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Why Didn’t Windows Fix My Pet Peeve?

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I have a question that no one has been able to answer so far. Over the years and the last few versions of Windows that I’ve used, Windows Explorer still shows file sizes in KB, and folders no size. I’m currently dealing with files that are between 300MB to 3GB+. I was hoping that when the latest version came out they would have fixed this problem and I could see my file sizes in KB, MB, or GB. All the other non-Windows operating systems I’ve played with automatically show files in their proper notation. Is this a bug in windows or is MS to lazy to fix this program and give us only  this second rate software? If you could help clear this up I would greatly appreciate it.

This is a common question.

Not the file-size-display issue, but rather the more general question: “Why didn’t Microsoft fix this?” where “this” is a person’s pet peeve or a system bug.

Asking “Why?” is in most cases an exercise in frustration; rarely will you get a clear answer. But I can theorize many legitimate reasons for not addressing something like this.

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Unimaginably complex

Most folks fail to understand how incredibly complex an operating system like Windows has become.

Windows must work:

  • On a staggeringly large number of different computers, over which Microsoft has only limited control
  • With a staggeringly large number of different peripherals, over which Microsoft has almost no control
  • With an even more staggering number and arbitrary mix of those computers and peripherals
  • In several different editions (Home, Pro, Enterprise, and others)
  • In many different languages
  • Running a plethora of different applications from an innumerable number of vendors
  • Performing an incredible number of tasks and solve an unimaginable number of problems, none of which can be predicted.

Some days it’s amazing it works at all. (And yes, this is where the anti-Windows crowd screams in unison, “It doesn’t!”).

Making any change to it, no matter how trivial, can have dramatic repercussions.

Possible reasons

Using the original complaint as an example, let me theorize why the file-size display hasn’t been changed. (Important: I’m using this only as an example. These same reasons probably apply to any random feature/bug you think should have been fixed or changed but hasn’t been.)

It would break something

This has long been Microsoft’s Achilles heel. It’s something the company has dealt with constantly since its earliest days.1 Even though it seems each release breaks something, they spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to avoid that.

“Breaking things” may not mean the things you and I as users see. Perhaps it breaks a testing tool or some form of automation. Perhaps the fix would break something you and I would never care about — something internal to Microsoft or something important to corporate users, for instance.

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature

This classic line actually has more relevance than you might think.

While to you it might seem “obvious” that a 10-gigabyte file might be better represented as “10GB” than “10,000,000KB”, that may in fact not be the case. There may be legitimate reasons for the feature to stay exactly the way it is that we don’t have the knowledge to appreciate.

It might be too costly to change

Frustrated with computer “How hard can it be?” is a phrase that software engineers hear all the time.

The short answer is, “It can be really, really hard.”

Consider something as simple as the display of a number. It’s not just about changing the math and choosing the right suffix (KB, MB, GB, TB, etc.). It’s also about things like localization: some countries use commas while others use decimal points to separate number groups, and then there’s the whole reading left-to-right or right-to-left display issue. A small change can become incredibly expensive to implement.

And every change must be tested in all those configurations.

It might already be there

Sometimes people complain about “missing” features that are just a click away, already existing in another location or technique.

For instance, if you hover the mouse over a file in Windows File Explorer (unless you’re in the “Details” view), the tooltip displays the size of the file expressed in just the notation you’re asking for. The fact that this information is available in one place lowers the priority of it being “fixed” in another.

It might not be important enough

Which would you rather have Microsoft do: make Windows more stable and secure, or fix the display of file sizes? “Both” is not an option, since resources are limited. (And, no, you can’t just add more people to a software project. There’s a very accurate adage about that: “Adding more people to a late project makes it later.”)

I choose security every time. Compared to the larger issues we want Microsoft to address, and that Microsoft may also prioritize, fixing your pet peeve often just doesn’t make it in.

It might not be considered important at all

It’s clear the person asking the question feels very strongly about this particular issue. But, to be totally honest, I’ve never even noticed it before. My gut reaction was, “OK, that’d be cool, but is it really that important?” It feels more like a minor annoyance.

I don’t mean to minimize issues you feel passionate about, but it’s frequently the case that in the grand scheme of things, these issues are low in priority simply because no one else noticed. It’s just not considered a big deal — or even a small deal.

Remember, I’m just guessing here, but for this specific feature, the fact the functionality is actually available in the tooltip makes me believe there’s probably a compatibility issue preventing it from being implemented in the size column. Much of the implementation work and testing matrix may well have been addressed by the tooltip.

That is all total guesswork on my part, based on being a software engineer who worked there for many years. I could be totally wrong.

Changes and breaks

The next logical question to ask is, “OK, if they didn’t fix my issue, why did they fix, change, and break all the things they did? Surely that was more work and broke more things than my little issue would have?”

And that is a very valid question.

Unfortunately, the answer is as vague and speculative as the reasons for not fixing or implementing something.

A lot of research and effort goes into deciding what features “make the cut” when a new version of Windows is released. And arguing — there’s lots of arguing, as well.

Most of the “big” new features and changes are part of a larger theme. Windows 10’s UI revamp is a good example. Microsoft spends a lot of time and effort designing and evaluating UI changes to make sure they work for people. You might feel that they fail in that regard, or you might simply not agree, but that’s generally what’s happening: a few major themes are selected, and hundreds, if not thousands, of changes result.

Smaller items are likely more haphazard. Product support representatives, designers, test engineers2 and software engineers all have a say in what goes in, and they all have differing opinions — just as you and I do — about what is and is not important to the next version.

As deadlines loom and the product needs to ship, some of those previously agreed-on features and fixes get tossed anyway. Often cuts are made, saying, “We’ll get to it next version,” but the pragmatic reality is, when the next version comes around, they may say, “If it’s wasn’t important enough for the last version, maybe we don’t need to address it at all.”

There’s no great answer

I’m sure people who are passionate about one feature or another, or folks who are anti-Windows and anti-Microsoft, will consider this a totally insufficient answer.

I don’t think there is a clear, complete, or sufficient answer. It depends on the issue, the timing, and on so many things out of anyone’s control and out of the public eye.

With each release, update, and patch, Microsoft makes a combination of technical, user, and business-related decisions. How those all combine into specific features and product changes is much like making sausage: you probably don’t really want to know.

One thing I can assure you of: “lazy” has nothing to do with it.

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Footnotes & References

1: I started in 1983, and even then we were deeply concerned about “backwards compatibility” — meaning we did not want to break software that previously worked — to the point that we would “un-fix” bugs because important applications relied on the buggy behavior.

2: Those that are left, anyway. That’s a peeve for another day.

Posted: May 7, 2020 in: Windows
This is an update to an article originally posted April 9, 2008
Shortlink: https://askleo.com/3345
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19 comments on “Why Didn’t Windows Fix My Pet Peeve?”

  1. As to why Explorer doesn’t show folder size, I quote Raymond Chen of The Old New Thing:

    “[Explorer doesn’t recursively show folder size as an optional column for] the same reason \ does not autocomplete to all the computers on the network (see http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2005/01/11/350628.aspx): Because it would destroy corporate networks.

    Showing folder sizes “all the time” means that when you open, say, the root of a large server, Explorer would start running around recursively enumerating every single directory on the server in order to compute the folder sizes. One person doing this to a server is bad enough. Imagine if hundreds of people did it simultaneously: The server would be hammered continously.

    Even worse: imagine doing this across a limited-bandwidth link like a VPN or an overseas link. The link would be saturated with file enumerations and wouldn’t have any bandwidth remaining for “real work”. Even the change-notifications that Explorer registers are cause for much hair-pulling on corporate networks. (See http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=330929 — and these are change-notifications, which are passive.)

    Even on a home computer, computing folder sizes automatically is is still not a good idea. How would you like it if opening a folder caused Explorer to start churning your disk computing all the folder sizes recursively? (Then again, maybe you don’t mind, in which case, go nuts: http://blogs.msdn.com/noahc/archive/2007/02/26/folder-size-for-windows-explorer.aspx)

    Of course, the question sidesteps the question the linked article — http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2004/12/28/336219.aspx#345978 — tries to address, namely, “What do you mean by the size of a directory anyway?” “

    Source: http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2007/10/29/5750353.aspx

    Reply
  2. Then there are people like me who want the exact opposite of what you give as an example. I want to know the exact byte size of a file, and “127KB” isn’t accurate enough, and “2.3GB” even less so. (For example, someone uses ftp to copy a file between Windows and Unix, and I need them to verify that they used binary mode and the file size didn’t change.) Yes, I can have them right-click and select “properties”, or drop to a command prompt, but “why should I have to?”

    On a side note, explorer isn’t consistent in displaying file sizes. For example, I have a document that is 30,807 bytes in size. Explorer shows “31KB” in the listing, “30KB” if you hover over the filename, and “30.0K” if you select “properties”.

    Reply
  3. I am a compulsive feedback giver – I don’t feel I can grumble unless I have given people the opportunity to rectify matters. I have never managed to give Microsoft any feedback. Only people who pay for additional support appear able to speak to them.

    Reply
    • If you use Windows 10, you absolutely CAN “speak to them”! It is easy! Open the Feedback Hub app, and follow the prompts to provide feedback on any problem you have found. Note: You can also make a suggestion in Feedback Hub. “Problem” or “Suggestion” is (IIRC) the first choice you make when entering a submission. The good news about the Feedback Hub is that our submissions are seen by the specific team that works with the part of Windows 10 for which you are providing feed back.

      Reply
  4. What’s the big deal? If you hover over a folder Vista gives you the approximate size, if you right click/ properties the folder you get it to the last byte.

    Reply
  5. Of this statement I’m not 100% certain. I seem to remember, back in the OLD days, a small BAT file that would give an exact size count. What I remember was you opened the file and ran the BAT and got a result. At that time storage, e-mail and so much more were very size restricted and it was absolutely required that users remained at or below certain size limits. Of course this was in the military so I’m uncertain if this was some military thing or if it was available to the general public.

    If anybody else recalls anything about this I would like to know and if possible get a copy of the BAT file. Just for grins you know!

    Thanks.

    Ray

    Reply
  6. Hi There Leo;

    There’s also a ”thing” that i never could’ve understand of Ms/Windows & that is ”Why can’t i Password Protect” a Folder in windows.
    For example if i’ve to bring my laptop for service, or if somebody else is using it etc etc.
    Especially for when i’ve to bring it to service, see i’ve a lot of music store on my drive that i’m currently working on it and i’m so scared to send it to do repair because i don’t know how to password protect the folders so nobody can snoop or copy anything (Electronic music).
    I need some help with that issue please.
    Anyway thank you very much for the good advises and lesson over the years;)
    I Keep following you no matter what;)

    Thank you kindly & Be save out there.

    Marlon

    Reply
  7. Hovering over a file in “details view”, as well as the other views will give the file size in KB, MB, or GB – at least in Windows 10. The numbers do not match. One considers a KB as 1000 bytes, the other as 1024 bytes.

    Reply
    • That is quite true.

      However, Directory Opus, the far superior file manager for those who really need to manage files, actually does show file sizes in KB, MB, and GB by default in details view. Of course, you’ve got to pay for Directory Opus. But it gives you far more control over how the files and directories are displayed including the use of customizable tabs like a browser and all sorts of other goodies not available in File Explorer.

      Reply
      • I second the use of Directory Opus. I’ve been a user for years now and would never go back to File Explorer. Well worth the money and it’s got way more features built in.

        Reply
  8. Great article Leo. You thoroughly covered all aspects of software development involved in making a change. I hope Microsoft doesn’t use this list as excuses for the next mess up.

    Reply
  9. One reason for not doing the MB/GB/TB conversion is WHICH standard do you want to use.
    Windows uses binary counts to be “computer friendly”. It is a “backwards compatibility” issue to the very start of computing when the computers really didn’t have the power to worry about converting binary file sizes to decimal sizes which people are more comfortable with.
    .
    Personally, I would prefer listing bit/byte counts in decimal, since that is the way most people think. Listing them in binary is a geek thing.
    .
    Drive makers typically market their drives using decimal sizes, which appear to be “bigger”. 1TB Decimal is nine hundred some-odd GB Binary. Originally, the difference at the KB level is 2%, but at the TB level it is 10%. This difference is becoming more significant as file size bloat continues.
    Symbol Decimal Binary Byte Count
    Prefix Abbrev meaning % Difference
    B 10^0 B 8 bits 0 byte 0%
    K kilo 10^1 KB 2^10 = 1024^1 24 byte 2.40%
    M mega 10^6 MB 2^20 = 1024^2 47.4 KiB 4.86%
    G giga 10^9 GB 2^30 = 1024^3 70.3 MiB 7.37%
    T tera 10^12 TB 2^40 = 1024^4 92.7 GiB 9.95%
    P peta 10^15 PB 2^50 = 1024^5 117,253.4 GiB 114.5 TiB 12.59%
    E exa 10^18 EB 2^60 = 1024^6 142,419,249.4 GiB 135.8 PiB 15.29%
    Z zetta 10^21 ZB 2^70 = 1024^7 168,189,053,160.5 GiB 156.6 EiB 18.06%
    Y yotta 10^24 YB 2^80 = 1024^8 194,577,332,227,145.5 GiB 177.0 ZiB 20.89%

    Yes I know that 2^10 does not equal 1024^1, but that is the marketing comparison that is happening

    Reply
  10. so much for all of the pretty formatting I did on my table. I HATE when these input boxes strip spaces…

    Reply
  11. you have pointed out what are surely valid points. but you’ve ignored others which I don’t think have excuses. I think they’re done to push people to get rid of windows 7 and accept windows 10.

    My favorite example is that for the last while, windows 7 still thinks it’s on the last wireless network I was at. I’m now 20 miles away, and it’ll stay forever telling me I’m still connected to a network that’s 20 miles away. I have to tell it to look for networds and then ask it to connect to one on its very own list of connect automatically networks.

    Do you really have an excuse for Microsoft on this one?

    Reply
    • Leo isn’t excusing Microsoft. He’s basically saying, it is what it is and we have no control over that. Unfortunately, that problem will never be addressed because Microsoft is no longer fixing bugs in Windows 7. It costs companies money to maintain systems and Microsoft offers Windows 10 to users of Windows 7 & 8. That’s what they are offering as a fix. It was worse when Windows XP went out of support the only way to upgrade was to pay for the new OS.
      As for the problem in your question, that sounds like a bug. When you click on the Network icon, there should be a disconnect button next to that connection. Does clicking on the Disconnect button offer you the choice of available networks?

      Reply
    • Sure. Windows 7 is no longer supported. Sounds like a simple bug to me. It most certainly wasn’t something ADDED to make you move to 10. (FWIW you can instruct Windows 7 (and 8 and 10) to “forget” previously connected wireless networks. I recommend you do so.)

      Reply

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