April 24, 2024

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The “temporary” disk format UI from 1994 is still present in Windows 11

The “temporary” disk format UI from 1994 is still present in Windows 11
Zoom in / If you've formatted a disk in Windows within the past 30 years, you've probably encountered this dialog box.

Andrew Cunningham

Windows 11 has done a lot to refresh and modernize long-neglected parts of the Windows user interface, including many settings menus and venerable apps like Notepad and Paint. But if you dig deep enough, you'll find parts of the UI that look and work as they did in the mid-1990s, either for compatibility reasons or because no one thought to go back and update them.

Former Microsoft programmer Dave Plummer shared some history about one of those ancient bits: the format dialog, which is still used in fully updated Windows 11 installations to this day when formatting a disk with Windows Explorer.

Plummer says he wrote the formatting dialog in late 1994, when the team was busy porting the user interface from the consumer-focused Windows 95 (released in mid-1995) to the more stable but more resource-intensive Windows NT (NT 4.0, released in mid-1996, was the first to use the 95-style user interface).

Disk formatting was “just one of those areas where Windows NT was different enough from Windows 95 that we had to come up with some custom user interface.” Plummer wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Plummer didn't specify what those differences were, but even early versions of Windows NT could already handle multiple file systems like FAT and NTFS, whereas Windows 95 mostly used FAT16 for everything.

“I took out a piece of paper and wrote down all the options and choices you can make regarding disk formatting, such as file system, naming, cluster size, compression, encryption, etc.,” Plummer continued. “Then I got out [Visual] C++ 2.0 and I used the Resource Editor to put together a simple vertical array of all the choices you need to make, in the approximate order in which you need to make them. It wasn't elegant, but it will remain so until the elegant UI arrives. That was almost 30 years ago, and the dialogue has been tentative since that Thursday morning, so be careful when checking for “temporary” solutions!”

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The Windows NT version of the format dialog is the one that still exists today because consumer and professional versions of Windows started using the NT database in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the Windows 2000 and Windows XP versions. A lot has changed since then, but system files like the kernel still have “Windows NT” labels in Windows 11.

Plummer also said that the Format Tool's 32GB limit for FAT volumes was an arbitrary decision he made and one we're still living with among recent versions of Windows – FAT32 drives formatted on the command line or using other tools with a limit of between 2TB and 16TB, depending on the sector size. . It seems strange, but PC ads from late 1994 Advertising Hard drives that are, at most, a few hundred megabytes in size, 3.5-inch, 1.44MB floppy disks, and CD-ROM drives are the best you can do for removable storage. From this standpoint, it would be difficult to imagine Fingernail-sized tablets It can give you 256GB of storage for $20.

Plummer was involved in many bits and pieces of MS-DOS and Windows applications in the 1990s and early 2000s, including task management, Space Cadet Pinball The game, and the first version of the product activation system that ships with Windows XP. Plummer left Microsoft in 2003.

Listing image by GT