Windows Blue–A Chink Of Light

Following on from my previous post about my fears that Windows Blue was actually not going to undo some of the terrible things Microsoft had done to its loyal desktop users, it now transpires that they have actually listened to their customers and senior management have finally sent down an edict to the Windows developers that the user SHOULD be able to bypass the start screen and boot straight into the desktop like Windows 7 if they want. 

I know as a developer myself that this will have annoyed those developers that have put hundreds maybe thousands of hours of their lives into creating the new Start Screen and the Live Tiles technology.  Allowing the customer to bypass that and ignore it completely would bug me if I had spent chunks of my life inventing that, but the bigger picture is that the customer IS actually right and they DON’T want the METRO User Interface shoved down their throats, particularly if they are using a PC that uses a mouse and a keyboard for productive work. To me once you start using your Metro full screen applications, you can’t see the live tiles anyway, so it was a bit pointless at best unless you take the view that you were just going to turn on your tablet and just stare at the live tiles all day???

image

As you can see above I very rarely look at my Live Tiles as I don’t have any apps in view that present Live Tiles because I am a desktop user and just never want to see it, to me it’s just a mess (I don’t know why PHP is in amongst my games??? like I really care anyway!!).

Given that Microsoft appear to have seen sense (I say “appear” because this is all based on a confirmation from an MS insider that Mary Jo Foley deals with and isn’t yet official public Microsoft policy):

http://www.zdnet.com/microsofts-windows-8-plan-blue-bring-back-the-start-button-boot-to-desktop-7000014075/

But if it is true and I am pretty sure it is ….

HURRAH!

The move to allow users to put back the Start button (we’re still not sure if they are actually going to put the Start Menu back yet), but I think they should, as that is what makes existing users feel so bad about Windows 8, it’s that jarring experience going between the desktop and the new start screen, it’s just horrible I hate it and no matter how fond of live tiles you are, this constant switching of modes between desktop and Metro is just plain nasty

What MS seemed to be ignoring and a lot of the commenters who are in favour of the new UI miss, is that the new UI is great if you’re using Windows 8 on a tablet or mobile device where you are not doing anything productive because your using the very blunt (in all senses of the word) tool of your finger.

Yes on a device that the finger is your main input device and because it has no keyboard and mouse is the ONLY possible device that makes sense, then yes Metro works and is a sensible and logical way to interact with a computer.

Where MS are completely wrong is trying to apply that interface to people like me who want to be using desktop computers for years to come and who will NEVER EVER want to poke about with our fingers. Poking about with my finger, writing with a pen or even talking to my PC are just not as efficient as using a keyboard and a mouse.

I can type much faster than I can write with a pen and when I am thinking what to say, the keyboard is more efficient. That’s because when trying to talk to my computer and apply my constant corrections as I rethink what I am about to type, takes too long using verbal commands.

(Believe me I have used “Dragon Naturally Speaking” and although when I think a sentence and get it perfectly right [and I have spent hours training it], the speaking is faster than typing.  However when you take out the time correcting my work it’s not, as the commands to re-edit my text are much slower than using the keyboard).  So again it’s a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Sure you can use all sorts of clever people to come up with neat ways of achieving what you do with a keyboard and a mouse with your finger, but at best it’s forcing a cack handed technique one me that is just longer winded and less efficient and just annoys the hell out of me because it’s slowing me down. 

Which is why most of us non trendy people who don’t use tablets to do real work on their computers, can see Microsoft forcing a wholly inappropriate interface on us and damaging our future productivity when they finally phase out the desktop chasing Apple for iPad customers who are a completely different demographic to their core Windows user.

That’s why I keep suggesting here in my blog and on the various blogs and forums like Paul Thurrot’s Supersite For Windows and Mary Jo Foley’s blog at ZDNet and others, that what Microsoft need to do is realise that trying to force these two mutually exclusive interfaces into one O/S is wrong.

On tablets and phones and other mobile touch centric devices Metro is great. I have a Windows 8 tablet and when I just want to read on the sofa or in bed, Metro works like a charm and I think it’s as good if not better than the alternatives from Apple or Google, same on my HTC 8X I love it there, it makes sense it works with my stubby pointing device.

IMG_4714

(you can see why I don’t want to use touch on my twin 24” monitors as I have greasy fingers)!

So have Metro on Windows RT devices running on ARM chips and get great battery life and accept that Metro Apps are the way to go in that environment.  On my tablet I never go anywhere near the desktop EVER. It just doesn’t work with my finger because it was designed to work with very accurate mice pointers and so it should stay.

Don’t try and make the desktop work with a finger, you are undoing 30 years of evolution of the desktop environment that is pretty damn efficient and is in no need of change in that direction.  I am sure there are other innovations that the desktop could embrace but using your finger isn’t one of them.

I think if Intel can produce devices that have ARM like performance and very low power consumption and that can lead to the creation of tablet type devices that cost £150 to £200 in price, the reason to buy iPads or Android tablets would become less of an issue. 

Most Windows users would probably buy them as a companion device to their desktop PC (I know I would) and the OEMs and Microsoft should distinguish them from Windows PCs and sell them as the Windows flavoured tablet from Microsoft that CAN’T run Windows desktop applications, but embraces this key new tablet interface that runs Modern UI applications. 

The thing that would also sell this to a lot of users is the ability to print to your printer like a PC, which is an issue for Android tablets where printing is not baked in and you have to buy third party apps that are patchy at best.

If they do that I can see both sides of Windows flourish again and they would keep their existing productivity users (mainly in businesses) happy and the new market of tablet users would have an alternative to Apple or Android that brings them a more familiar Windows style experience that is tuned for a touch device.

So if they have seen sense and taken the pragmatic decision to allow us desktop users to turn Metro Off officially and resurrect the start menu and booting to the desktop and thus avoiding the irrelevant (to us at least) Start Screen, I for one applaud them for taking that decision and listening at last to their loyal users.  It may just save Microsoft in the long run as I can’t imagine where they were headed if they absolutely stuck to the course they were on.

Siv

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Windows 8, Windows Blue and the future of Windows

In the last couple of weeks it has emerged that the following things are true:

  1. Windows 8 sales are disappointing.
    Link to Computerworld post
  2. Windows Surface tablets have not sold well, particularly the Surface RT version.
    Link to gadgets.ndtv.com post
  3. Windows 8’s Bundled Applications are in need of some work.
    Link to ZDNet post

To me, if I was in charge of Microsoft, I would be hearing Windows Vista and Windows ME warning bells right about now. It is clear to anyone that Windows 8 is a step too far.  The existing user base just do not get Windows 8 and particularly the business clients who do get it, but don’t want any of it on their mainstream work PCs, as the immense costs of retraining folk to use Windows 8 and Office 2013 if they are still in the Windows XP, Office 2003 era (like one of my large Bank clients) would be horrendous.

Windows 8 is designed to move Microsoft forward, hell they even called the Metro interface the “Modern UI” when they discovered that they would face a copyright issue in Europe using that name. So they see it as the future. Unlike the Bill Gates era Microsoft, whenever they created a new paradigm, they did it in a way that businesses and seasoned users could migrate slowly to the new way of doing things by giving them the option to enable the old way of doing things and eventually turn that off as the new concept gained traction.  It seems now that Microsoft don’t care, all they can see is chasing Apple for a chunk of the iPad market share and it seems to be at the expense of their dedicated desktop PC users.  If I was on the MS board I would be asking Steve Ballmer for his keys to the executive suite and putting someone in who has a better handle on the needs of the traditional user base and in particular their business users. I cannot see that anyone who works on spreadsheets, accounts packages or edits photos or Videos would ever want to be using their finger for that?

Microsoft are working on Metro versions of MS Office and I am really keen to see how the hell you can do that using your finger as a replacement for a mouse. I am sure they will do it (I have seen the rotary dial device used in OneNote for Metro), but if you have used that you will know that OK you can get things done, but at what cost in time? It takes about 5 steps to do what you could do in 1 step in the Desktop/Mouse version.  This is not progress, it just smacks of using smart people to figure out how to make a thing work in a completely wrong environment. Most desktop users will just think this is just “art for art’s sake”.

If someone can demonstrate to me how using Metro can make me more productive when working on a spreadsheet, a database, an accounts package, a development environment or a photo editing application then I will switch wholeheartedly to using Metro, until then I remain sceptical!!!

Windows Blue

A lot of people like me were hoping that Windows Blue (A software update for Windows 8 to fix a number of issues in the current incarnation) might see Microsoft seeing sense and doing some of the obvious things that need doing to make Windows 8 usable for the majority of existing users. However it now seems from a leaked early version, that the emphasis is not on getting some sanity back into Windows 8 but is heading more in the direction of Metro and further away from the desktop:

http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/what-blue-leak-tells-us-about-microsoft-s-strategy

http://www.zdnet.com/no-windows-desktop-mode-no-7000013099/

I am in the camp that wants to believe that MS are not stupid, they know that the majority of their revenue comes from Business customers and they are your traditional desktop user not an iPad user, admittedly a lot of business users are additionally using iPad like devices, but they are the Sales Execs or senior management who use them as devices for consuming daily reports or reading news etc.  but the serious work gets done on desktop PCs with a mouse and a keyboard.

I think they (Microsoft) are after what they currently see as the bigger market i.e. non-business home users, ultimately they seem to want to move away from the desktop, but hopefully they will realise that this market for tablets is actually a fad that will subside like the “netbook” fad did.  Tablets are a new form factor and they make sense for consumers who want to do just that “consume”, they are not for people who want to be “productive” and that’s where I part company with the current Microsoft vision of the future. I cannot see how if you limit your operating system to be only targeted at the consumer that it can possibly work for the productivity user. These things are mutually exclusive.  That is why (ironically) Apple still maintain a separate operating system for desktop PCs (OSX) and a different one for their tablets and mobile devices (IOS). Why can’t Microsoft get this?

Here’s what should happen

  1. Make Windows RT the version of Windows for tablets and mobile devices, let’s call it “Windows for Mobile” (W4M). The reasons for using the RT version is that it runs only on low power ARM chips (also include whatever Intel comes up with in the future to match the ARM chips in W4M). In this version the desktop is banished as this version is designed specifically for users poking about with their fingers as the only input device. I use a Windows 8 tablet and I would be happy with this, I never want to see the desktop when I am on my tablet, if I do then I’ll switch back to my laptop or desktop PC to do that. Basically the W4M version is all about tablets and touch usage and banishes the old desktop paradigm.
  2. Make Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro the versions of Windows for desktop users (W4D & W4D Pro). In these versions the desktop is the default, but a user can turn on the Metro environment through the control panel if they wish. Instead of grabbing the whole screen, Metro apps run in Windows like Stardock’s ModernMix application (http://forums.stardock.com/440939), this means a desktop user can run Metro applications but in a way that fits in with the desktop environment (not the other way round). The W4D versions can “have their cake and eat it” because they are powerful enough and are not trying to eke out 10 hours battery life like tablets and other mobile devices usually are.

Whether Microsoft will see sense before it’s too late I don’t know, but if they persist with this “touch first” nonsense for desktop PCs I can see them being consigned to history as the company that threw away its loyal user base trying to chase a market that was already owned by Apple.

Siv

Windows 8 What Microsoft Should Do … And Soon!

Windows 8 just looks to me to be another ME/Vista. The applications are all about form over function (I refer to them as the “Duplo” versions of real applications).  Everything Microsoft does at the moment seems to be focused on trying to be like Apple.  I can’t tell you how much this distresses me.

Windows users are all about function and a little bit of form as long as it doesn’t get in the way of function.  Apple’s ethos is for people who are more focused about how a thing looks than how it performs and gives value for money.  Why do Microsoft feel they have to be like them with Windows 8?  Apple are capturing the non PC literate home user segment, but these people were never going to buy a desktop PC running Windows. They are a different market who just want a device that’s not a PC that allows them access to the internet and Facebook whilst on the move. 

So if Microsoft want in on that market, produce a device and an Operating System that goes after that but don’t disrupt/piss off the great user base that they already have chasing a completely different segment of society.  Desktop users may not be buying a lot of PCs because the power and quality of the PCs they have are still good enough to do the job they bought them for. Don’t forget, we are in a real nasty recession that is making us all watch the pennies at the moment.  Once that passes and their PCs start to need replacing then PC sales will jump and probably make tablet sales look weak!!

Windows 8 applications are just for tablets, but I am very worried that very soon Microsoft are going to be calling all desktop applications “Legacy” and in a future Windows release will be disabling the old desktop and that’s it, you have finally killed me as a Windows user off.

I have been a loyal Microsoft fan and have recommended their products for the best part of 25 years and I must be honest, right now I am starting to think about switching to Linux and open source.  I have recently changed my sister from an XP box to a new PC running Linux Mint and she is very happy with it.  I have done the same for my parents, as I really can’t see them wanting or coping with Windows 8.

So how can Microsoft fix this?  Microsoft need to stop, take stock of where they are and then in my humble opinion do the following:

  1. Separate Windows 8 Metro as a purely Tablet and Phone Operating System.
  2. Make Windows 9 like the Windows 8 Desktop (with a start menu ) and give us all the performance benefits of an Operating System for tablets that runs on a desktop x86 style processor.  So Windows 9 actually runs better with less resources than Windows 7, but has all the chrome and usability that Windows 7 gave us. You can lose the Aero transparency completely, it was just another pointless thing that gave no real benefit to using a PC and I suspect it was trying to emulate Apple again (DON’T DO THIS SORT OF THING UNLESS YOU CAN DO IT WITH NO PERFORMANCE DROP AND NO POWER USAGE INCREASE).
  3. Stop trying to make everything run in the cloud and just treat it as a convenient storage space that can be accessed everywhere and demonstrate to people like me that it is 100% secure from prying eyes and the Government.
  4. Ignore Apple with the main Windows product, they cater for a different segment. If you are not careful they will seriously come after your segment (desktop business PC users) and then you really will be dead. If you want some of their market for tablets, develop your Metro based O/S and Surface tablets purely with tablets and fingers in mind and DO NOT try and force this onto mouse and multiple screen users who want none of it. If you could produce a Surface tablet that just runs Metro and has 10 hours battery life and costs $199 you would wipe the floor with Apple. (I would probably be keen to learn Windows 8 development as you would have a huge user base that would be worth developing games for).
  5. Focus all future Windows desktop releases on:
    1. Improving performance so that Windows works better using less RAM and runs cooler on existing CPUs.
    2. As a result of A above, battery life on netbooks and laptops improves to the point where running an x86 CPU on a laptop with Windows can last for a full working day without compromising on performance like we had to with existing netbooks.
    3. Improve backwards compatibility by developing technologies like Windows XP Mode further and making it as transparent to the user as possible. This will help the entire Windows ecosystem, as business users will be able to bring their highly valued and very expensive to develop applications easily into the new O/S, rather than it being seen as a barrier to upgrading. Net result, hardware manufacturers and support people like me will get work building new PCs and implementing the software on them and the economy as a whole will benefit from the activity. Users will see improved performance and better power usage encouraging them to upgrade. If you encourage the support firms and the hardware manufacturers they will all add together to bolster your business.
    4. Make incremental changes that are demonstrably improvers of productivity, DON’T change things to justify the price on the box (I am thinking of the change from “Add or Remove Programs“ to “Programs And Features” as an example, it is just change for change’s sake and meant deep frustration from users).  If a thing works and it has been around for ages and people have got used to it and there is no benefit in changing it, leave it alone!
    5. Value your desktop user base, understand that if you want to make a paradigm shift like you are trying to with Windows 8 and tablets, that needs to be in a different track that does not derail the existing user base.  Sure if it takes off and becomes the majority usage scenario then quietly and very slowly phase out the old operating system when the tipping point occurs.

I know I sound like an old fart who doesn’t want change but what the business Windows user needs is a stable environment that evolves gradually, rather than this horrible knee jerk switching to whole new environments that just disrupts and decreases day to day productivity.  In practice it means that users have to throw away knowledge they have paid for in real money (books training courses etc.) and real time and effort slaving over a hot PC for years.

Siv

Windows 8

Hmmm…

screenshot_lockScreen_page
The new lock screen – So far so good.

I have played with the Developer Preview that was released last year in time for the “Build” conference. I installed it first on my HP laptop and my initial reaction was “OMFG!”, everything that the development of Windows to date was thrown out and it appeared MS had fallen “hook line and sinker” for the tablet paradigm basically because Apple did it with the iPad and had sold millions of the the things in a few days. Trying to run the Developer Preview with a mouse and keyboard was just horrific.

screenshot_startScreen_page 

The new big tile interface seen above is called “Metro” and it is a direct port of the operating system used in Windows Phone 7.  Basically it is designed to be operated with your fingers rather than a mouse, so everything is big and easy to poke with your finger.

I and a lot of others ranted about it on the “Building Windows 8” blog in the comments, my biggest annoyances are:

  1. After years of getting the idea of not filling your desktop with icons as a) it slows down the opening of your desktop, b) it’s old fashioned and harks back to the Windows 3.1 “Program Manager” where you had a desktop full of windows with icons in them:
    programmanager
    and generally looks a bit of a mess.  I used it for years in work and it was efficient, but I immediately preferred the start menu when we got that in Window 95.
    start-menu
    Suddenly the clutter was gone and you had a nice organized hierarchy of programs within folders and your desktop picture of that far distant holiday island could be returned to whenever you needed inspiration.
    Since XP Vista and Windows 7 this newer paradigm has been improved.  Now with Windows 7 you can almost dispense with the start menu and just pin all your favourite applications to the task bar. Net result you have an always present strip at the bottom of your screen with your favourite/most used applications available.  Additionally the raised button look, tells you what else is open when you are in one application and can’t remember if you already opened another application. If you hover over the button you can peek at the contents of the application without actually leaving the one you are in. To me Windows 7’s Aero interface was as near perfect a way of working as there has ever been on a PC to date and I was really looking forward to what improvements they were going to make in Windows 8. So the Developer preview has been something of a let down to say the least….
  2. My biggest gripe is not being able to close Metro applications, this caused massive amounts of comment on Windows 8 blog and in the end the creation of the “Windows Metro Style apps forums”. Because Windows 8 uses the same interface code as the Windows Phone operating system it has brought with it the same way that phone applications work, they are basically suspended rather than closed.  I am not sure why they do this on phones unless it is because the time to open an application is slower than using up all the available RAM and switching back and forth by between all the applications you have open.  This however causes a huge problem in my opinion in Windows 8, as once you have been working for a reasonable amount of time opening various applications you suddenly find that when you want to switch to another application you have to wade through all the suspended applications.  It’s actually worse on a tablet as the method of switching applications is a swipe in from the left of the screen and it’s a sequential process unlike the old ALT-TAB or Windows Key – TAB method, you literally have to switch between each closed application until you get to the one you want.  It gets very old very quickly I can tell you!!
  3. Metro applications are full screen and have no “Chrome” as it’s called. That is they don’t have a menu bar at the top with the usual File >> Edit >> Options >> Help type  menus, or a title bar or Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons. Basically they are either running or suspended, you don’t close them, you don’t minimize them, you don’t restore or maximize them. They are either full screen or running in the background. 
    This is a picture of Internet Explorer running in its Metro IE10 version:
    screenshot_IE10_page
    This is Internet Explorer when you have swiped up from the bottom of the tablet screen or right-clicked if using a mouse. At the top you can see the pages you have open, the equivalent of seeing the tabs in the current version of IE9. Now this is all fine and dandy when you are using a tablet and your finger, but it’s mega frustrating to have to mess about like this when in Aero you just click a tab.  But what happens when you want to display multiple applications side by side? Well you can sort of?
    SplitScreen
    This is the Windows desktop on the left and the IE10 Metro App on the right.  You can only have this one quarter / three quarter split, all you can do is have it with the bigger screen on the other side (i.e. so it becomes a three quarter / one quarter layout going left to right). Which all seems a bit restrictive compared to the Aero desktop in Windows 7.  I suspect the reasoning for this is that when you are using your fingers as your pointing device all the usual Min Max Close and menus are too small to use with your fingers. I have had both Windows 7 and Windows 8 on a tablet and definitely Windows 8 Metro Apps do work much better with your finger.  My BIG problem with that, is that is not how I or other people will want to do their daily work.  Sure at night when they get back from work and want to chill out on the sofa and just read the news off a website or browse their favourite sites using a tablet, this is perfect.
  4. One of the big claims for the new start screen (I thought it was the desktop when I first started Windows 8), is that it is a) easy to start apps with your fingers and b) gives you instant feedback.  If you look at this screen grab below you can see that the tiles are showing status information about the user’s email and weather information etc.:
    screenshot_startScreen_page
    This is great and gives you an instant feedback of what is going on.  You can obviously re-arrange the pinned applications so that the ones that you want are in the first part of the screen but for a desktop PC user the icons for the applications look like this:
    MetroStart
    As you can see this all looks a bit like Windows 3.1, very cluttered looking, for me a bit too gaudy and because it seems to favour the text over the icons for non Metro applications (I suspect soon to be called “Legacy Apps” if the MS marketing drones get their way) they are actually less easy to locate than how they are on Aero and waste a lot of what I would call desktop space. I appreciate that there will probably be Metro versions of Word Excel and PowerPoint etc. but until then and for most users who want to stick with their existing software this will be how it looks for some time to come. To see more applications than shown here you must scroll to the right for what seems like hours on end.  On a tablet like my Zoostorm this is not brilliantly fast and becomes frustrating. Using the mouse and its scroll wheel you can scroll across quite quickly on my laptop but again it’s frustrating compared to having it on my taskbar or in easy to find menus.
  5. The biggest problem of them all however is the idea that a desktop PC user is going to get this “Touch First” user interface at all when they buy Windows 8 on their next Windows PC.  This problem goes to the heart of everything about Windows 8 focusing on a tablet paradigm.  Yes this will work great on tablets and I don’t care who you are, a tablet is NOT a computer you want to do serious work on. The only exception to that rule are people who take inventory or who do surveys and need a quick tick the box type tool with limited amounts of typing required. As soon as you have to type lots of information you need a keyboard and the on screen keyboards in both Windows 7 and Windows 8 (indeed any tablet OS) obliterate so much of the tablet’s screen that using them on something as complex as a spreadsheet or Word document becomes too disruptive as the keyboard gets in the way too much.  I have even tried filling in web forms using my tablet and it’s horrid. I spend more time hiding and showing the on-screen keyboard as I try and get to fields that are hidden behind the keyboard.

    For a desktop user this interface is OK and you can run desktop metro apps with a keyboard and mouse but why would you want to? Especially as it means giving up effectively multi-tasking for this clunky full screen single tasking or bi-tasking sort of idea where you can only have three quarters of a screen for your main app and one quarter for the one other one.  This is going t o be very crap on my dual 24” flat panels and for other people who run 3 or more screens.

    I just hope that Microsoft see sense and allow the user to turn off the Metro UI or allow us to have a proper start menu in the Aero Desktop as well as the start screen (there is a registry hack that works on the developer preview that allows you to turn off the Metro UI and it puts the traditional Start Menu back, note it sometimes causes weird things to happen if you decide you want to go back to Metro again!).

In fact I can’t see why there is this need to make all of Microsoft’s products have this corporate “Metro” look.  They have even put it on my Xbox 360 and it works Ok but it’s not needed for my money. I think they could quite happily have Windows Tablet Edition and Windows Desktop Edition and leave Metro off desktop PCs all together.

My hope is that when the full beta comes out they have answered a lot of the criticisms I have here such as making it possible to close Metro apps and being able to turn the Metro Interface off for desktop users and give us the Start Menu back.

As a person who makes his living writing applications for Windows and supporting business users PCs and Servers I am extremely worried as to how Business will react to this complete sea change in the user interface.  I think if Microsoft are not careful they are going to have another “Millennium” or “Vista” on their hands. Just as they managed to give the vast majority of Windows XP users a viable alternative to their current operating system.

I am very concerned that a lot of businesses who traditionally wait for a couple of generations of Windows operating systems before upgrading and who are now about to shift off Windows XP as it reaches its final support countdown in 2014 will take a look at this and think “I really don’t want the training costs associated with this transition” and will jump ship completely to the likes of Linux Mint. Mint offers them a no cost alternative desktop that has all of the benefits of Windows 7, i.e. it looks like traditional Windows, it doesn’t suffer with Viruses at the moment, it runs Open Office or Libre Office which can open MS format documents and provide enough functionality for most businesses.  The server Linux offerings like Red Hat can provide a similar set of email and collaboration applications that would almost satisfy the current Outlook/Exchange user. Also increasingly the Google Android market will satisfy the tablet and mobile phone areas and these are Linux based technologies so in some ways sit better with Linux than Windows.

MintDesktop

If this starts to happen with a number of very big players, then the majority of business users might decide to follow suit and MS will be dead literally.

Let’s hope they see sense and accommodate the desktop and laptop user who doesn’t want to poke their screen(s) with their finger and do want to do serious work that requires a keyboard and mouse or we will all be honing our Linux skills.

Siv

Has Microsoft Lost Its Way With Development Environments And Tools?

As you probably know if you know me, as much as I do IT Consultancy and Support, the other big thread to my daily work is application development.  I have been deep in programming work for the last 6 months for Lloyds TSB Bank and more recently for a security company in Gloucester called Advantage One. Most of my development work is done in Microsoft Visual Basic using Visual Studio 2010 and I compile most of my applications against the Dot Net Framework 4.0.

A Bit Of My History

Being a developer for Windows is quite hard as Microsoft keep moving the goalposts.  I started programming when I worked for Lloyds TSB using Clipper for DBase databases (not a Microsoft product).  Later as Windows took off with Windows 3.1 I started using Microsoft Visual Basic (VB).  This went through versions 1 to 6 in as many years almost and each time new capabilities were brought in that you had to learn to use to get the best out of it.  Early on I was using ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity) to connect to Access databases using Excel and programmatically using DAO to connect from within my applications. 

When I had just got my head round how to use DAO, the next Visual Basic release said that we should stop using DAO and move onto ADO (ActiveX Data Objects). So you start over and learn yet another methodology for talking to databases through your programs.

Just when I thought I had got that mastered Microsoft decided that VB had to change, if you wanted to move on beyond VB6; and you did if you wanted to take advantage of all the new shiny stuff that was in Windows XP and later in Windows Vista. So throw away everything you know about writing programs in VB6 and start afresh with VB.NET 2003. 

Suddenly, everything you could do without thinking, like populating a drop down list or accessing data was completely different.  Suddenly you had to import bits of the dot net framework into your program to get stuff that used to work without importing things in VB6.  It was a shock, all previous updates to VB were fairly straightforward.  This update stopped you working until you learnt all the new methods of going about programming.

In the background this was Microsoft coming up with an alternative to Java.  The Dot Net framework is a foundation on which you build programs like the JVM (Java Virtual Machine).  The idea of building Frameworks and Virtual Machines is to separate the key elements needed to produce programs like forms, buttons text boxes and the way your program manipulates files and databases, separate from the bare metal of the  operating system on which it runs. 

This means that if you want to implement the ability to run these programs on a different operating system like Linux or Mac OSX all you have to do is create a Framework or Virtual Machine that works on that platform and theoretically the programs that work against the Dot Net framework on Windows will now run without changing the source code on any of the other platforms that can run the framework.

Microsoft were envious of Java which was created by Sun who have now been taken over by Oracle, as it offered this cross platform environment that eluded their VB6 applications.  This is why we all moved to Dot Net. Suddenly MS had their own Java like platform.  Not only that, this platform was cleverer than Java because you could plug in any language you like to their framework, as far as I am aware the Java VM is only for the Java programming language. With Dot Net you can write in C#, VB, F# and Python and any other language if you have the time to write a language plug in for Dot Net.

There is a project called Mono which has implemented the Dot Net Framework on Linux, so now I can write programs for Windows in C#.NET and my code can be loaded in Mono and recompiled and will now work on a Linux PC. I haven’t actually tried it but that’s the theory! Great. So where is this rant leading?

Now To The Present

Well, just recently Microsoft did an early demo of Windows 8 and the presenter (Jensen Harris) went though the new interface, see it here:

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2011/jun11/06-01corporatenews.aspx

the video is about two thirds of the way down the page. If you watch it, there was a key comment made at about 1 minute 20 into this clip, where Jenson says that the new applications that run in this cool new interface are built using standard web technologies, HTML 5 and JavaScript.

A lot of developers were up in arms at this, especially the developers who use Silverlight which is Microsoft’s version of Flash and is used on the Windows Phone 7 interface (see below):

image

As you can see its interface is pretty much identical to Windows 8 or rather it’s the other way around. 

You would imagine therefore that the Windows 8 interface would use Silverlight as well, but as per the video mentioned above, Jenson Harris said it was done using HTML5 and JavaScript.  I personally don’t have an issue with this as I am just as happy in HTML5 and JavaScript as I am in VB.NET or C#.Net, though I do find using HTML a bit tricky to get a database application working well without some of the rich controls you get in  VB.NET or C#.NET.

So in a stroke Microsoft pissed off a large quantity of Dot Net and Silverlight developers who could see all their time, effort and in most cases, cost, (training, books experience etc) flushed down the toilet!! All you need now to write applications for Windows 8 is HTML 5 and JavaScript, so you boys can all go home!).

I don’t read it quite as bad as that, as later in the demo it’s made clear that the old user interface can still be accessed and all your old style applications can be accessed through what might be termed the “classic” Windows 7 style interface. As developers though, we don’t like to think that all our work is now passé we want to be bleeding edge man!

The Big Picture

The bigger issue though for me is where are Microsoft going with all this? I can see if you take a short term cool and trendy (read air-head) approach, having your main Windows O/S look like Windows phone and be touch centric, you can then hop on the bandwagon, that thinks tablets are the ONLY way to run a computer in 2011 started by Steve Jobs and his iPad!

The best laugh is that it was actually started by Microsoft years ago (2001 era), when it developed its tablet interface version of Windows and Bill Gates famously opined that this would be the way ahead http://gizmodo.com/5324866/vintage-bill-gates-predicts-tablets-to-be-the-most-popular-form-of-pc-sold-in-america (how short some people’s memories are)!

As usual Bill was there first but Steve made it happen when technology was capable of delivering the idea.

So I can see there is some heritage to using tablet PCs within Microsoft and they feel that their next O/S must be capable of being operated with your fingers rather than a mouse and keyboard. 

The trouble is, this is the Apple view of the World, clearly they are a consumer based organisation.  I think Apple have in the main given up on the commercial World. They realised that after the success of the iPod then iPhone and finally iPad their “cool” products were suited better to Joe Public not business.  I think they realised that Microsoft has won that battle.  I think Steve Jobs wants to take the home Windows PC user away from Microsoft by offering the iPad for web browsing on the sofa and the iPhone for computing on the move.  Home users tend not to want to sit at a desk, they’d rather slop down in front of the TV with their netbook or iPad and multi-task between the two. 

My daughter Mary is a prime example of that, she always has her laptop on her lap, usually with Facebook and other websites open chatting with her pals and watching the television at the same time.  She claims that she can do both, in reality she’s doing both things badly, which seems to be the way with kids today, they have lots of buzz going on around them and claim they are multi-tasking.  They are not they are just flitting between different things and absorbing very little of it. But that’s a separate rant for another day!

I am sure if Apple found that owning the consumer space drove up demand for their products in the business world they would get back in, but at the moment that’s not likely to happen.

I think this idea of using a tablet on a sofa is consumer rather than business oriented, when I use a PC to do work I like to sit in a comfy chair at a desk with room around me for other papers and my printer and scanner and my full on audio system and two big screens. I am not the kind of user that this tablet oriented O/S is aimed at.  So is Microsoft reacting to Steve potentially muscling in on the private user space or are they now full of air-heads who think Apple is great and Windows is crap because it doesn’t look like an iPhone!!?? I hope wiser heads step in and start reminding the Windows UI team that some of us prefer a keyboard and mouse and don’t want to be in the front room in front of the telly.

Back To Developers

Ok so I can see why Microsoft might want to stop Steve stealing the Windows X Home Premium clientele, it’s a big market that Microsoft currently own, but Steve thinks he can chip away at it like he did with the iPhone against Nokia.  So I can see why you might make Windows 8 look like Windows Phone 7 and be ideal for tablets to try and fend off the iPad threat, but what if that really pisses off your Business customers, who pay a lot for their Windows infrastructure, Windows Servers, MS Exchange, MS SQL Server and vast numbers of Windows 7 Pro installations? I think that might be a mistake.

An even bigger mistake is to piss off your developer base. What is an O/S without any applications.  If you mess with us we’ll go elsewhere, nowadays there are plenty of lucrative alternatives such as developing for Android even IOS God forbid.

I always thought that Steve Ballmer understood the need for developers to make applications (NOT Apps) that made his O/S look good, see this clip:

Steve Ballmer–Developers

 

Trying to make Windows look “Cool and trendy” like the Mac, may seem sensible to the air-heads, but have they done any research into whether their massive user base actually agrees with that.  I don’t. I really don’t want my greasy fingers messing up my screen I am much happier with a mouse.

So as I see it, they have a lot of business customers who want to run productivity applications like Word, Excel, Photoshop and AutoCAD which now seem doomed to the “classic” Windows 8 interface, i.e. second class citizens.  They also  seem prepared to disenfranchise their key developers in favour of air-head HTML applications that probably run to a few hundred KB and are very limited in what they do.

Guess what, they will probably see developers jumping ship to more fertile shores like android or IOS and the business customers will follow the talent as they won’t be able to get the great applications that really do something of any use on Windows any more.

Own goal!!