» » » The Windows 8 Task Manager, Chapter 2.

By: Hugo Luis Alberto Repetto Posted date: November 15, 2011 Comments: 0

Scenario #1: Ending processes quickly and efficiently.

We know from many third-party tools (or tools like sysinternals Process Explorer) there are many things we could add to Task Manager for power users, but we knew we had to first address the mainstream users because we didn’t want to create something that would overwhelm the majority of our customers.

We will of course continue to value third-party tools as they allow for specialization and unique innovation around this and many tasks. For the default view, we designed a minimalist experience that appeals to the needs of the broadest customer base and most common scenario. When you launch Task Manager for the first time in Windows 8, you see a very clean view of your running apps. We made the default view great at one thing: killing misbehaving apps. And we removed everything that did not directly support that core scenario.

Default view of Task Manager in Windows 8, showing a list of 7 applications running, and one of these, Microsoft Sync Center is “not responding.” There is one button: “End Task”
 Figure 10: Default view of Task Manager in “Windows 8”
The value of the default view is all about what we took out. We removed everything not focused on the core task of killing apps, which makes the design focused and efficient. Specifically:
  • We took out the tabs from this view, since they distract from the core scenario.
  • We removed the menu bar from the default view.
  • This view shows just the apps, and removes individual windows that can’t be killed anyway.
  • We took out things that clutter the experience, such as resource usage stats and technical concepts that most users don’t understand.
  • No double prompts. If you click ”End task” we don’t ask you, “Are you sure?”, we just kill the app, and quickly! (But be careful, because we also won’t prompt you to save!)
Check out how much cleaner and more focused the new Task Manager is compared to the Windows 7 Task Manager with the same applications and windows opened:
: image of Windows 7 Task Manager, Applications tab, showing a long, scrolling list of multiple instances of the same app, plus 3 buttons: End Task, Switch To, and New Task.
Image of Windows 8 Task Manager, Applications tab, with a simple list of 7 running applications, and one button: End Task. 
Figure 11: Windows 7 and Windows 8 Task Managers, compared
After taking out all of the extras, you are left with a tool that is great at one thing: killing a misbehaving app. And this is perfect for many users who are experiencing the pain of a “not responding” app that won’t go away using the app’s Close button.

Scenario #2: Diagnosing performance issues.

A lot of what is new with Task Manager is shown only when you go to the “More details” view. This is the realm of the power user, so keep in mind that mainstream users may never want to get into this level of detail, and all of their needs should be met by the ”Fewer details” view above.
Here is what you will see in this new view:

More details view of Windows 8 Task Manager, Processes tab, showing columns for Process, Status, CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network. Content in columns is shaded different colors to indicate the highest numbers for each item.
Figure 12: The new processes tab and the heat map

The heat map.

The most noticeable difference in the new processes tab is the new heat map, which represents different values with color. Our telemetry data told us that it was very common for users to go to the process tab, sort by CPU or memory utilization, and then look for applications consuming more resources than expected. The nice thing about a heat map is that it allows you to monitor anomalies across multiple resources (network, disk, memory, and CPU utilization) all at the same time, without having to sort the data. It also allows you to find the hot spot instantly without needing to read numbers or understand concepts or specific units. In usability studies we used an eye-tracking system to test what users looked at when presented with various ways of visualizing this information. This helped us narrow our choices to a design that efficiently draws user’s eyes to the most significant resource problems. Below you can see the eye movement of a participant in one of our eye-tracking studies overlaid on top of a screen shot of what he was looking at. The red dot indicates a place where his eye paused, and the lines show where his eye had quickly moved from previously.

Network and disk counters.
Many power users supplement their usage of Task Manager with other tools such as Resource Monitor simply because in the past Task Manager did not show per-process network and disk attribution. This was a gap, when you consider that a spinning disk or multiple applications competing for network bandwidth are the root cause of many perceptible PC performance issues. The new Task Manager now shows these resources at the same level of detail as memory and CPU.

Lighting up the resource usage.
One of the biggest causes of PC performance issues is resource contention. When a particular resource is being used at a rate above a threshold number, the column header will light up to draw your attention to it. Think of this as a warning indicator, letting you know a good place to start looking if you are experiencing performance issues. Below, you can see that the CPU column header is highlighted to draw your attention to the fact that you may have multiple applications competing for CPU time.

Details view of Task Manager Processes tab, showing one application at 94.2% CPU, another at 1.8% CPU, and the column header for CPU shaded a darker color to indicate that CPU is a “hot spot”
Figure 13: Resource usage indicators

Grouping by applications, background processes, and Windows processes.

A big challenge with today’s Task Manager is that it is hard to know which processes correspond to an application (apps are generally safe to kill), which are Windows OS processes (killing some of these can cause a blue screen), and which are miscellaneous background processes that may need to be explored more deeply. The new Task Manager shows processes grouped by type, so it is easy to keep these separated while still providing an ungrouped view for situations where you need it.

New task manager showing processes grouped by type: Applications, Background processes, and Windows processes.
Figure 14: Grouping by process type

Friendly names for background processes (and services, and everything else).

Looking at the screen shot above, do you see the line item for "Print driver host for applications"? In the old Task Manager, this showed up as “splwow64.exe”.
But if you still want to see the executable name, of course you can add it back as an optional column.

Grouping top-level windows by app.

One of the most distracting parts of the old Task Manager is that the Applications tab was a flat list that included all of the top-level windows from all processes in the system. While the list of top-level windows is interesting information to have, it is often overwhelming to look at and sometimes a single window cannot be killed without closing all the other windows for that process. To address this, the new Task Manager now groups top-level windows under their parent process. It allows for a much cleaner view for typical usage, helps you focus on killable processes, process resource usage, and allows you to see which windows are owned by each process so you know what will be closed if you kill it.

new task manager showing an expandable/collapsible list of 6 different Outlook messages grouped under a single Microsoft Outlook parent process.
Figure 15: Grouping top-level windows by process

What’s a fussvc.exe?.

Have you ever looked through the process list, seen something like “fussvc.exe” and wondered what it was? Adding friendly names was a good first step to resolving this problem (fusssvc.exe is actually the Fast User Switching Utility Service), but of course, to really find out what this process is, you need to search the web. The new Task Manager integrates a search context menu on right-click, so you can go directly to your default search engine (which you can customize) to see more details and relevant information. This can make a huge difference when deciding whether a background process is doing something useful or just wasting cycles.

Search the web for details on obscure processes
Figure 16: Search the web for details on obscure processes

Search results for “fussvc.exe Fast User Switching Utility Service”
Figure 17: Search results for “fussvc.exe Fast User Switching Utility Service”

Service host details and friendly names.

If you open up Windows 7 Task Manager to the Processes tab and select “Show process from all users,” you will probably see eight seemingly identical instances of “svchost.exe”. This is one of the most commonly noted "not very informative" sources of information we provided. Of course, some of you know that this is really just a service host process and you can add the PID column, go to the services tab, sort by PID, see which services correlate to that PID, and then reverse-look-up friendly names for each of the services… but that is a lot of work (and not everybody knows this)! With the new Task Manager, we show all of the services grouped by process with friendly names for each of them, so you instantly can see what is going on when an instance of svchost is consuming a lot of resources:

Windows 8 Task Manager showing a list of several services under the parent process:“Service Host: Local Service”.Figure 18: Service host grouping and details
As you can see, we added quite a lot to the new Task Manager (and we only showed you the first tab!). Task Manager was a unique opportunity for user experience designers and researchers working together with technical program managers and engineers to create a clean, organized, and efficient design. We made it more streamlined for mainstream users, and more detailed for power users.


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