Features we need in computers

There have been many improvements to computer operating systems over the years, features added and features removed that people still want. For instance, I’d love to have a Windows XP-style Start menu again where I can create my own folders and move shortcuts around how I want them, instead of having to create a ‘quicklaunch’ folder pinned to the task bar next to the system tray. Or pin them to the Windows 10 Start menu where even if you resize them down to just the small icons, they still take up the same space as before and have huge blue margins around them instead of fitting neatly against each other.

But one feature I’d really like to see in Windows is time-delayed dialogue boxes or the ability to lock out whether they respond to the keyboard.

Computers multitask. We can have something running in the background while we work on something else. When a program needs us to make a choice, it pops up a dialogue box. This becomes the “focus window”, the active window that’s on top of all the others.

But what happens if the dialogue box happens to pop up while we’re working on a document that involves a lot of typing? Answer: your random keystrokes are likely to activate a choice in the dialogue box, especially since the space bar and Enter is an alternate way of clicking on the selected button in the box. Result: the box flashes for a second and disappears, and you have no idea what you did.

Solution: Dialogue boxes with a time delay where they do not respond to keyboard input for five seconds. This gives you time to stop typing, look at what the computer is displaying, then make a decision about how to proceed. That can be to click on one of the choices, move the dialogue box off to the side and get back to it later, or whatever.

Better yet, this could be matched with an option inside the Control Panel: Add time delay to lock out keyboard input on all dialogue boxes. If you set it to yes, all dialogue boxes would have to wait that five seconds before the keyboard affects them.


I want to marry this idea and have it’s children.

It seems so much more of an issue in 10 than the last couple versions.

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Or you could just have all non-user-initiated dialogs NOT steal focus, like most sane OSes/window managers do.


I’m not sure about that idea. It sounds potentially really annoying.

I kind of miss mac OS’ “Sheets” that were big in early Mac OS X, but are much less common now. They’re kind of a modal dialog, but stuck to a specific window… So imagine a ‘save’ dialog that attaches to a specific document window.

To add to the topic, I’d like to see better modular hardware features for desktops/laptops. I kind of miss my old Powerbook G3 that had big huge drive bays that could hold a hard drive, optical drive, secondary battery, etc. Everything now seems to focus on making them super thin instead.

I’ve had Compaq and Dell laptops that had this versatility, too. Bonus: The Dell floppy drive module has a Mini USB port, so it can be plugged in via cable! We still use them at work for a couple things.

I had a random idea last week about if it would be possible to do a sort of “slide-on” system so a laptop could accommodate 1-3 modules. Sort of a rail/slot mechanism, but with connection points. Making sure it’s dust-free would be a challenge.

There’s an interesting “expansion module” coming soon for the newest MacBook pros that essentially replaces the bottom plate of the laptop, but it uses a kind of ugly/goofy “C-shaped” USB-C cable to interface with the rest of the hardware.

So, like a Tandy 1000? PCjr and Tandy 1000

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I don’t remember anything like that on my Tandy 1000. I used that thing for 11 years, too. 684k of RAM, 2 5 1/4 floppies and a 2400 baud modem by the time I got done upgrading it. :wink:

I think it was for the PCjr. I had both and can’t remember which one used it. But I do remember plugging in the extra 2" of memory or the speech module.

So the step into the future is the past?

Here’s the MacBook Pro expander if anyone’s interested: I’m hoping Ars will review one when it’s released:


My random idea was that the bottom of a laptop would be manufactured so 1-2 thin modules could be slid on. There’s a ton of issues there, like making it lopsided if you only have one expansion. Also everything would be thicker because external modules need thicker skins.

There was a really neat Apple R&D project back in the 80s or 90s to do a sort of ‘common bus rail’ design where modules can be stacked. Really neat, but didn’t work for various reasons. I think a PC company was working on something similar, but I don’t know if it ever shipped. Consider adding a video card by plugging in a video card module, without opening the case required.

Expander looks nifty, but it’s sad that it is needed.
Does it have a big honkin’ battery?

I think the modules system was underutilized because it made the computer less conveniently mobile. If you’re packing extra modules, you’re adding bulk and weight to your bag. Plus, if they’re floating around your backpack or whatever, they’re more likely to get smashed and damaged.

I want a TURBO button.


My MSI motherboard comes with a turbo setting, I considered overclocking the damn thing, why the hell would I turn turbo off?

It shouldn’t take clicking on something three or four times to get a selection to un-highlight. This is mostly in web browsers when you click on the address bar to make a modification to the URL you want to go to, but I’ve also seen it when picking a file to rename: one click to select, another click to signal you want to rename it, then clicking a third time to get it to stop highlighting the whole name.


In all the enhancements and changes to Microsoft Excel over the years, why does it still mangle comment boxes whenever a column is moved or deleted? Hey, Microsoft. Here’s an idea I’ll give you for free: relative positioning. Just like you can have relative links instead of hard-coded URLs in web pages, use relative positioning for determining where to display a comment.

“Does this cell have a comment attached? Yes. Position to draw the comment box is X pixels to the right of the cell and Y pixel below the cell.” If it needs to be displayed to the left or up, use negative numbers. Account for if the position would hit one of the borders of the window Excel is running in and scoot the comment box slightly if necessary.

There have been over a dozen major versions of Excel in the 31 years of its existence. Moving or deleting a column should not leave the comment where it used to be, nor should it alter the size of the box to a zero-pixel-wide box. This should have been fixed years ago so that people don’t have to keep re-adjusting the comment boxes every time they move something.

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I don’t trust Excel to draw to the screen correctly. I have an old process I’m involved with that should be going away real soon now that involves a shared excel doc with a couple thousand rows, and regularly have issues with it drawing “blank” cells which only paint correctly when selected.

Hah, deleting a column in a table in Word shouldn’t summon Cthulu to modify the whole rest of the document either.

But as sure as ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, as soon as I move that one thing all of a sudden my bullet points are leaking blood and dancing on the page.


In my opinion, they broke Word tables in Word 2010 (I think. Maybe 2007?). Before that if you specified a column width, IT HELD THAT WIDTH, even if you deleted another column, thereby reducing the width of the table overall.

No longer. Now there’s some nameless, partially unknowable interaction between table width and column width, that if you change one you MIGHT bork the rest. But not always. Just sometimes. Except on alternate Tuesdays.

Yeah, I’ve run into the Word table/column width strangeness, too. It is like they are using voodoo to summon spirits of the insane deceased to control the widths, rather than logic.