Microsoft forgot to update this Windows feature for 30 years

On a Thursday morning nearly 30 years ago at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, a software developer checked-in some code for a dialog box he was working on. The box was only supposed to be temporary, so he didn’t worry that it was very basic. Except, nobody ever got around to changing it — and it’s still the same to this day in Windows 11.

Dave Plummer, a former developer at Microsoft, recounted the interesting tale of how the Format drive dialog box was created all those years ago in a post on X over the weekend.

“We were porting the bajillion lines of code from the Windows 95 user interface over to NT, and Format was just one of those areas where Windows NT was different enough from Windows 95 that we had to come up with some custom UI,” says Plummer. “I got out a piece of paper and wrote down all the options and choices you could make with respect to formatting a disk, like filesystem, label, cluster size, compression, encryption, and so on.”

Plummer then created a basic UI that he added to the Windows NT codebase as a temporary solution “until the elegant UI arrived.” That UI improvement never came, and nearly 30 years later, Plummer’s temporary solution is still in use in Windows 11 today.

If you’re wondering why the format size of a FAT volume in Windows is limited to just 32GB, this might have been partly down to Plummer, too. “I also had to decide how much ‘cluster slack’ would be too much, and that wound up constraining the format size of a FAT volume to 32GB,” admits Plummer. “That limit was also an arbitrary choice that morning, and one that has stuck with us as a permanent side effect.” FAT actually supports volumes of up to 2TB, but you’ll need to use a third-party tool in Windows to create this volume, even if Microsoft’s OS does correctly read these larger FAT drives.

Despite several overhauls to the Windows UI, Microsoft hasn’t touched the Format dialog box since its introduction in Windows NT all those years ago. There’s still a fair amount of other old Windows UI that you can surface in the latest versions of Windows, but I’m guessing that this particular Format one is a simple case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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