Windows is a big operating system with a long history, and it has a feature set to match; even veteran users haven’t found all of its hidden features. In the interest of progress, sometimes classic Windows tools give way to new features.
However, you surely don’t remember all the archived features fondly. From the useless to the annoying, here are some Windows features we aren’t shedding any tears over.
Nowadays intelligent assistants are all the rage, such as Cortana on Windows 10, but back in Office 97 we had Clippy to help write documents. Clippy the paper clip was actually one of many possible Office Assistants (others included a robot and a dog), but was by far the most popular since he was the default and most of the others required a CD to install.
The character was supposed to keep an eye on your work and intervene whenever it had a helpful tip for you – for example, if you typed an address followed by “Dear Sir,” Clippy would detect that you were writing a letter and offer to help format it. The problem was that everyone found this annoying and Clippy barged in way too often.
Office XP shut off the assistant by default, and it was totally removed in Office 2007. This was all a decent idea in theory, but the implementation was awful. Due to its widespread criticism, Clippy has become a huge Internet joke and launched several parodies, some even from Microsoft!
2. Desktop Gadgets
The Windows Desktop Gadgets in Windows Vista and Windows 7 were sort of like the widgets now found on Android: quick information and functionality right on your desktop. Default options included a calendar, clock, notes, stocks, and weather. For a time, Microsoft also ran the Windows Live Gallery, where you could download additional widgets from third-party developers.
Desktop gadgets weren’t totally useless, but nobody really took advantage of them. There are better apps for sticky notes, checking the weather on your PC, and managing a calendar, so why clutter up your desktop with icons that have limited use? Even worse, Microsoft eventually warned users that these gadgets could have serious security vulnerabilities, allowing malicious access to your computer’s files or letting them show explicit content without warning.
With the launch of Windows 8, desktop gadgets officially went extinct. Though Modern apps have essentially replaced these gadgets, you can still enable desktop widgets on Windows 10, if you really want them for some reason.
3. Windows Experience Index
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) was designed so that users would have a baseline of how well their computer ran Windows – the assumption being that the average person doesn’t know how to interpret PC specs. The tool tested your computer’s processor, RAM, and graphics capability to see how well your machine handled different tasks; the lowest score would equal the WEI of your system.
This is one to throw in the “useless” category. For starters, the tool doesn’t actually do anything but give you a pointless number, and most users didn’t have a clue it was even there. Microsoft also raised the maximum score from Windows Vista to Windows 7, making the test even more confusing. You also wouldn’t see the WEI score until after buying a computer, and replacing components on a laptop to improve your score would be tedious.
Finally, PC games never adopted it as a baseline standard. So, the people who could have used the feature didn’t know about it, and those who are into customizing their PCs already knew how their computers would perform. Thus, the WEI was dropped in Windows 8.1, and nobody cared.
4. Modern Skype App
Windows 8 introduced a lot of duplicate ways to perform tasks, sometimes splitting the functionality between them (such as the Settings app and the Control Panel). With Skype, this trend continued – so users had a default Metro app for Skype, but could also install the traditional desktop version.
Skype desktop, Skype Modern App, Skype in Messaging… One or two of these aren't needed.
— Mauricio Freitas (@freitasm) October 13, 2015
Christian compared the two Skype versions, and unsurprisingly found the desktop flavor superior. In Windows 8, the Metro app takes up your whole screen and is designed for touch interfaces, which means that common settings are hidden behind annoying gestures and some functionality is totally missing. Microsoft threw out the Modern Skype app with Windows 10, so you’ll be able to stick with just the one version instead. Hopefully, this will reduce the headaches.
MASTERFUL trolling by the #skype team; the tablet app for 'modern' Windows is an app that has nothing but a download link for desktop Skype
— Mary Branscombe @ Kubecon (@marypcbuk) August 14, 2015
5. Windows Messenger
Windows Messenger was an AIM-like (AOL Instant Messenger) chat client included with Windows XP. It was intended for both business users to have a company chat, as well as standard users to chat with friends. Instant Messaging (IM) services were all over the place by 2001, so Windows Messenger wasn’t terribly popular for home users.
AIM was so huge that a lot of people were already using it – after all, an IM service is only as good as the number of your friends that are on it! Windows Messenger faded out a few years later and was replaced by Windows Live Messenger, part of the Windows Live package, and later Microsoft Lync (now Skype for Business). Lync is more suited for enterprise environments, so it’s a natural place for a service like Windows Messenger. On the home user side, Skype is the evolution for chat.
Skype for Business, formerly Lync, formerly Office Communicator, formerly Windows Messenger, formerly NetMeeting. Pick a name, Microsoft.
— Randall King (@randall_king) October 2, 2015
6. Charms Bar
Designed for touch navigation in Windows 8 and making no sense to mouse-and-keyboard users, the Charms Bar was confusing for many newcomers to Windows 8. It seemed to slide in at random or when you wanted to select something in the corner of the screen with the mouse, and its shortcuts weren’t clear at first. Thankfully, the 8.1 update copied most of its functionality to more logical places.
In Windows 10, Microsoft has reduced the emphasis on touch controls and tossed out the Charms Bar. All of its old shortcuts, such as shutting down the computer and searching, have been placed elsewhere (mostly in the revamped Start Menu). If you’ve gotten used to the charms bar, you may miss it when you first upgrade to Windows 10, but you’ll quickly get over it when you discover the Action Center that took its place.
It’s a relief not to have to deal with the bar sliding in every time you point the mouse on the right side of the screen or accidentally make a sliding motion with your touchpad.
Not all past Windows features are looked back upon with nostalgia. Some we wish had never existed, but Microsoft can’t hit a home run every time. It seems they learn from their mistakes (eventually), at least.
Running Windows 10? Check out some features you may have missed in your first few months with the operating system.
Which Windows features do you wish had never happened? Were you a fan of any tools listed here? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!