Windows Blue

“Windows 8 is the best Windows ever”. And by “best ever” Project Manager, Steven Sinofsky, meant “so good I’m going to quit the company a month after its release”.

There has been much press this week about Microsoft’s new annual-update programme for its Windows operating system, purported to be called “Windows Blue”. This has been mostly driven by the leak of an early copy of Blue onto file sharing websites.

WinSuperSite’s Paul Thurrott gives the best overview. As well as several new “Modern UI” (previously ‘Metro’) apps such as Alarms, Calculator, Sound Recorder and Movie Moments, a significant amount of the traditional Windows Desktop is being moved into the Modern UI too. For example, choosing which application to open certain file types with. This, as Paul suggests, could be an indication of Microsoft’s intention to eventually move everything into the Modern UI and get rid of “the Desktop”, as we all know it, completely. Perhaps in Windows 9?

 

The Start Menu

Today I had a bit of an epiphany when I saw a personalised Team Foundation Server (TFS) dashboard shown on the Windows 8 start menu. TFS is a system used by software developers to make backlogs, track bugs and keep track of code. I myself spend at least an hour, probably two or three, each day hunting through TFS for information. So this made me leap for joy:

TFS Dashboard in your Start Menu – Genius!

 

Of course! That’s the paradigm shift! I have been wondering exactly how we’re supposed to use this Start Menu, and learn to embrace it rather than hate it, and now I get it! The Start Menu is your launchpad. You receive some information on the live tiles, you click on them to launch the full-screen Modern UI app, do your thing (send an email, reply to a Tweet, etc.) and then Whoosh! you’re back to the Start Menu for your next task.

That’s all it’s supposed to be, that’s why new Modern UI apps take up all the screen. It is Microsoft’s way of helping you focus in the modern world where everything is vying for your attention. That’s why, at most, you can have two apps side by side. But that’s all.

I announced my breakthrough to my development team at work. And it was quickly rebuked.

“I’m trying to use it as a dashboard but I keep getting distracted by the benign animations on things like the ‘Photos’ tile,” said Lloyd, my Team Leader.

And he’s right.

If it was clean, and live tiles were used properly – to catch your attention when it was necessary – it would work very well.

But the Start Menu is awash with noise. It’s a very busy, awkward interface. It has promise, but Microsoft has already confused its own message by creating live tiles with no real purpose. They’re just there to show off the technology – but in reality they’re hurting it. Badly.

 

Touch First

Windows 8 has largely been slated by users and the technology press because it has clearly been designed to work on touch-screens first – and non-touch-screens (with traditional keyboard and mouse setups) second. I’ve covered this before. If you move your mouse to any corner of a screen you find invisible menus springing forth and covering up what you were trying to do. This is a massive hack to support the features you get on touch-screens (by swiping in from the sides, top and bottom) but with a mouse.

As a multi-monitor user I frequently snap a window to be full screen on one screen (so my mouse cursor is at the top of the screen) and then move the mouse cursor to another window to snap another app full-screen there. But because the corners now have special, and apparently I push forward slightly as I move my mouse cursor, the little pointer ends up getting “stuck” in between the monitors. This is a very jarring, fist-clenchingly frustrating experience. It’s such a minor thing but when it happens it feels like the computer has taken over your mouse and is actively preventing you from doing what you want to do.

And you know what? I move my cursor from screen to screen a hell of a lot more often than I want to use charms! And don’t even bother showing me the “Share” charm when I’m in the desktop because you’re only going to show the “Can’t share anything from the desktop” message. That’s a major breach of basic User Experience (UX) guidelines, right there.

I’ve also always been fond of double-clicking the top-left of a window to close it. While I still can do this if I’m careful in Windows 8, I usually end up triggering the preview of the last Modern UI app I had open, which hides the part of the application I was actually trying to use.

For years and years I’ve been able to use Word without things popping up reminding me that before Word, I opened up Minesweeper. It is a ridiculous feature that needs removing as soon as possible (Windows Blue maybe, Microsoft?). Except…. it is there for a purpose: to let you switch between the traditional desktop and Modern UI apps. There is no other way to do that (Except clicking on the app tile again in the Start Menu, but this feels like a “re-launch” behaviour).

The lack of a “taskbar” in the Modern UI world is also a huge failing. Taskbars provide context and allow for far faster task-switching than swiping. While also preventing the awkwardness of having to reclick a tile just to get back to an already-open Modern UI app.

 

Windows Blue: Modern UI and Traditional Desktop (For Now…)

Microsoft seems to think that the two worlds are split by technology: Modern UI (running on the Windows Runtime – or WinRT – technology stack) and the traditional desktop (running on Win32 APIs and various abstraction technologies) and to some degree they’re right but that’s the wrong delineation. That is very much the thinking of a software engineer and in no way represents the thinking of the typical user.

Modern UI is good for focussed tasks and the desktop is good for having lots of windows open and quick task switching. The desktop is the perfect environment for researching while writing a dissertation. For copy and pasting. For dragging images off websites. For comparing photographs while painting in Photoshop.

And thus the two worlds are suddenly very clearly separated and defined.

Modern UI is the perfect platform for consumption. The traditional desktop is the perfect platform for creation. That is the proper delineation between the two worlds.

So when Microsoft starts moving more and more things towards the Modern UI they think they are making a technology choice: “we’re just consolidating our technology stacks into one: WinRT!”, but, because they think like engineers not like real people, they’re about the shoot themselves in the foot.

Because if this focus on Modern UI means that the end of the traditional desktop is nigh, then that really means that Microsoft is killing off the ability to create.

And that is very sad. And very mad.

Some people need to create. That’s why books get written, art gets painted, sculptures get carved, faces of Presidents get cut into hillsides, bridges get built, etc. And if the desktop really is about to die, then those people will move somewhere else.

If that place offers a good consumption experience too, then by nothing more than word of mouth advertising between friends at light-speed on social networks, Microsoft Windows will fade into nothing.

And Microsoft will only have itself to blame.

 

 

Oracle Appeals Google’s Java Win. What’s next for Dalvik?

Larry Ellison points finger at Larry Page. Shakes it. Offers cookie. Redundantly.

This week, Oracle appealed Google’s win at the patent trial over the Java application programming interface (API) being used in the Android operating system.

In a new document published this week (PDF), Oracle’s lawyers start by introducing a character called Ann Droid. And then tell a story about Ann ripping off Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix. Quite strange, but hilarious to think of a serious legal department putting this into such an important document:

 

Ann Droid wants to publish a bestseller. So she sits down with an advance copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the fifth book—and proceeds to transcribe.

She verbatim copies all the chapter titles—from Chapter 1 (“Dudley Demented”) to Chapter 38 (“The Second War Begins”). She copies verbatim the topic sentences of each paragraph, starting from the first (highly descriptive) one and continuing, in order, to the last, simple one (“Harry nodded.”). She then paraphrases the rest of each paragraph. She rushes the competing version to press before the original under the title: Ann Droid’s Harry Potter 5.0. The knockoff flies off the shelves. J.K. Rowling sues for copyright infringement.

Ann’s defenses: “But I wrote most of the words from scratch. Besides, this was fair use, because I copied only the portions necessary to tap into the Harry Potter fan base.”

Obviously, the defenses would fail.

Defendant Google Inc. has copied a blockbuster literary work just as surely, and as improperly, as Ann Droid—and has offered the same defenses.

Continue Reading “Oracle Appeals Google’s Java Win. What’s next for Dalvik?”

Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 Should be Winning!

Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, is coming under a lot of fire for the direction the company is going in. And only some of it is justified…

Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 (along with Windows Server 2012) represent Microsoft’s bet on the next four years of personal and business computing. Windows 8 is getting a lot of negative press, from everywhere, while Windows Phone 8 is slated to be the final nail in Nokia’s coffin. But is this really indicative of the products that are coming out of Redmond?

Furthermore, Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, is suffering through a massive amount of stick about his helmsmanship at the enormous tech company. I am somebody who (like many others) have hated Microsoft for many years, for their monopolistic behaviour and their disdain for simple things like User Experience but the Microsoft of 2012 looks incredibly different to the Microsoft of even two or three years ago. They have changed, dramatically. For an organisation of their size, they seem to have completely overcome the Innovator’s Dilemma, and I, for one, am positive about what that means for all of us.

The Market

Let’s start with a holistic view of the personal and business technology space right now to see if Microsoft are aiming at the right targets.

The world has transitioned from pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped software in boxes. The days of waiting for a CD to spin up and start installing are gone, the movement largely started by Valve Software’s “Steam” game-store-cum-download-manager, which launched in September 2003 and was estimated to have had 70% of the digital distribution market for games by the end of 2009. App Stores are springing up all over the place, allowing for digital downloading of software and games for all type of platforms. Sometimes they’re called Marketplaces or Stores, in the case of Google, simply “Play”. It is the expectation of consumers today that they can get their digital wares on-demand and fast. Today, the expectation from consumers is much more immediate. Everybody expects the world, and wants it right now. It’s not an easy place to do business, and with Twitter and Facebook, bad news travels very quickly. No wonder there is so much turmoil in the industry…  Continue Reading “Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 Should be Winning!”