Site News

Visi On
Win Shells
Misc GUIs

GUI Timeline
GUI Sites
Location: GUIs > Windows > Chicago Beta-1

Microsoft Windows "Chicago" beta-1
screen shots
One day while browsing the net I stumbled across an old MS-Word document titled "Microsoft Windows Chicago Reviewers guide". It contains screen shots and lengthy descriptions of Microsoft's Chicago Beta-1 operating system from around May 1994. It has some very interesting information, so I decided to convert it to HTML and post it here. It is a very, very long document with quite a bit of marketing fluff in some sections and technical detail in other. As a result I decided just to include the sections and images relevant the Chicago GUI desktop. Sections that I omitted are denoted by [...]. 

If you want to see the original document, it can be downloaded here: Reviewers Guide to Chicago Beta-1/Early Windows 95 (Word 6 format)

Interesting things:

  • Some screen shots appear to be from earlier versions of chicago than others.
  • We can add another name to the "Inbox","Exchange" (client), "Windows messaging" confusion - it was originally called "Info Center".
  • Some versions of the start menu had an arrow on them indicating which direction the menu would open.
  • No icons or product name in main start menu yet.
  • Some controls still do not have 3d appearance. 
  • There are different icons in many places.
  • Diamond shaped option buttons.
  • Many dialogs rearranged in the final version.
  • No mention of including any web browser!


The Desktop: Neat, Clean, and Logical

After you boot into Chicago, you are presented with the new Chicago desktop (see Figure below).  Itís neat and clean with only a few graphical objects on the screen.  Itís like moving into a new office before you have the chance to really get it messy.

Figure 5.  The Chicago Desktop

The simplicity of the desktop appeals to all usersí sense of cleanliness but also serves to focus the novice user on the essentials:

  • Taskbar.  Quickly start a program from the Start Button.  Easily switch tasks.
  • My Computer:  Makes browsing your PC logical and easy.
  • Network Neighborhood.  In the world of mapped drives and complex interfaces, users are unable to browse the network.  Chicagoís Network Neighborhood makes browsing networks possible and easy, independent of the network provider (such as, Windows NT Advanced Server, NetWare, or Chicago itself).
  • Info Center.  Optionally installed.  Gives the user a single place to go to access all MAPI-provided information (such as, Mail, Microsoft At Worktm faxing).
The Chicago Taskbar: Home Base

More than any other feature, the Taskbar exemplifies the order of magnitude improvement in ease of use and learnability of the Chicago UI.  It is the anchor of the UI.  Its mission is to make 95% of what a typical user wants to do with the operating system easily accessible at all times.  An indicator of a great design is that it turns out to be much more than it was originally intended.  The Taskbar started out specifically as a novice user program launcher and task switcher.  However, its simplicity and power have turned out to be favorites of experienced windows users, and it has many more capabilities.

Figure 6.  The Chicago Taskbar

The two key features of the Taskbar are the Start Button and Push-button task switching.

The Start Button: Up and Running in Seconds

Usability tests on Windows 3.1 show that it takes a brand new Windows user an average of nine minutes to open "Write".  With Chicago, opening Wordpad takes a new user an average of three minutes.  If only the users that launched Wordpad via the Start Button (rather than by other means) are counted the average time to launch drops below one minute!  The main reason for this dramatic 3x-9x speed improvement is the Start Button.  Without ever having to know about double clicking, complex hierarchies, or program manger groups, a beginning Chicago user can quickly launch a program and get to work.

Figure 7.  The Chicago Start Button

However, the Start button is much more than a super-efficient program launcher.

  • Programs.  During Setup the user is asked to select his or her most often used programs.  These programs are placed in the Programs menu of the Start Button.  In the future the user can easily change the programs that appear on this menu by selecting Taskbar Settings right from the Start Button.  For upgrades, all of their Windows 3.1 program groups are converted to folders within the programs folder and are accessible from the Start Button.
  • Documents.  The Documents menu of the Start button contains a list of the last 15 documents the user opened.  It provides very quick access to the most recently edited files.  This helps prevent time-consuming and frustrating browsing and helps people begin to think of their work in terms of documents ("document-centricity"), rather than applications.
  • Settings.  Gives quick access to the Control Panel, the Printers folder, and the Fonts Folder.  It also allows the user to customize the Taskbar itself (such as, what programs to include in Start Programs menu) to suit personal working preferences.
  • Find.  Find is a new feature of Chicago that goes far beyond File Managerís File Search feature in Windows 3.1.  Searches do need not conform to the *.* searching syntax, and criteria such as last modification date, size of file, and full text can now be used.  More on Find in "Power" below.
  • Help Topics.  Help has been overhauled for usability in Chicago and is easily accessible from the Start menu.  See "Help" topic later in this section for details.
  • Run.  Provides enhanced command-line type functionality from the Start Button.
  • Shutdown.  Allows for easily accessible and safe shutdown, restart, and logoff.

Task Switching Made Simple From the Taskbar

Novices need powerful features presented to them in a very simple and compelling way, otherwise these features will not be used.  Research on active Windows users shows that only 27% of general Windows users frequently use more than one application at a time and only 20% frequently use ALT+TAB task switching.  These powerful features of Windows 3.1 are simply not discoverable.

The objective of the Taskbar is to make switching among multiple applications as simple as changing channels on a television set.  Every new window that is opened automatically gets a button on the Taskbar.  To change tasks, all the user must do is go to the Taskbar and select the desired channel.  No more minimized program icons, no more disappearing windows.  No matter where the user is, he or she can see all of his or her active tasks simply by looking at the Taskbar, the Windows TV guide.

Task Buttons re-size automatically depending on the number of active tasks.  Should the buttons get too small to be useful the user can custom configure the Taskbar.  In fact, there are a host of Windows Taskbar configuration options that allow the user to configure it to fit his or her needs including:

  • Reposition.  The Windows Taskbar can be dragged to any perimeter position on the screen.
  • Re-size.  The width of the Windows Taskbar can be widened by dragging the inside edge.
  • Auto Hide.  The Windows Taskbar can be hidden from the screen and made appear only when the mouse hits the screen edge by selecting Settings, Taskbar from the Start Button.
Also, noteworthy is the animation when a task is minimized into the Taskbar or maximized from the Taskbar.  It helps new users understand "where" a program goes when it is minimized.

An Easier Model for File Management and Browsing

File management and browsing in Windows 3.1 was not intuitive.  Fewer than 55% of general Windows users regularly use the File Manager.  For novice users the File Manger is especially confusing and intimidating.

Figure 8.  Browsing My Computer

New Windows and Large Icons Work for those new to Windows

Designing a discoverable and comfortable model for browsing and file management for the novice user has been a priority for the UI design team because of the observed difficulties with Windows 3.1.  Several significantly different designs have been tested and thrown out.  In the course of this testing the design team made a few basic discoveries about file management and browsing:

  • Exposed hierarchies are intimidating and unintuitive.
  • Dual-pane views (hierarchy on the left, contents on the right) are also intimidating and unintuitive.  Novices have difficulty understanding the connection between the logical tree hierarchy on the left and the contents pane on the right.
  • Object-Oriented UI is great for basic tasks, but not for complex ones.  There exists a general belief that the more object oriented a UI is the easier it is for the user.  This is an appealing theory, but in real life this is not the case.  Direct manipulation of screen objects and logical resulting behaviors are important for basic functionality (such as, dragging a file from a folder to the desktop).  However, advanced direct manipulation features such as dragging a file to a printer icon, are not intuitive.  Intuitively, users understand selecting an object with the mouse then browsing menus or buttons for actions to perform on that object.
  • Large icon views are much more comfortable than list views.
  • A noviceís ability to find what he is looking for and feeling comfortable and "grounded" along the way are the defining characteristics of a good browsing experience.  Efficiency and speed are less important.
The "My Computer" default browsing model is the result of all of this design, testing, and learning.  A folder or drive can be opened by double clicking or selecting it and choosing File Open.  The default browsing model brings up a new window in large icon view.  To many advanced users this behavior seems cumbersome.  Why not open in list view?  Why create a new window, it just clutters up my screen?  Why not open to a dual pane view?  Itís much more efficient for me.  Why not turn the Toolbar on by default?  All of these models and more were tested thoroughly and discarded (as the default configuration) because they caused confusion and stress among novices.  Novices respond best when presented only with essential information and when they can easily "get back" to where they just were.

Note Multiple configuration options are available to experienced users in View Options.

Chicago has a very powerful dual-pane browsing application for Experienced users called the Explorer, which is likely how you, as an experienced user, will prefer to browse.  The Explorer will be covered in "Power" below.  Additionally, the File Manager can be run for backwards compatibility.

New Capabilities in the Default Browsing Model

New capabilities of the default browsing model should not be overlooked in this discussion of simplicity.  Folders can be created within folders.  Files and folders respond very logically to being dragged and dropped.  Files and folders can be cut, copied, and pasted just like text and objects within applications.  Views can be customized by the user and each window "remembers" how the user last configured it, so that the next time it opens it is in the userís favorite view.  The best way to discover the capabilities of the default browsing model is to play with it yourself, or better yet, find a novice user and watch him use it.


Name Files in English with Long Filenames

By far, the number one most requested feature since Microsoft has been in the operating system business is long filenames.  The usability win by eliminating the need to conform to the 8.3 naming convention is obvious and large.  To ensure backwards compatibility with the universe of existing MS-DOS and Win16 applications, extensions have not been eliminated, just hidden from view by default.

Figure 9.  Chicago long filename

Additionally, files can be renamed in place in Chicago by selecting the file, clicking on the filename, and typing a new name.  The hidden file extension is not affected by renaming the file.  Files can also be renamed from within the new Chicago common dialogs (including File Open and  Save).


Network Neighborhood and Networking Accessibility

This section will discuss how the Chicago client makes browsing networks possible and easy, independent of the network provider (such as, Windows NT Advanced Server, Netware, or Chicago itself).  For more details about Chicagoís networking capabilities, see the section called "Chicago Networking and Systems Management."

The Network Neighborhood icon, shown in the figure below, sits on the desktop and logically separates for the user the place to go to browse resources not on "My Computer".  The user can easily browse the network via the Network Neighborhood just as if he or she were browsing his or her hard disk.

Figure 10.  Network Neighborhood desktop icon in Chicago

  • The Network Neighborhood is also configured by the administrator to display, at the top level only those PCs, servers, and printers that are in the userís immediate workgroup.  This insulates the user from the vastness of large corporate networks.  However, if the user wants to browse the larger network, this can be done by opening "Entire Network" from within the Network Neighborhood.  This was not possible prior to Chicago.  When a user browses servers, network connections are being made without ever having "mapped" a drive.
  • System-wide support for UNC pathnames makes obsolete the unnecessary process of "mapping" drives (assigning new drive letters to a specific network resource).  This  technology allows the natural network browsing observed through the Network Neighborhood.  UNC pathname support allows a whole host of usability improvements of which network browsing is just one.


  • The "Network" Control Panel tool consolidates all networking configuration in one location.  Solves difficulty of configuring Windows networking under Windows 3.1 and Windows for Workgroups 3.x.
  • Easy drive mapping is also available in Chicago.  There is a Map Network Drive button on the Explorer and browsing window toolbars.  Also available via right-click on "My computer" for power users.  Mapped drives appear as persistent connections in "My Computer".
  • Networking and mobility are intrinsic to the Chicago UI.  The Chicago UI was designed from the ground up with networking and remote access in mind.  For example, when a file copy detects that the copy is being performed over a slow-link (modem connection), the copy dialog itself includes an "estimated time to completion" clock.
  • Networking integration with new common dialogs (including File Open and  File Save).  Full exploitation of new common dialogs throughout the system will not be implemented until Beta-2.  However, key to the great leap in usability of new common dialogs observed in the labs, is tight integration with networking.  From new common dialogs, the Network Neighborhood can be browsed just like My Computer.  Also, the majority of basic file management tasks can be performed from within common dialogs.
New Help Engine: Accessible and Useful Online Information

Online help has been completely re-tooled in Chicago.  It underwent extensive usability testing in the labs and the result is a significantly easier to use and learn help system.  Additionally, customizing and developing Windows help files by ISVs and corporate customers has been made dramatically easier.  A brief description of the major features of new Chicago Help follows.

  • Simplified interface.  Help in Windows 3.1 was difficult to learn and use.  It had three main functions:  Contents, Search, and Glossary.  The Contents view was not well organized and presented and there was some ambiguity about which of the functions to use when.  Chicago behaves much more intuitively and more like a real reference book.  It only has two Tabs:  Contents and Index.
  • The "Contents" Tab is organized like a bookís table of contents.  Top level "chapters" (iconically represented by a book) are displayed and can be drilled down on for sub topics (iconically represented as a page).  Many chapters also have "Tips and Tricks" subsections.  These have proved popular in lab testing.
  • Help Topics are short.  They all fit in one small screen to keep users from having to scroll through large, complicated help topics

Figure 11.  Help Shortcut button

  • Shortcut Buttons make using Help advice simple.  New Shortcut buttons are the most popular feature of Help.  Some Help topics contain these shortcuts that take the user right to the area of Chicago that it is referencing.  For example, a user who is searching for help on how to change the clock on the PC can "jump" right to the Clock Control Panel tool, right from within Help. (see figure above).
  • Whatís This?  From within all Chicago Control Panel tools, a new "?" icon appears on the upper-right of the Title Bar.  By selecting this the userís cursor changes to a "?" and can be dropped on any target in the dialog box.  This brings up a short description of whatever was selected.  "Whatís this?" can also be accessed by right-clicking within Control Panel tools.
More "Document-centric"

OLE 2 introduced document-centricity with in-place editing of objects.  The application window changes and the document stays the same.  This makes the software begin to work the way people work, rather than vice-versa.

Figure 12.  New Word document template

The Chicago UI picks up on the concept of document-centricity in several subtle, but powerful ways including:

  • A window is just an open view of an object.  When the user opens a folder from anywhere in the UI, a new window opens up.  The title of the new window is the same as the name under the folder before the user opened it.  This is logical.  In the next generation of applications written for Chicago, ISVs will follow this same model.  A Word for Chicago document called "My document" is double-clicked from the anywhere in the UI, and a new window (Word itself) is opened entitled "My Document-Microsoft Word".  This is partially implemented in Beta-1 with Wordpad and Paint.
  • "New" templates from within folders and in the Explorer.  From within any folder in Chicago or from the desktop, new files can be created in place by selecting File New and then choosing a file type.  This is very convenient for managing files based on projects rather than the whim of an application.

Wizards: Your Guide to Powerful Capabilities

Started in Microsoftís Applications Group, Wizards are a proven tool that make it easy for all classes of user to take advantage of powerful but complex functionality.  A series of questions are posed to the user in a friendly and straight-forward way.

Figure 13.  New Device Installation Wizard Walks User Through Installing a Printer

Chicago uses Wizards throughout the system, including:

  • Add Printer wizard in the Printers Folder
  • New Device wizard in the Control Panel

  • Remote Access setup wizard in the Network Neighborhood