If I had one wish for Microsoft to grant for a future release of Windows, it would be this: Make every, single, element, of the user interface customizable. Allow me to drag, arrange, pin, doc, hide whatever I want, wherever I want it. This includes menus, toolbars, taskbars, anything. Let me choose which mode the OS boots/runs in, regardless of the device it's running on. Let me choose how I want the OS to serve me. Don't force me to live with your choices on my behalf. I appreciate the effort to guess my wants and needs, but give me the option to override your choice if it misses.
Feel free to have everything a certain way as a default for beginners, but give UI nuts like me the ultimate in flexibility. I want MY Windows experience to be mine.
You really don't understand what your asking for, there.
Do you know what it would take to develop an OS that was 100% completely and totally customizable like that? It's a nearly incomprehensible job, especially with an established platform that existing customers rely on to keep functioning the way it always has for backwards compatibility purposes. Companies have tried, Microsoft actually tried once, with Longhorn. They put a massive
amount of time, money, and effort into it, and some of the initial early alphas (one of which I have, somewhere, on a DVD here) were AWE-SOME. Microsoft built a new OS that pretty much wiped the floor with any other OS. It, in my opinion, was nearly the perfect OS (barring the still-present bugs at that time, and some un-finished features...the core of it all was WinFS, the melding of hierarchical and relational databases into a journaled file system; The Longhorn OS was originally built on top of that core file and data management concept, and everything integrated with it...it...was...amazing). You can see this concept here:
The alpha I used wasn't quite as polished as this video shows, I think they doctored some things up, but overall, that's what Windows Longhorn was designed to do and be (which was what Vista was originally supposed to be, an early form of it). The media management alone was beyond phenomenal. The customizability was a lot higher than current versions of Windows, they had a lot more docking capabilities, search was amazing, they had an early version of the metro UI concept, where apps didn't have to be regular old windows with a title bar, a menu bar, a toolbar and a client content area...free form apps that could look like anything, but they didn't always have to be full screen (although I understand why Metro/Win8 touch apps have to be full screen or minimally tiled, given the touch nature of tablets.)
So, why didn't they release it? Why didn't they make Vista the original Longhorn? Why did they revert back to a more primitive form of windows? Two reasons
. First, the backwards compatibility thing. Microsoft originally rewrote Longhorn from the ground up on an entirely new concept (a concept they are still experimenting with, you can read more about it if you look up their Singularity research project). This brand new totaly rewritten OS lost a significant amount of backward compatibility. Microsoft tried to jettison all the ancient cruft that still litters the OS today, even in Windows 8. They found that they simply couldn't...massive breaking changes to backwards compatibility would have alienated the majority of their existing installed base. Early leaked alphas, as cool as they were, alarmed the most important segment of Microsofts business: The enterprise.
As for the other reason, you already said it: Too much change. Microsoft put billions of dollars into Longhorn, then billions more to "revert" it back into what Vista ended up actually releasing as. Despite how freaking cool Longhorn was...people freaked out about it in early trials. Not the people who thought it was amazing, the people who could see the power buried just underneath the surface....but everyone else. All the hundreds of millions of "average" computer users who expect Windows to always look and behave "just like Windows." The people who abhor change (unless it comes from Apple, of course, Apple is the god-king-fruitloop of the brainwashed masses....
Microsoft, ever since then, has been VERY careful about what they change and how much they change in each new version of Windows. People complain about Windows 8 being too much change...lol...people have NO IDEA what "change" is until they have given Windows Longhorn a try. Windows 8 was a TIMID push into a touch OS. It added a new form of app, and really only changed two major things that all users would see: The start menu became a start screen, and menu bars in built-in desktop apps were changed to ribbon bars. That's it! The changes from Vista to Windows 7 were even more minimal than that. Microsoft has released two additional versions of windows since v8...8.1 and now 8.1U1 (8.2). Both 8.1 and 8.1U1 have also been minimalistic updates. They can't do more than that, they can't add in a ton of features, because if they do, a very meaningfully significant portion of the some BILLION users who run Windows will bitch and moan about it.
Microsoft's taken on the only strategy they can these days: Make some small
changes, see how people react, listen to their feedback, and make a few more small
changes. Rinse, repeat, ad. infi. They wasted billions of dollars making Longhorn...and it was pretty much all pure waste. They can't waste that kind of money again, so the hope of a truly radical, innovative, and ground breaking new operating system (and Microsoft is probably the only company on earth that could pull such a thing off...Apple couldn't, Apple only ever releases individual, isolated feature updates to OS X, and OS X was only successful because of how utterly horrible the original NON-multitasking MacOS was, and the most siginficant thing they have done with iOS is give it a face lift...underneath, it's still the same core OS, and they will never be able to change it lest they bring the ire and wrath of all iPhone and iPad users...hmm, that sounds familiar...) a groundbreaking new operating system is a dead hope. Microsoft learned a painfully expensive lesson from Longhorn. Despite all of us, including myself, who really, really, REALLY wanted Longhorn (and the underlying core WinFS technology) to be released, as well as some of the talked about improvements that were supposed to follow the initial retail release of Longhorn and improve things even more, the masses trumped us.
And that's all that really matters. A significant portion of the masses
, the consumers, abhor change, refuse to accept change, and therefor have saddled Microsoft with an operating system that cannot EVER look ANY different than it has since 1995 (despite the fact that they have all been asking for Microsoft to "change" one thing or another that they personally hate in Windows for decades, they still don't actually want change). The other significant portion of the masses
, the enterprise, can't let go of their ancient
technology, and therefor have saddled Microsoft with an operating system that cannot EVER remove ANY of the ancient cruft sagging in it's underbelly, dragging all the rest of the OS down along with it.
Ironically, Microsoft built an OS that over a billion running computers can't do without, and yet at the same time, built an OS that they cannot change without losing customers. They built themselves their own Catch-22 from which they apparently can never escape...
Mozilla Firefox almost got there with the latest version. I can customize and arrange nearly everything about the toolbars, even the contents and order of what's in the menu. The only thing they dropped the ball on was locking the Stop/Refresh button inside the address bar (it's tiny, too) and removing the Separator from the menu of doo-dads you can choose from to customize the toolbar.
You should look at Opera 12. Before they ditched their own rendering engine and become a Chrome Clone, Opera was the most customizable, feature rich browser on earth. I'm a BIG fan of Opera up through v12. Opera was phenomenal. It was almost like a web operating system in and of itself...it did everything, beyond browsing it was fully skinnable, did email (IMAP, POP), torrent downloads, IRC chat, it had a fully featured widget framework, it was the first browser with tabs, the first browser with tab grouping, the first browser with tab previews and thumbnail tabs, it was the first browser to sync settings across computers, it was pretty much the first browser to do anything. I think the only thing it didn't do first was the FireBug thing...FireBug was first, Opera DragonFly came after. All other browsers copied things from Opera, and even today, Opera 12 is the most feature rich browser I've ever used.
I'm pretty sad that the company ditched their own rendering engine, Presto, for Chromium...Opera is just a Chrome clone now, and a less feature rich one at that (as they have to wait for Chrome itself to be updated before they can integrate the new Chromium engine version into Opera, so Opera versions 15 and up are always behind Chrome). Truly a sad thing.
While I'm at it, if I had a second wish it would be: Store the operating system and programs on one partition and all my files on another by default so re-imaging is quick and easy, without affecting my files/data. I do this manually any time I get a new machine, but I still have to go through and change the default locations of things like My Documents, My Pictures, et cetera. Why mingle all my data on the same logical drive as the OS and programs? If something borks my registry or otherwise pollutes my operating system, I want to just re-image and move on with life.
You should be able to do this. Each version of Windows has had the ability to import settings or import settings and apps from prior installs. If you configured your system drive to point to another drive for all your "User" folders, like Documents, Pictures, etc., you should just be able to import those settings (assuming you didn't format the original drive). In more recent versions of Windows, I believe you can even mount a Windows full-drive backup, and import the settings from that (in the event that your original boot drive fully died.)
As for installing on another drive by default, there would be risks involved in that, especially for less computer literate users. If you've noticed the trend with the Windows install, it has progressively become less and less interactive from the original release of Windows 95. Windows 8 install is almost entirely automated. All you really have to do is pick the partition you want to install on (and maybe create that partition, however if you just pick a new, blank hard drive, it will partition it properly for you as well), and then let the install run. The entire Windows 8.x installs are completely automated, and the only time you actually interact with it is pretty much after the OS is installed, and your just picking your basic settings...what colors, what's your username, do you want to use wifi, etc. I don't even think it asks you for timezone anymore...it figures that out on its own by using the new Windows 8 location service to figure out where you are in the world, and sets the timezone accordingly.
It isn't that hard to redirect your personal folders to another drive, and that's pretty much a one-time thing any time you install, so personally, given that I do the same thing, it isn't at the top of my complaint list.
There is another option for this as well. Windows has supported inline mount points, hard links and symbolic links for quite some time. You could just xcopy your entire user folder to another drive, log into another account (preferably administrator), then either mount that whole entire drive at C:\Users\YourUserName, or symlink it (basically point C:\Users\YourUserName to, say E:\). Then, it would be a simple matter of simply remounting your relinking your user profile any time you reinstalled the system.
(That's another one of Microsofts problems...only technology professionals know about the really cool things you can do with Windows. PowerShell is one of the most amazing features of Windows, and it wipes the floor with Bash and pretty much any other unix/linux shell since it's fully object oriented instead of just text based...but again, only technology professionals know about it.)
Anyway...I guess I'm rambling...