The Video Editor & Photos Apps, or: Why Windows 10 Apps Suck October 16th, 2020

You get a lot of applications bundled with your copy of Windows 10:

  • Mixed Reality Viewer
  • 3D Builder
  • Paint 3D
  • Mobile Plans
  • Your Phone ...

In a market with nonexistent product competition and no real consumer alternatives, I don't think Windows 10 - the operating system, not the suite of apps it comes with - sucks, if only by lack of a better alternative. Some of you might think this is a comparison to macOS, so let me nip that in the bud right now: I couldn't care less about comparing them. Use your preference - I don't care. The reason Windows 10 sucks is because of everything that happens - by Microsoft - on the operating system.

You see, among this grand collection of undesirable applications there are two that stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of unadulterated design incompetence: the Video Editor and Photos apps.

The Photos app is an essential part of the Windows 10 experience for many users. Let me present you with a problem: I challenge you to view an image that's larger than your monitor's resolution in the Photos app at one-to-one scale. To view the image at its actual resolution. This should be as simple as double-clicking on the image file to open it in Photos, but you're not looking at your image: you're looking at a blurry version of it. There's a salami menu in the top right and under it you can click "View actual size" to opt out of its automatic image scaling. If you manipulate the Photos app in any way after clicking this it will reset to display a blurry image again, to reassert itself that you don't know how to view images and shouldn't concern your head with such strenuous tasks. There are countless third-party applications that do a better job at viewing images and if you open images containing text every blue moon, you probably already have one. I don't know if this is too hard of a problem to solve for Microsoft, or if they think their users are too simple-minded to care, but I find the connotation that I, the user, am too stupid to interact with an image greatly insulting.

After an update, Microsoft introduced the Video Editor app for simple video editing. There are rare occasions when I need to cut or trim a video recording, so I appreciate this addition. Let me put emphasis on to cut or trim, because in the first versions of this Video Editor that was really all you could do. Erm... correction - you couldn't actually cut videos, because that functionality didn't work. You could cut your video to produce two smaller videos but this produced two problems: any clips that weren't the starting clip would play at an incorrect position so as to skip a part of the clip, and any further attempts to cut the video resulted in even more incorrect clips. Almost as if the team behind this app was determined to convince us of their inability to make a useful Video Editor, there was another problem that reeked of design incompetence. Like any video editing program worth its weight in snowflakes it let you change the playback speed of clips, but Microsoft apparently considered their users so simple-minded (is a trend emerging here?) that they would only ever need a predetermined set of playback speeds that essentially correlated to "slow, normal, fast, super fast". I was relieved to find that they've since fixed both of these issues (playback speed is now a slider). It took them months to fix.

The Video Editor app is fairly decent today. I use it to do my simple edits when I need to share a screen recording with someone. It gets the job done and I like it. Now we're getting to what led me to rant about these two apps to begin with. (If you're still here, good job enduring the two previous paragraphs; I know they're boring.) There's a very unique design relationship between the Video Editor app and the Photos app. While the Video Editor is decent for very basic editing of videos, it doesn't support MKV video files. If you've ever used OBS to record your screen, you likely know that MKV is its default output video format. If the official program for videos on Windows 10 doesn't support MKV files, you would be forgiven for thinking we would need a third-party program to perform a conversion for us, but that's not the case. Luckily, Windows 10 comes with another pre-installed app that does support MKV video files: Photos. That's right, the official image app supports a video file format that's unsupported by the official video editing app. It doesn't end there, because the Photos app can actually also edit videos. Surprise! It doesn't have the same capabilities as the Video Editor for this (if for no other reason than to serve as evidence that they're not built from the same base), but it does let you trim videos. The key thing is that Photos will output your trimmed video as an MP4 video, essentially performing a file format conversion. Guess what file format the Video Editor does support?

This is what I do when I have to send a recording of my screen to someone:

  • Open OBS and make a recording to an MKV video
  • Try to open it in the Video Editor and recall that I can't
  • Open the video in Photos
  • Trim the video by an inconsequential amount (it won't let you save otherwise)
  • Save your video in Photos to an MP4 file
  • Open said MP4 file in the Video Editor

The fact that no one at Microsoft paid any attention to this is symptomatic of the deteriorating user experience of any products they produce and aimlessly tack onto Windows 10. It's a problem hidden in plain sight and they have a million eyes that miss it.

Yes, I know OBS lets you change the output format. If that's your take-away from this rant, I fear the entire thing went over your head.