Microsoft Announced Improved Windows 8 file name collision experience

Recently Microsoft has announced that Windows 8 will come with USB 3.0 Support and Some improvemets in Copy/Paste/Move/Rename Operations. Now Microsoft has also announced that Windows 8 will come with improved file name collision. Official Announcement is here:

In the implemented design, there are two levels of control when acting on file name collisions (or “conflicts”).

  • The primary experience is a simplified, one-click, bulk management of all conflicts, offering “Replace all” or “Skip all.” We call this the “Simple Conflict Resolution dialog.”
  • There is also an option to enter the secondary experience which offers more information and more fine-grained control. This is the “Detailed Conflict Resolution dialog.” 

In Windows 8, we want you to be able to get stuff done more quickly and efficiently—”fast and fluid” are key design words around Windows 8 for all of our designs (for touch, mouse/keyboard or both together). The next major design iteration looked at ways that we could follow on from the cohesive copy progress experience, bring queued-up conflicts together into a single dialog, and provide you with the ability to manage them in a more streamlined way.
The idea of optimizing for the “Replace all” or “Skip all” choice was introduced. Most of the time, you know exactly what you’re copying and why it is conflicting, and you can make a simple choice about what action to take.

Figure 5 - Adding bulk management
For cases where you need more information or finer-grained control, we decided to disclose information in “tiers” of greater detail.
We started with two tiers:
Figure 6 - First two-tier

This design offers many positive attributes. It provides a lot of information. Since clicking on the headers selects everything in a column, it provides real power for managing conflicts. But it was a very complex piece of UI to be presenting as the initial experience.

Simple and detailed conflict resolution

It was clear that this design was heading toward a balanced combination of simplicity and power that would suit user patterns.
Unfortunately, we identified a real challenge with this design: when you select “Let me pick,” the result is confusing and overly complex because the simpler and advanced options are both available. This led us to a design where the “Simple Conflict Resolution dialog” and the “Detailed Conflict Resolution dialog” were discrete experiences.
Figure 10 - Basic structure
With this decision, our basic structure was in place.


In preparation for testing with users, we iterated on the design.

  • We cleared up the confusion caused by a single thumbnail.
  • We made the source and destination (and their columns) more apparent.
  • Our User Assistance team (the experts in authoring text we use in the product, assistance, and the web) helped us out with better text. 

Figure 11 - Pre-test
It’s interesting to see the similarities between the Simple Conflict Resolution dialog and some of the earliest designs for dealing with single file conflicts. It’s also interesting how similar they both are to the final design for the dialog.

First round of usability research

In our usability tests our researchers find a diverse set of subjects who don’t work at Microsoft and represent a range of different skill levels and experiences. We show them the software and ask them to complete a set of tasks. By listening as they describe their thought process, using eye-tracking to watch how they see the UI and measuring successful task completion, we gain valuable insights into what works (or not) about a design.
It is super important to understand that usability tests are one tool we use. Anyone who has ever used this tool knows that you have to be both an expert in the domain and also an expert at designing tests themselves as observer bias and test construction can easily lead you to a false sense of security or efforts to optimize an inherently flawed solution. To help us in that regard, our tests are designed by objective researchers who understand the limits of what can be tested and also make sure that the conclusions drawn from the test match what the test was meant to measure. Ultimately, design choices require the use of many different inputs both qualitative and quantitative as well as experience and intuition.
We knew that we’d learn a lot in our first round of usability tests and make many changes, so we used the RITE method as our protocol. Most usability studies test the same UI with all users, but with RITE, we make changes continuously between participants, based on what we learn. (We were testing with PowerPoint slides at this point, so change was cheap.)
We didn’t end up needing to make many changes to the Simple Conflict Resolution dialog as it tested well, but we tested lots of different things for the Detailed Conflict Resolution dialog:

Figure 12 - Dialogs tested for first RITE study
Our key lessons:

  • Check boxes are necessary. As much as we preferred the cleaner no-checkbox look, it simply didn’t test well. Users didn’t know what to do when presented with the UI. Check boxes were much more effective in providing appropriate cues for selection. We made sure to retain a large click-target area, so users can click on the check box, thumbnail, or the text to select a file.Figure 13 - Click target
  • Mixing the adjectives (e.g. “newer,” “larger”) and the metadata was confusing. Users interpreted them as two different concepts. The adjectives were particularly problematic – people thought they were titles, or described the file location (for example, “older” was interpreted to mean the files in the destination because they were present prior to the copy.)
  • Columns needed to be more distinct. At first glance, it looked like the Tiles view in Explorer, rather than a table. 

More refinement

We really struggled with how best to define the hierarchy and importance of source/destination versus conflict rows. We tried vertical lines, which separated the source and destination too much. We ultimately landed on horizontal lines, combined with the file name as a header, to give the most prominence to the distinction between conflicts. The check boxes aided in distinguishing a choice between source and destination without interfering with this distinction.
Some of our earliest ideas were discarded at this point in the process:

  • No default choices. With conflicts scrolling off the page, defaults posed too much of a risk of data loss. No selection in a row results in the copy of that file being skipped, so nothing is lost.
  • No adjectives. We liked “Newer” and “Larger,” but they added confusion and users valued the concrete data.
    Instead, to help users make the choice, we chose a more subtle suggestion – the newer and larger metadata values are bold in the UI. This has proven to be surprisingly effective, without introducing new concepts or adding clutter. 

More usability research

The third option was the clear winner. The two-column view is the most efficient use of space and moves the check boxes close to the question. Date and time need to be on the same line because these are primarily a single value.
The Detailed Conflict Resolution dialog also offers the following features to help when even more information is required to make the decision:

  • Double-clicking the thumbnail opens the file.
  • Right-clicking the thumbnail opens the standard context menu.
  • The blue Source and Destination text are clickable, and open those locations in Explorer.
  • Hovering on the thumbnail or link shows a tooltip with the full file path.

Continuing to iterate

We’ve continued to conduct more studies and make minor changes since the initial research, but the core design has remained basically the same. It has been very encouraging to witness the ease with which users complete usability tasks. Resolving file name collisions is a tricky problem, but users are efficient and successful.

Figure 16 - Final design

Related posts