Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

My Windows 8 Adventure So Far

I had different reasons for doing each of the upgrades I’ve done so far… Here’s a list of the upgrades I’ve done so far, and why… maybe something I talk about will resonate:

My home PC (desktop):
I upgraded my computer initially to see what it was like. For $40, you don’t even have to go to the store to buy it.  That’s the Pro version, you can buy that to upgrade XP, Vista, and Windows 7 computers…  and it’s a way better price than the $200 upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 for example.   It’s a relatively easy web-based upgrade. (I encountered some quirks with Symantec/Norton anti-virus, but Windows 8 includes security apps which make a good replacement.)  I’ve found it to be as solid as Windows 7, and once you get used to the mouse gestures and the way “Modern UI” works, navigation is easier than it was in Chicago-era UI’s (The UI we’ve basically had since Windows 95).

I also intend to explore app development with it. 

I’m also deciding my hardware upgrade path.  It’s an inexpensive way to get a grip on what devices I might want to invest in, going forward… for example, do I want to upgrade my current PC, which is great but has no touch screen support, lacking virtualization support, or do I want to bite the bullet and get something more current. 

I’m still deciding on a tablet, and it’ll either be “Surface Pro” or “Surface RT”…  I don’t want to invest in iPad or iPhone because they aren’t going to provide the level of integration I’m seeing and liking with the Windows 8 generation of devices.   Right now, I’m actually leaning toward maybe getting a Surface RT tablet, which are already available at Microsoft Stores at the mall…  the Surface Pro will be more fully featured, but cost more.  I’m thinking for what I want to do with a tablet, the RT will suffice, and if I need more horsepower from my tablet, I’ll just remote into a regular computer.
 
My wife’s PC (laptop):
I upgraded my wife’s computer because she & the kids loved the free games they saw me get from the app store… which works a lot like app stores on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone… they all mastered the “Modern UI” the first day, and found it to be an improvement, as well… so she got the “shiny new” experience on her older laptop.

That experience also enabled me to check out how Windows 8 devices (this includes computers, laptops, tablets, and phones) all communicate through the cloud…  I was easily able to transfer my profile from my desktop to my own login on my wife’s laptop.  This is something that Microsoft has been trying to make better for years, and used to only be available to Enterprise users, but now, thanks to the cloud, it’s something anyone can take advantage of.

My sister-in-law’s PC (laptop)
I upgraded my sister in law’s machine to get a less-involved, not quite so technical perspective on it. She picked up the new features right away, and is enjoying things like the free apps… Fresh Paint is one she mentioned as being a favorite, which is one my daughter is particularly fond of, as well.  She’s had an odd behavior with it that I have to fix next time I get the chance, but it’s just that startup takes longer than it should. 

My work machine (laptop)
I upgraded my work machine because I use Virtual Machines a lot, and Windows 8 has an updated version of Hyper-V in it… I was a bit nervous about this at first… my work depends on not screwing up my VMs, but after getting my first VM migrated from VirtualBox, I’m really glad I did it… Results so far are that performance seems better, and it’s just so much more flexible than VirtualBox was.  I’m hoping to see some bugs I encountered in my VirtualBox hosted machines go away too, haven’t tried that just yet…  (Stepping through code was a bit flaky in VirtualBox VMs)

To come…  My Mom’s machine (desktop)
I’m upgrading my mom’s machine for more practical reasons.   I think the UI will be easier for her to get around.  That said, it’s mostly the fact that Windows 8 has better apps included than what she’s using. (For example instant messaging, email, news… the web-based apps she’s using are limited in comparison.)  She’ll be able to toy with the apps from the app store, as well, which will be relatively a new technical freedom for her altogether.

Still…
If you want to see Windows 8 in action without risking a computer, I recommend stopping by a nearby Microsoft Store.  They have them set up so you can spend a bit of time playing with them, and plenty of people around to bounce questions off.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Reliving "Revolutionary" with Windows 8

“What do you think of Windows 8?”   I hear this question all the time… everywhere I go.   I hear people talking about it on the bus, in line at coffee shops, and even in odd places like hospital rooms.  It’s the biggest change we’ve had in the PC in well more than a decade.  Everyone knows this is as big as broadband in everyone’s home.

But… more than a decade?   Really? 

Definitely.  How old would a child be if it was born the last time there was a *true*, major version iteration of Windows?   3?  8…? 

How about…  18?   Yeah…  18… old enough to drive.  Old enough to be looking at colleges. The Daytona (Windows NT) / Chicago (Windows 95) user experience, were it a child, would now be looking at an opportunity to suffer the choice between Romney or Obama.  The experience unleashed on IT and the public introduced us to the Start menu, the Desktop, managed application installs, and several other major features that the enterprise and private user alike have now literally grown up on.

Some might argue that Windows XP was a hefty revision that almost qualifies, but I would say not so much.  Improvements abounded, but the core user experience hasn’t changed by more than revision increments in Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, 7… really…  since Windows 95. 

But, with Windows 8, this changes.  Windows 8 brings us a whole new user experience in the “Modern UI” formerly known as “Metro UI”. 

If you recall, Windows 95 still essentially lived on top of DOS, and had enough of the Windows 3.x framework to run all the apps we’d already come to depend on (like Word 6, Excel 5, and Windows AOL 2.5).  While those programs ran in Chicago, there were compatibility issues, and the user interface really started to look crusty on legacy applications.  I was actually a relatively late adopter, waiting until Windows 98 before I finally succumbed to the dark side. (I had discovered IBM OS/2 Warp and become a fan… it actually took a 1-2 punch to Warp to get me to switch.  1:  When Warp was stable, it was unbeatable, but when it crashed it was unrecoverable, (and crash, it inevitably did).  2:   Command & Conquer / Red Alert, which had an improved video mode that was only available when installed in Windows… and it was even more awesome in that improved resolution mode. )

Just like Windows 95, Windows 8 is a transitional OS.

One of the big things I keep hearing about Windows 8 is… what a P.I.T.A. is is to figure out. “Microsoft is taking a huge risk with this… why are they breaking my Windows?”, I hear.  Or…  “I’m open-minded.  I subjected myself to it until the pain became unbearable.  (I can’t wait until Mac OS X takes over.)”

Transition, though?  Yes.  Transition.  Again, this is the first real full version increment of the Windows user experience that we’ve seen in years, and it all comes down to this Modern UI thing.  It does exactly what Windows 95 did to Windows 3.x on DOS.  It wipes the slate clean and re-imagines how we operate our computers from the ground up using modern human interface devices… (HIDs). 

Touch screen, movement, gestures, enhanced 3D graphics… these are things that started to accelerate development not long after the release of 95, but the world was still on the Windows 95 learning curve.  Hardware was too immature & expensive to develop an OS around them then… So, while you were getting comfortable with your desktop, (if you haven’t noticed) your cell phone’s user experience surpassed your desktop.

So on the surface (no pun intended) this is what Windows 8 is…  it’s a full OS-deep refresh that catches home computing back up to what people have gotten used to in their cellphones.

“Common sense” says this all implies a true P.I.T.A. for people and companies that dig in on it. 

Let’s look a little deeper, though, at what else this represents.  Again, this is a transitional OS.  It does everything the old user experience did… if you dig a bit.  It does this to support the old applications with their freshly encrusted-feeling user experience.  People can continue leveraging your old technology investments.  Indeed, you can continue making investments in the old user experience…  just know that the writing’s on the wall. 

It’s only a matter of time before people do what they inevitably did with Daytona/Chicago… adopt, extend, and embrace, or be extinguished.  

Why?  Because… when it comes down to it, the part that people really hate is not the “user experience” part.   It’s the “NEW” part that hurts.  Once the “NEW” wears off, what you’ve got left is a really genuinely cleaner, better, more efficient UI that leverages new hardware in important ways, and puts it years ahead of desktop OS competition, both in terms of capability, and even in terms of price point…  and pushes that same advantage out seamlessly to a myriad of other devices.  So getting past the sharp learning curve on one device means you’ll be rocking the new UI everywhere in no time.

Like the glory days of the Dot-Com boom, the days of Daytona & Chicago, these will be days of learning and technical renovation, even re-invention.  This is what I see coming with Windows 8 in the desktop, with an added benefit of being even more ubiquitous than it was back in the 90’s.  With the coming of Surface, Windows Phone 8, your apps will have more opportunity to run in more places, on more machines, than ever before…. using more “Star Trek” functionality than we’re yet used to. 

Those looking to remodel that kitchen… here’s your wake up call.  Windows 8’s user experience is representative of what made the Dot Com days so great… (and there were some plus sides.)  It was when leveraging any of the revolutionary new technology became a competitive advantage all by itself.  Early adopters will feel the pinch of the initial investment, but… with some planning, will reap the rewards by having that pain behind them by the time Windows 9 rolls around. 

I, for one, look forward to my new OS overlord.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Hands on Surface

There’s a developing UI paradigm growing, and some of it has been released in the wild.

Multi-point touch screen systems are starting to take shape out of the ether, and it really feels like it’s going to usher in a new era of computing. We’ve talked about a few of them here in the Tech Mill. It’s “Minority Report” without the goofy VR glove.

Microsoft’s offering in this arena is Surface (formerly “Milan”).( http://www.microsoft.com/surface )

From available marketing materials, Surface is much like the other offerings that are under development, with a few interesting differences. Rather than being an interactive “wall”, it’s a “table”. In addition to interacting to a broad range of touch-based gestures, Surface also interacts with objects. Some of it’s marketed use-cases involve direct interaction with smartphone, media, and storage devices.

This week, I’m on a training assignment in New Jersey, but within a bus ride to one of very few instances of Surface “in the wild”.

I made it a secondary objective to hit one of the AT&T stores in mid-town Manhattan.

I had a lot of high expectations for it, so actually getting to play a bit with it struck me as a touch anti-climactic. The UI was great, but it was clear they cut costs on hardware a bit: responsiveness wasn’t quite as smooth as the web demos. It did impress me with the physics modeling of the touch gestures… dragging “cards” around the table with one finger mimicked the behavior of a physical card, pivoting around the un-centered touch point as a real one would.

I was also a bit concerned that the security devices attached to the cell phones they had around the table were some sort of transponder to hide “vapor-ware” special effects. My own phone (an HTC Mogul by Sprint) was ignored when I placed it on the table.

All in all, I was happy to finally get to play with it. Between technology advances and price drops, this UI paradigm will start to make it into the power business user’s desk.

I mean, can you imagine, for example, cube analysis…. data mining… report drilling… and then with a few gestures, you transform the results into charts and graphs… then throw those into a folder on your mobile storage / pda device…

I’m still loving the idea of interactivity between physical and virtual (and/or remote) logical constructs…

Imagine bringing up the file server and your laptop on a “Surface” UI, and litterally loading it with data and installing software with the wave of your hand….

or…

Having a portable “PDA” device with “big” storage… in fact, big enough to contain a virtual PC image… In stand-alone mode, the PDA runs the VPC in a “smart display” UI. When you set it on a Surface, the whole VPC sinks into it. You get access to all the Surface functional resources including horsepower, connectivity, additional storage, and the multi-touch UI while the PDA is in contact. When you’re done, the VPC transfers back to the PDA, and you can take it to the next Surface UI in your room at the hotel, or the board room (which has one giant “Surface” as the board room table.)

The preview is over at AT&T today. According to Wikipedia, Microsoft expects they can get these down to consumer price ranges by 2010 (two years!).