This evening Windows XP will be taken off life support and pass into the ether of magnetic media. Loved by millions across the globe, XP will be missed by many. The child of Windows ME and Windows 2000, Windows XP joined the robustness of a 32-bit NT kernel with a friendly consumer interface, and proved to be greater than the sum of its parents.
In its early years, Windows XP was frequently derided as “garish” or “cartoonish,” but its tenacity eventually won over the hearts of millions. XP experimented in the mobile space with Windows XP Tablet Edition during its adolescence, which ultimately was a growing phase for the young OS that didn’t work out as expected. During a journey of minimalism, XP crammed itself onto pint-sized netbooks that gave people half as much to carry, but took four times as long to launch anything.
The user interface for Windows 8 blurs the line between tablet, desktop, and smartphone. That’s a good thing.
The Microsoft Build conference starts October 30. For a week developers will be exposed to the latest Windows technologies, analysts will write megabytes of blogs, pundits will tweet reactions both pro and con, and the way we experience computers will change in dramatic and obvious ways.
For developers and users alike, the Windows 8 interface is an in-your-face change. No longer based around overlapping windows and desktops, information and applications are now presented as colored tiles. It is possible to slip back into the traditional Windows interface where each running application is visually separated with windows that can be dragged on top of each other, hidden, and closed; but most of the time the new Windows looks, and functions, very much like a well-designed webpage.
Opinions are harsh. Windows traditionalists miss familiar icons such as the Start menu, Control Panel, File Explorer, and Close button, and are finding the years they spent deciphering the nuances of utilities to now be irrelevant and useless. Worse, users stumble into the traditional Windows interface, but have no idea how to return to the new tiled interface, and developers find creating applications now requires new ways of programming, use of new interfaces, and new ways of thinking about interacting with users. What was Microsoft thinking?
DOS to Windows, windows to tiles, desktop to phone
In 2011, computer vendors shipped more smartphones than desktop computers further supporting the idea that handheld devices—such as smartphones and tablets—are pushing desktop and laptop computers into obsolescence. Apple and Android are battling for first place, with Microsoft scrambling for a piece of the action. Dell, the king of laptop manufacturers, has lost almost half of its value in eight months. The future is painfully clear, and it looks like a handheld device, or smaller.
Microsoft correctly reasons that making improvements to an interface that depends on a keyboard and mouse is corporate suicide, but what about our former Windows Vista user futilely searching for the Windows Start button? Is there nothing to be done for them?
Short answer: The pain is only temporary.
Long answer: We’ve done this before. New interfaces, like apps or tiles, are simply normal innovation. They’re disruptive, sometimes annoying, and the first iteration is often clumsy, but the process is normal, expected, and necessary.
lynda.com is working on a collection of classes for developers and users of Windows 8. In the early part of 2013, you can expect to see courses that show how to get started with the Windows 8 developer tools, as well as more in-depth training intended to assist with advanced developer questions.
Nobody on Star Trek uses a mouse
Science fiction explores a possible future, and most science fiction computers don’t use keyboards or mice; they use gestures and voice recognition. Our grandchildren will think our computers are quaint.
Personally, I have enough years under my belt to remember the jump from CPM, to DOS, to Windows 3, and the jump from my beloved Apple IIe to Macintosh OS X. Each was a move away from a known paradigm to something better. Everything changed for the traditionalists invested in the existing technology, and boy, did they complain.
But the number of people using the new tools soon outweighed the traditionalists. New users with curiosity about how the system does work, rather than assumptions about how the system should work took over.
1. Understanding the different versions of Windows 8
Windows 8 is planned to release in October and, as with previous versions, there are various editions to choose from. In this video from the Introduction chapter of Windows 8 Release Preview First Look, David goes over each edition of Windows 8 and its intended audience: Windows 8 (consumers and home users), Windows 8 Pro (tech enthusiasts), Windows RT (those who buy it preinstalled on ARM-processor), and Windows 8 Enterprise (bulk business customers).
2. Using gestures and touch in Windows 8
One of the real paradigm shifts in the way Windows 8 works is the ability to use touch, or what Microsoft calls gestures, whenever you’re using a touch screen, mobile device, or in some cases a mouse. Some of the gestures are intuitive if you’ve been using a touch-screen smartphone with any regularity. Other gestures may make sense only after David shows you how to use them. This video from chapter one of Windows 8 Release Preview First Look, introduces Windows 8 gestures, how they look in action, and how to use them to navigate the Windows 8 interface with ease.
3. Working with the Photos app in Windows 8
One of the features of Windows 8 is a home screen with app icons that look similar to those you’d see on a mobile device. One of those apps, Photos, helps you organize and view your digital photographs, regardless of whether your photos currently live on your camera, hard drive, Flickr account, SkyDrive, and so on. In this video from chapter two of Windows 8 Release Preview First Look, David shows you how the Photos app works.
4. Integrating Office 2013 with the cloud
When you’re working with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or other Office 2013 applications, the default location for saving your documents will be the cloud-based SkyDrive. Of course, you’ll still be able to save things to your local hard drive, as David demonstrates in this video from chapter one of Office 2013 First Look.
5. Tracking changes and conversations in Word
Although you may have used Track Changes in previous versions of Word, there’s a new option called Simple Markup that makes reviewing changes a much less cluttered experience. As David shows in this video from chapter two of Office 2013 First Look, when changes are made to a document using Simple Markup, a simple red vertical indicator appears to the left of a text area that has been revised. Then, to see the changes made, and who made them, the red indicator line can be clicked to reveal the details of an edit, one edit at a time. This new tool lets you see changes, and keep track of editing conversations, but it also lets you scan through a relatively clean document.
If you’re a developer who’s interested in working with Microsoft operating systems such as Windows 7, Windows Phone, or the upcoming Windows 8, you might wonder why this course might be important. After all, Silverlight, like Adobe’s Flash Player, is a web browser plug-in. You should be interested because many mobile devices, such as the iPhone or iPad, can’t display content built for these technologies, and Microsoft has made it clear that Silverlight apps won’t be able to run across all modes of Internet Explorer when Windows 8 is delivered.
Fortunately, the skills you have acquired to build Silverlight applications are directly transferable to some new and important application platforms. Silverlight applications are created with a combination of XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language) and your choice of either C#, or Visual Basic. (In his Silverlight 5 Essential Training course, Walt Ritscher focuses exclusively on C#, since it’s the more popular of the two languages.) Wondering how it all ties together? The same languages—XAML, C#, and Visual Basic—are all at the core of Microsoft’s developer platforms of the future: Windows Phone and Windows 8.
Consider the following XAML code snippet that declares a page control in a Silverlight application:
The code in bold font defines the layout and presentation of a single line of text: “Hello World.” Now here’s a page control for a Windows 8 Metro app; notice that the bolded code looks almost exactly the same:
These component definitions are all built with XAML, and use pretty much the same syntax to display text on the screen. They have different root elements: UserControl for Silverlight, Page for Windows 8, and PhoneApplicationPage for Windows Phone. But they all support the same basic set of visual controls such as Grid and TextBlock, and they all use “code-behind” architecture to bind logic written in C# or Visual Basic to visual presentation defined in XAML.
The bottom line is, you can’t just move an existing Silverlight or Windows Phone application to Windows 8 and expect it to work. The underlying technologies are different, and there are differences between the application programming interfaces (APIs) for the different operating systems. You’ll have to “port your application,” a process that involves creating new code files and copying selected portions of code to the new version of the application. You’ll probably also have to re-imagine the user interface for the new target OS, since applications written for a browser have different layout guidelines from those on a phone or tablet, or those designed to run full-screen in high resolution as they might on a Windows 8 desktop. If you already know how to use XAML and other .NET programming languages, learning how to build Windows 8 apps will be much faster and easier.
In this video from chapter three of the Silverlight 5 course, Walt explores the programming side of Silverlight 5 and discusses the relationship between XAML and .NET:
Microsoft has put a lot of effort into making development skills and programming languages transferable across their multiple operating systems and application platforms; these efforts make it easier to learn, and easier to build applications for, their current and future technologies.