Task Manager is one of the most widely used apps, and it has a long history. It showed up in early versions of Windows as a simple utility to close and switch between programs, and has had functionality added to it through several releases to make it what it is today.
As we mentioned during the Windows 8 keynote at //build/, every 15 years or so we choose to update Task Manager. Of course that was said in jest as we have incrementally improved the utility in just about every release of Windows. For Windows 8, we took a new look at the tool and thought through some new scenarios and a new way of tuning the tool for "both ends of the spectrum" in terms of end-users and those that need very fine-grained control over what is going on with their PC. Ryan Haveson, the group program manager of our In Control of Your PC team, authored this post. Note: This post is about Task Manager, not about closing Metro style applications :-)
Figure 1: Windows 3.0 Task List
Figure 2: Windows NT 4.0 Task Manager (now with “new task”)
Figure 3: Windows XP Task Manager (with new Networking and Users tabs)
Figure 4: Windows 7 Task Manager
- Build a tool that was well designed, thoughtful, and modern. After all, even a technical tool can benefit from a focus on design.
- Fill some of the functionality gaps that drove some of our most technical customers to use other tools such as Resource Monitor and Process Explorer.
- Organize and highlight the richness of data available to make it more elegant and clear for those who want access to a new level of data.
To really make Task Manager great at what it currently does, we wanted to first understand how people were using it. Over the years, it had grown to support many different scenarios. As of Windows 7, you could use Task Manager to close applications, to find out detailed data about your processes, to start or stop services, to monitor your network adaptor, or even to perform basic system administrator tasks for currently logged on users. That is a lot of functionality.
Because of the investments we made in telemetry, we had some pretty good data to start with. We combined this with individual customer interviews and observation in the research lab to understand what people were doing with Task Manager and why they were doing it.
Figure 5: Which tabs are people using?
This data is pretty interesting. What it shows is that people are spending most of their time using the first two tabs, which are pivoted around views of applications and processes. Although it is not surprising, it was interesting to see that the usage was roughly evenly split between the Applications tab and the Process tab. This indicates that there must be some significant detail lacking in the Applications tab, which is causing people to go to the Process tab. So, next we looked at how people were using the Process tab to understand what they were doing there.
Figure 6: Many users sort the process view on resource usage
So next we looked at what actions people take in Task Manager.
Figure 7: The goal is often to close or “kill” an app or process
Click to view a larger version of this chart
Goals of the new Task Manager.
Based on all of the data and our background research, we decided to focus energy on three key goals:
- Optimize Task Manager for the most common scenarios. Focus on the scenarios that the data points to: (1) use the applications tab to find and close a specific application, or (2) go to the processes tab, sort on resource usage, and kill some processes to reclaim resources.
- Use modern information design to achieve functional goals. Build a tool that is thoughtful and modern by focusing on information design and data visualization to help achieve the functional scenario goals.
- Don’t remove functionality. While there are some notable core scenarios, there is a really long list of other, less frequent usage scenarios for Task Manager. We explicitly set a goal to not remove functionality, but rather to augment, enhance, and improve.
Figure 8: Fewer details view