After wrestling a vexing notification issue to ground on my Win10 production PC this morning, I found myself thinking philosophically and strategically on this topic. There are lots of things about notifications I like in Windows 10. For example, I really like getting a quick pop-up from Outlook when email hits my inbox, with sender’s name and topic shown. I can easily decide to click the pop-up (which persists for only a few seconds) if I want to read the email. Or I can make a mental note to hit my inbox during my next break, or after lunch, or whatever, if it’s something I want to look at but not this second. On the other hand, lots of pop-ups also irritate me. Highest on that list are pop-ups that include advertising or promotional content. As soon as I realize I’m seeing such stuff, I try to figure out how to turn it off as soon as I can. Sometimes that takes a while, because I’m busy doing other stuff. Sometimes that takes a while, because the app or application vendor makes it “non-obvious” how to squelch such stuff. Sigh.
Win10’s Built-in Notification Controls
Leaving aside notification controls in the apps themselves — and many, if not most, do include such capability — I visited the “Notifications and actions” section in Settings to see what Windows 10 has to offer to help manage the noise level. What I found there reminds me of this epigram from Blake’s Proverbs of Heaven and Hell: “Enough, or too much?” Except in Windows 10’s case, it’s actually “Not enough, or too much?” Let me illustrate, then explain:
General notification controls are extremely broad, and boil down to massive on/off toggles.
Per-sender notification controls are also only on/off toggles.
There are 25 items under the Settings/Senders list ranging in alphabetical order from AutoPlay to Xbox Identity Provider. I’d like to see MS introduce a ranking scheme for notifications along the lines of information only, important, and must-see/critical. Then, instead of a simple on-off toggle for senders, and the requirement for app and application vendors to provide their own notification interfaces and controls, I’d like to see a standard notification UI that automatically plugs everything into this interface with one toggle for each level. Make ads and promotional items “information only” as a matter of required policy. Provide users with a UI control that lets them toggle all settings in a class (all “information only” toggles for everything with a single super-toggle) so users can easily mute their systems. I’d also like to see a control that says “Show in notification area only. No pop-ups” That way, I can occasionally flip through notifications, read what interests me, and scrap the rest on my terms, and on my schedule.
Right now, it’s a giant pain to have to dig into and learn the notification controls on per-app and per-application basis. I’m voting here and now for centralization and rationalization for notifications, so as to hand users faster, easier, and simpler control over their own systems and desktops. This is an area where Microsoft can actually do some good. If app or application developers don’t want to write to the notification UI, they can use other mechanisms to communicate with users. But if they do want to sent notifications, please: let’s get today’s wild and wooly wilderness under control!
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.