, go into windows 8.1. That would have been awesome. a little extra windows 10 design cues into 8.1 would have made tablet mode AWESOME. From the swipe cues etc, to the overall look of it.
  • Herbert wrote: "...Windows 8 Modern UI was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too bland, dull and flat. In short, boring. ...Windows 7 IMHO was the last version that blew me away graphically. ... 7 to me was the last WOW Windows." Herbert, I totally agree - on the desktop. The problem with W10, in my opinion, is that it's a fine touch UI, but a poor keyboard/mouse UI. The way all the elements are at least four times bigger than they were in W7 means my mouse mileage must have tripled since I started using W10. And yes, on the desktop at least, I hate the flat, featureless look of W10. W7 with Aero was the culmination of decades of fine tuning of a keyboard/mouse UI, and was close to perfect. What annoys me is that MS decided to throw all that away and foist a mobile-oriented, touch-based UI on us desktop users! They could have used the mobile UI on mobile devices, and the desktop UI on desktop devices. Lots of people have argued why that can't, and shouldn't, work. But let's be honest: it's exactly what Apple does to this day, and their customers don't complain about it.
  • Apart from my beef about W10 forcing a touch UI onto mouse/keyboard users, I agree strongly with Herbert about the aesthetics. I find the flat, featureless look of W10 horribly ugly. Don't know why, just hate it.
  • Watching Jen's video, I don't believe the problem is the animation itself, but rather the fact that initially, there's nothing there, which gives the false impression that there is nothing to see. We should immediately have an idea of how many notifications there are, and then they can come into focus. Also, it has to be fast, far less than a second.
  • That's a good point, although I'd suggest the reason you click the Action Center in the first place is that you see the notification icon is solid so you know something is there. Still, this is the fun of designing and discussing this stuff!
  • I agree: it's the wrong animation. The text should be fading in (or sliding in, or rolling in, whatever) *as the notification window appears*. Think of Android, when you pull down the notification area from the top. It needs to be like that.
  • Good animation should draw your eye, direct your eye, or make your eye follow something so that the action just performed makes sense and the OS or app becomes more intuitive to use. As mentioned, WP7 nailed this from the bouncing lock screen to the camera roll. Adding flair for flair's sake gets old fast.
  • Closing a window looks terribly great thanks to the animations.
  • I would think that an executive editor knew the difference between "breath" and "breathe"...
  • Funny thing is, I do. What you don't know is I didn't title this, but our secondary editor did...his name is Derek and it's on him ;)
  • I always thought I saw there being a setting that disables all animations for accessibility reasons, this is a permanent perpetually available song that makes everything snap JUST like the launcher for Android settings... 👀
  • As long as I can disable them, add all the animations to pretty it up for folks as they want. I turn them off on my phone and pc's. I prefer the speed of instant over the look of pretty. MY devices aren't about the OS, but the apps I use on them to get things done.
  • Oh, they have come so far. So far so good! I'm digging everything about Windows 10.
  • Couldn't agree more. Design really matters. Apple has always seemed to have gotten that, although iOS and OSX have always seemed a bit too polished for me. On the contrary Android has always seemed a bit "like my kid could do better" to me. Of course I haven't tried an Android phone in a while, they could have upped their game. But I think Windows has an edge here actually. I'm impressed with Fluent. Reveal, Acrylic, Parallax, Pointer Enter/Exit all really nice little touches that set the OS and its apps apart from the crowd. Even the name Fluent to me sounds better than Aero, Metro, or Modern. I suppose names matter too!
  • I find pretty much everything with iOS and OSX to be disgusting and useless. Just part of the reason I despise Apple overall.
  • I have a work issued iPhone and it's actually a pretty good device. Mac on the other hand, I don't know, I've toyed with them at the Mac store on more than one occasion and well it just seems like a fashion accessory to me. Fluent seems to have hit the right tone and yes adds a certain vibrancy to the OS that perhaps not everybody but most people will appreciate. At the end of the day design is primarily a consumer-centric, UX-centric feature, so it's nice to see MS giving some design love to Windows 10 in RS4.
  • I never liked Vista or AERO. I disabled as much of that as I could. Windows Phone 7 and 8 were different animals. For the most part, the aspects that were "alive" were actually functional. I don't find Fluent anything other than annoying and lacking real function. I suppose if Microsoft made any effort whatsoever to make Windows 10 actually touch-friendly instead of touch-spiteful, I could be find something redeeming with Fluent. But I don't. Even now, on my Lumia devices (a 1020 still on WP8 and a 950 on WM10), there are certain aspects I don't use. I much prefer CLEAN lines, so I my tiles all one color (I find images create a muddy, ugly user experience). Microsoft abandoned the most promising aspects of the WP7/WP8/Win8 experience (in my opinion) because so many felt the experience was "too jarring" (sheesh). Even in Windows 8, the Metro/Modern aspects were pale versions of what existed on the phone. This made no sense to me, since the PC was where they REALLY could have exploited Hubs, Integration, Interactive Tiles, etc. Now, what do we have? A stupid "action center", 8 million things to pin to the stupid Task Bar and Tiles that are less and less live (especially with PWAs). To me, the WRONG aspects of W10 are being "livened up". So, I turn pretty much all of that off. But, as I've said all along, I'm clearly in the minority within the minority. Microsoft cares very little for us consumers and would rather pay attention to business users.
  • Animations don't have to be slow or frivolous, they can be quick and purposeful (helping convey the purpose of the UI elements). The Action Center fade-in in this post just seems like a pointless animation - as others have said, it makes AC more confusing since nothing seems to be there for a moment. I guess it might be done to make the performance feel more consistent as now sometimes it stutters while sliding it out.
  • I agree, but I think you walk on eggshells a bit too much here. There really shouldn't be much push back on this except from the curmudgeons who would still be using Windows 2000 if they had their way. Good design requires a point of view.
  • Don't paint anyone who disagrees with you as a curmudgeon, though. Even though I'm very old, I love change, on the whole. My only beef with W10 is the way it has forced a touch-oriented UI on us desktop users. For mouse/keyboard users W7 was much better, in my view. It was, after all, the result of 30 years of fine tuning. Personally I love W10 on my hybrid, which of course has a touch screen, but I MUCH prefer W7 on my desktop machine.
  • One example is the Start menu. I find I need both the picture (the icon) *and* the text to rapidly find an application I want to run. Unfortunately, if you want the text titles you have to use the "medium"-sized tile or larger. The "small" size - which is a bit like the normal W7 icon - has no text beneath it. Thus everything on the Start menu takes up four times as much room as it did in W7. Take a look at the 'All Programs' section of the Start menu: the icon is W7-sized and the text is to the right. They could, and should, offer that as an option in the main "tile" area of the Start menu as well.
  • Where did Windows 10 force a touch-oriented UI on Mouse and Keyboard users, don't confuse Windows 10 with Windows 8!!!!
  • I loved window phone 7 but hated what they started with worsened phone 8, windows 10 mobile and now windows 10. I think animations always makes the interaction between user and computer alive but it needs to be used on perfect sync. For instance the notification animation shared by Jen is an example of bad animation. It's feels more like a lagginess instead of coherent animation. The correct animation here could have been bringing animation to the action center itself (may be slide in+fly in) rather than notifications.
  • Did anyone notice that Microsoft added modern context menus to some elements like the sound icon in the taskbar? I really appreciate that, even though some icons still have legacy context menus. ^^
  • I couldn't disagree more. One of the 1st things I do upon taking possession of any device is disable animations.
  • I agree with the author. If done right they are delightful. The options need to be dune right though. Don't need to enable or disable each pixel for an exgaturated example.
  • I miss windows phone :(
    Someone get me back days of windows phone 8. So fluent so fresh. Really windows mobile 10 was never that fluent and enjoyable. That was my primary complaint. Can microsoft make its own android with wp7 UX :P I would love to buy it 😅
  • Windows phone 7 photos app with side scrolling ui and ability to set your favorite photo as app background was amazing.
    Windows phone's text heavy ui/ux and that "..." Context Manu idea was also amazing.
    What about the 4th white and orange ui/ux in this video posted by tom Warren on YouTube.
    https://youtu.be/u5n7vdUaQsg
    I love how live tiles flip horizontally and the way new notification pops.
  • I too miss Windows Phone 7. Windows 10 has become too boring, although its efficient. Bring more "life" to the OS, and yes, make it optional.
  • Hey, how to get that wallpaper which is on the tablet?
  • Hi everybody! I was wondering why Microsoft didn't just take the best features on Windows 7 (and Windows 8 maybe) and put it on Windows 10. Is it so hard to make what made Windows 7 and older versions famous in the next generations of Microsoft OS?
  • It's just software, so they could do what they like. Personally I wish W10 looked, felt and worked just like W7 on the desktop, and much like it does now on touch-oriented mobile devices. They could do it if they wanted, although of course it would complicate their job and make it harder to develop apps that run on both platforms seamlessly (not that I'm convinced that's necessary).
  • bring animations on.
  • Good article Dan! Thanks for posting something about the animation on Windows 10, which is mostly have been ignored. Kinda sad that Microsoft, or more accurately the Windows team seem to downplay this area, especially when they do have talented people worked on AERO and Metro Design Language (on Zune and Windows Phone) that fully realized the design language and implemented it with polish. I think the fundamental problem is that they don't see applying good and well-polished design to be higher of priority and part of their development process. If they do implement some design change, it doesn't seem like they are consulted by actual designers or not even following their own design guidelines, which causes inconsistencies, lack of polish or simply missing. They should not of course only focus on that, but they really have to put more effort than it is now and they are fully capable of doing it. On to the specifics like animations. There are areas that still need work that Windows team seem to forgot or ignore.
    - Folders on All Apps and Start menu/screen do have animation but only when opening it. Closing a folder lacks an animation. This is an example of half-baked implementation of animation. I still don't get my head around it as to why they never just fully polished it. I don't think its even there is a technical issue, because the UI foundation is there already.
    - Virtual Desktop is another example of half-baked animation. Though there is an animation when you switch between desktops through Keyboard Shortcuts and when you go in/out of Task View (now Timelime). There is no animation when you click the desktop thumbnail and no sliding animation when hovering it. Animations on Virtual Desktop is incomplete.
    - Connected Animations on apps are still largely missing, which is a highlight improvement of Fluent Design. Though this is not a new idea when comparing to Metro Design Language on Windows Phone.
    - New fade animation on Action Center is actually unnecessary, an example of too much. Since Action Center panel already animates. Which is enough to convey to the user that the UI slides from the side, which feels natural. Though I'm glad at least they are playing around and exploring a bit. Action Center though at least is well polished so far. I love when the Notification Toast have animation when it expands and contracts, which feels fluid and natural. It visually tells the user that "you can expand this". Animations are just part of UX design which aims to improve not just aesthetics but to improve the overall experience for the user. It aims to make the UI more engaging, natural and responsive. Being beautiful is just part of it when it is implemented right. That's why putting animations just for the sake of it will result negatively and makes the workflow feels slow and gimmicky.
  • Great points and thanks for the details ;) I'm not nearly as versed in this stuff as I should be, but your points