Thoughts on Windows 8 – Part One

Thoughts on Windows 8 – Part One

I spend a lot of time trying out new software before it’s officially released. In my business, it pays off to know as much as possible about a new edition of Windows or OSX ahead of time so I can support my customers later when they purchase it. One new major release on the horizon is Windows 8. Updates for windows have typically been minor, and very little time was needed to learn the new technology incorporated into the OS. With Windows 8, Microsoft breaks with their entire paradigm for computing however, and some radical shifts will have to be made in both how people use their computer and how these systems are supported by technicians. I thought I would share some of my perspective on what these changes mean for both groups of people, for good or for bad.

User Interface

One of the first things you will notice when you boot up your Windows 8 computer, (sometime in 2012 apparently) is that the user interface has been completely redesigned. There is no Start Menu any more, no desktop, and no icons. Microsoft has decided to make Windows 8 a “touch first” OS, meaning that the interface was designed to be used with your finger instead of a mouse. If you have seen a Windows powered phone made in the last year, you will already be familiar with Windows 8. Microsoft has decided that instead of a Start Menu, you will have a Start Screen with Metro styled blocks to scroll through for launching your applications.

What this change in design paradigm means for those of us who like using the mouse or track pad instead of our finger on the screen is questionable. During my testing of the Windows 8 Developer Preview, I found it very difficult to perform basic tasks or navigate applications with my mouse. On a more positive note, most of these actions seemed like they would indeed be very easy to perform with a touchscreen. Really, it’s a question of if you are willing to be forced to use a touchscreen all the time. The version I tested was only a developer preview and may be improved a great deal before release, and I honestly hope it is. For users without a touchscreen, Windows 8 in it’s current state will render your computer useless.

I have read concerns of other bloggers online that Microsoft is going to dummy proof Windows at the cost of making it useless to power users. While I don’t see anything quite that extreme happening in Windows 8, it does seem to be the direction hinted at by the new Metro UI. Microsoft, in a desperate measure to stay relevant in a media society where it has fallen terribly behind, seems to be going for the walled garden, simple, dummy proof approach that Apple has been so successful with on it’s iOS devices. Whether or not it’s a wise move for Microsoft is yet to be seen, but I have serious doubts as to whether or not they can stay relevant by alienating the power users and developers that have made Windows great for over 20 years.

Metro Apps

Metro is a new technology for creating applications for Windows 8. Metro apps are built using XML, and have a limited subset of .NET capabilities. These apps run very differently from traditional desktop applications in that they have limited access to the system they run on. From a security standpoint this is a good thing. If malicious code is injected into a Metro app, the malicious code is limited to tampering with files and settings within the app itself and cannot damage the operating system. The downside to this approach is that applications can not interact with other parts of the system or other apps nearly as easily, and every exception to the sandboxing rule simply reduces the security offered by the sandboxing approach. Basically this leaves developers in a bit of a paradox, where more functionality automatically equals less security. Sandboxing also makes adding this functionality more difficult as the developer is required to jump through multiple hoops to add these exceptions to his/her code.

 

From what I have tried on the developer preview, Metro apps seem to be large versions of cell phone apps. They feel restricted, clunky, and less powerful. The Metro version of Internet Explorer does not support plugins, so forget watching a flash video or playing a shockwave game. Personally I don’t see how Metro is any type of improvement in development, unless you use a touchscreen and want highly restricted applications. In short, this seems good for tablets and smaller devices but fails to hold it’s own on a desktop computer.

Summary

That winds up part one of my Thoughts on Windows 8. In short, the changes coming in Windows 8 are not welcomed by me… at least not for the desktop. I’m genuinely afraid that Microsoft is abandoning their rich heritage of allowing people to do whatever they want without restriction or jumping through hoops on their PC. Windows’ ability to run programs without getting in their way is the reason that there are so many great utility applications on the market today. It is easier for a developer to write a program to solve a problem on Windows than almost any other operating system. I’m not sure what Microsoft hopes to achieve by changing that, but I guess we will all have to sit back and hope they know what they’re doing.

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Rebooting the blog

I’ve been away from this blog for quite a while, and I feel like I neglected it. I made the choice at the time based on the amount of time I had available to me, and the effort I was willing to put into writing (which wasn’t enough). I feel now as though I made a mistake in abandoning this project. The I/O Port was one of my more popular blogs, where I tried to give unbiased reviews of software, hardware, and tech news. I will be returning to this project soon, and promise to put much more effort into releasing new content on a regular basis.

I apologize to my readers for letting you down so soon into a project, and I appreciate all the views you gave my blog early on. I hope I can regain your trust as readers by producing more quality material on a regular basis from now on.

Appreciatively,

Natrobius