I remember in MS-DOS 6.22 that Defrag had a GUI that showed its progress and how it was moving files. It wasn't there in Windows XP and I can only assume that it wasn't in Windows 95, 98, 2000 either (I'm not sure though). Even now in Windows 11, we are still presented with a version that shows a progress bar and a percentage and, in my opinion, not that efficient.

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    "not that efficient" - what do you mean by 'efficient'? Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 7:32
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    Windows 9x had a GUI defrag utility with a detailed view, actually. Not the same one as MS-DOS, but it was there. Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 7:35
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    re large drives - in the dim and distant past, I wrote a 'disk fragmentation display' program that used the file system allocation bitmap (1 bit per disk block) directly as a display bitmap (1 bit per pixel). That ceased to be useful as soon as there were more blocks on a disk than spots on a display!
    – dave
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 12:54
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    If you're interested in getting a visual indication of how fragmented your NTFS drive is (or just find it interesting to look at) on a modern PC, consider the SysInternals tool DiskView: learn.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/downloads/diskview
    – Danya02
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 15:42
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    I always thought the Windows 9x Defrag GUI was kind of relaxing to watch. Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


The “official” answers from Microsoft's Disk Defragmenter FAQ (first published in 2006):

The new interface seems “dumbed down.” Why remove all the detail?

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest and consistent complaints we had from users[...]in the past was that a vast majority of them had no idea what the detailed fragmentation statistics they saw meant. The Windows XP graphical view also had some limitations and inaccuracies that prevented it from being included in Windows Vista[...]

Why was the defrag progress indicator removed?

Part of the problem with the Windows XP defrag tool was that percent complete was not accurate or meaningful. Depending on the phase of defrag, 1% of progress could take from several seconds to minutes, which made the progress indicator highly unreliable. The difficulty here is that since defrag is a multi-pass process[...]there is no way to accurately predict when defrag will complete[...] While I agree that having no progress is bad, misleading progress I believe is worse[...]

In short, the old UI was seen as “overly technical”, and the progress bar was bad at estimating progress.

I also think that the growing size of hard drives was the major contributing factor to the UI change. When MS-DOS 6.0 with defrag was released back in 1993, the FAT16 file system inherently restricted disks to having 65 536 allocation clusters. (The maximum cluster size was 32 KB, giving a maximum overall disk size of 2 GB. It was still common for disks to be under 100 MB.) This made it technically feasible for a UI to devote an entire screen pixel (or even 2 or 4) to showing the allocated/unallocated status of individual clusters.

Today, with NTFS, it's common for a disk to have a billion or more allocation blocks, and monitors generally aren't big enough to show the allocation bitmap directly.

As mentioned in @Danya02's comment, if you really want to see a graphical representation of your disk allocation, you can use Sysinternals' DiskView program. It works around the “too many pixels” problem by using a scroll pane. And rendering it is s-l-o-w. So I can understand Microsoft's decision not to include it in their standard “Optimize Drives” tool.

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    Nice find! This FAQ is specifically about the changes between XP and Vista; in relation to the question, that’s mostly the progress information, the visualisation of the defragmentation process had been removed before XP. Funnily enough, the progress bar was restored in Windows 7! Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 18:29
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    I don't think cluster count is necessarily an issue. If I remember correctly, DOS version of Defrag represented multiple clusters as single visible block. If you had bigger disk, there was roughly same amount of blocks shown, but each block represented more clusters.
    – user694733
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 9:19
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    @user694733 Although true, you'll end up reading and writing the same block for an extended period, since the ratio of drive blocks to GUI blocks would be some huge amount like one to thousands or even tens of thousands.
    – Nelson
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 1:18
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    The DOS utility didn't show individual clusters. Check the lower right, it would say 1 block = xx clusters.
    – user71659
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 6:24
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    There's a politically sensitive backstory with defrag. The 2000-XP version was a lite version of Diskeeper, which ran into issues due to the company's affiliation with the Church of Scientology. Microsoft made "improvements" and API changes to justify its replacement in Vista.
    – user71659
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 6:32

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