Windows Confidential: What is Saved from Windows 3.0

Original author: Raymond Chen
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“If I prohibit desktop icons by system policies, then by double-clicking on it the Task Manager starts. What miracles? ”

This is about the same discovery as one of my colleagues made, having removed decorative panels in his old house and discovered a forgotten closet behind them. In the closet, he found several rarities from the Second World War, including an alcohol coupon with several unbroken cells. It is difficult to imagine how the owner of the coupon, who had forgotten it in the closet, felt.

The closet hidden behind the Windows desktop is the Program Manager left over from Windows 3.0. The program manager allowed you to run applications, but did not allow you to switch between them: it did not have an analogue of the taskbar that displayed all running applications. To see the list of open windows, the user launched the Task Manager - hot key Ctrl + Esc, or double-click on an empty spot on the desktop.

In addition to the ability to go to any of the open windows, the Task Manager also allowed you to close applications, or arrange windows - for example, in a cascade. The task manager was the only place in Windows that showed open windows at the same time: for example, Alt + Tab did not show the icons of all windows, as in modern versions of Windows, but switched between them in order.

The taskbar that appeared in Windows 95 made it possible to see all open windows and switch between them at any time; The task manager was no longer needed for this. In addition, minimized windows were now placed in the taskbar, and not on the desktop, as in Windows 3.0. From a place for minimized window icons, the desktop has become a place for commonly used shortcuts.

The desktop in Windows 95 is the Explorer window, stretched to full screen, and located below the windows of all other programs. In this window, Explorer displays the contents of the Desktop folder. But under this "desktop" there was another, real desktop, which, as in Windows 3.0, belongs directly to the Windows subsystem. This is the same window that the function returns GetDesktopWindow. A Windows 95 user has never seen this real desktop: he always hid under the Explorer window - just like a closet in the basement of my colleague hid under wooden panels for half a century.

Changes are made little by little

The Windows 95 interface was so drastically different from the usual Windows 3.1 Program Manager users that the developers left a "fallback": those who could not get used to the new interface could continue to work with the Program Manager, with groups of icons instead of shortcuts, and with the launch of the Task Manager double click on the desktop. But the new interface was stunningly successful, and no one needed an emergency exit. He remained simply "in reserve."

Since Windows 95, the desktop device has not changed much: it is still the Explorer window, stretched to full screen and completely covers the system desktop. But if you enable the "Hide and disable all icons on the desktop" policy, then the Explorer window, whose sole purpose is to display the icons, is no longer necessary; it disappears, and from under it a real desktop becomes visible. A double click on the real desktop, like twenty years ago, launches the Task Manager - this is what puzzled the user with whom the article began. He removed the “decorative panels” of the Explorer and found under them the “old basement wall” - the system desktop, and in it the “forgotten closet” - has long been unused, but still an effective way to launch the Task Manager.

If you want to disable all the icons on the desktop, but do not want to show the user the old desktop, which unexpectedly responds to a double click, use other means. With policies such as “Remove Trash Icon from the Desktop,” hide all the standard icons, and then assign these permissions to the desktop folder so that users cannot create new shortcuts in it. Then the empty Explorer window will remain above the desktop, and will close access to its “closet”.

Forgotten Hotkey

Replacing the Task Manager, which needs to be called up every time, with the taskbar, which is always in sight, is the most noticeable improvement in the interface for switching between open applications. But, as already mentioned, the Alt + Tab interface has changed significantly in its history. In the first version of Windows, by pressing this key combination, control simply switched to the next program. Minimized programs remained minimized even after switching to them; you had to deploy them yourself after you release Alt. And there was no popup that showed which program you were switching to.

In Windows 2.0, the Alt + Tab interface is one step closer to the one we use today. Switching between windows was now carried out in accordance with the Z-order, from the upper to the lower windows; and each press of Tab temporarily “lifts” the next window to the very top, so that you can see which program you are switching to. When you release Alt, the “raised” window remains at the top; for example, if you had windows A, B, C and D, then after switching to window C, the order of the windows becomes C, A, B, D.

A popup appeared in Windows 3.0. It showed the icon and title of the next window; Now, in order to select the desired window and switch to it, the system did not have to “lift” and completely draw all the windows on the way to it. The selected window, as before, rose to the very top of the Z-order; but only after you release Alt. This new interface is called "fast Alt + Tab." A Windows 3.x user could choose between a “classic” and a “fast” interface; but everybody preferred the new interface. When support for the old interface was secretly removed from Windows 95, hardly anyone noticed this, and certainly no one complained to us.

The following updates touched the Alt + Tab interface in Windows 95 and Windows Vista: first added a series of icons for all open windows, then the icons were replaced with “live” window thumbnails. Another little-known innovation is that you can poke a mouse into an icon or an excursion in a pop-up window to go directly to the desired window. All in order for the user to spend less time searching for a window and switching to it.

But as the Alt + Tab interface grew into new fixtures, the other hotkey went into oblivion.
Starting with Windows 2.0, the Alt + Esc combination could also be used to switch between windows. Since then, its functionality has not changed at all.

Like Alt + Tab, the combination of Alt + Esc goes through all open applications. The current window is transferred to the very bottom of the Z-order, and control passes to the next window after it. If the next window is minimized, it remains minimized. At first glance this seems uncomfortable, but in fact it allows you to quickly skip minimized applications without having to deploy them.

For example, if windows A, B, C and D are open, then pressing Alt + Esc will send window A to the very bottom, and the order of the windows will become B, C, D, A. The next press will send window B to the very bottom (we get C, D , A, B). If window B was minimized, it will remain minimized; it turns out we switched from A to C without turning B.

Both combinations for switching between windows allow you to add Shift to reverse the order of switching. Alt + Shift + Esc transfers the lowest Z-order window to the very top (but does not expand it). A pair of combinations Alt + Esc / Alt + Shift + Esc allows you to quickly switch between two open windows.

While all attention was paid to the improvement of Alt + Tab, his younger brother Alt + Esc remained on the sidelines and only sobbed quietly that no one noticed him. But this neglect also has a positive side: many developers are trying to create applications that "extend" the Alt + Tab interface; but nobody touches Alt + Esc functionality.

As a detector receiver in the event of a power failure, Alt + Esc can be vital when “extension” crashes cause the Alt + Tab and the taskbar to fail. If it seems that all the ways to switch between programs have stopped working, do not despair: remember the "fallback" Alt + Esc combination. She always works - because it does not occur to anyone to “improve” her work.

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