Archive for the ‘Windows 8’ Category:


The Ubiquitous Tablet

I’m not going to say anything about the new range of Kindles yet – that deserves consideration alongside whatever comes from Microsoft and Apple in the next month or so.  I do want to talk about the trend which is becoming clear with the pricing of the Kindle fire:  Tablets are becoming cheaper.  Tablets are going to continue to get cheaper.  We will stop considering tablets as expensive pieces of technology, and start considering them part of our lives – like we do with phones and wrist watches.

Here is my prediction:  Fairly soon, we will all own lots of tablets.  We will leave tablets littered around the house and workplace, and we will use whichever tablet is closest to us when we want to do something.

My key assumption here is that tablet UI development is not dead.  That one day, we will probably settle on a fairly common UI pattern for tablets – much as we have with the desktop metaphor for PCs – but it took us 15 years to firmly settle on the PC UI – and I’m going to guess there is another half decade before we come close to doing the same with tablets.

So what does this mean for how tablets should develop:

1.  We will not store our data on tablets.  We may cache our data on tablets, but the data will be stored in the cloud (or – possibly – on a server you own.  I think the cloud is more likely, but the geek in me likes the idea of being able to control my own data)

2.  Since I don’t think there will be just one brand of tablet, any more than there is just one brand of notebook (yes, you are allowed to use notebooks which are not Moleskines, just like you are allowed to use tablets which are not iPads), and since tablets will be interchangeably used, this brings into question native apps.  I don’t think native apps will die, but I think they will become less ubiquitous.  More and more, I foresee people using javascript and html based apps which they can access from any of their tablets.  Native apps will exist for a few purposes:

  • Games – assuming games are not streamed from your media centre box or somesuch, many games will remain native apps
  • Turning a particular tablet into a particular thing.  If I buy a 32″ tablet and decide ‘this will be my TV set’, then I might buy a specific native TV guide app for it.  In this case, the app will be an app you don’t want to move between devices – so it will be installed on a per device basis (perhaps with an access control list of approved users)

It is just possible that Android apps will become the default – but that seems unlikely.  Since you will want your personal collection of apps to move with you between devices (not having to install every app on every device), I think there will probably be initially space for an app which acts as an installer for these new apps in some way.  I don’t quite know how this will work – I’m guessing we’ll see it on Android first, followed by Windows, then Apple last.

3. Multi account tablets are not the way forward.  With tablets just lying around to be used this seems non-obvious, but my thought is that tablets should not be multi or single account, they should haves no account.  What I want is to go to a friend’s house I have never visited before, pick up his tablet and start using it – with all my apps there waiting for me.  If all the data (including your set of apps) is stored in the cloud, this isn’t a pipe dream, all it would take is some form of federated log in – I expect the best way to do this will be by bumping your NFC enabled phone up against the tablet.

You might worry that not having accounts with passwords might mean tablets get stolen.  I don’t share this worry.  Tablets are cheap, for most of the tablets we wil leave lying around and lend to friends, you won’t be bothered stealing them any more than you would steal the crockery from their dinner table.  Expensive tablets can till have some sort of pin locking mechanism before they let you in.

 

In thinking about this new, tablet, world, I’m wondering how far off we are.  Right now, I can’t see any reason why companies wouldn’t stick six iPad mini’s or Nexus 7s in each of their meeting rooms, to allow people to get to that email they need on the spur of the moment without having to bring in their laptop (and all the associated distractions).  Since these are special tablets with a special purpose (sitting in a meeting room), we might also want to install some sort of video conferencing app on them – each person having their own camera and being able to look whoever is speaking in the eye (or quickly go to another speaker and send a sidebar message), might well make multi-site videoconferences work.

We haven’t yet seem the impact of the tablet on the world.  It will be a different impact from the PC – more like the impact of the mobile phone, but without needing the mobility, since ubiquity and cheapness works just as well.  My predictions are probably conservative – but we’ll see them happening, and they’ll probably begin happening in the next few months. Give it five years, and the idea of not having a tablet to hand will be a strange as going anywhere without your mobile.

 

Use Case : Information Capture

When stumbling around trying to figure out which combination of tablet / laptop / phone makes the most sense for me, I find it useful to consider the use cases which, at the moment, my devices don’t quite meet.  The most obvious thing that I’m missing is a good information capture device.  Here are the situations where it would be useful:

I’m called into a meeting – I need to be able to access web sites during the meeting – and perhaps run GoToMeeting or WebEx, so it’ll need to have decent web browsing facilities.  I’ll also need to be able to access (and maybe write) emails.  Finally, I’ll want to be able to type down notes as quickly as possible, without looking at the keyboard (so I’ll need the sort of feedback which only a physical keyboard can give, and I’ll want a full size keyboard, for comfort)

I’m at a conference.  I want to take notes in all of the sessions. So I need good battery life, and I also need to be able to type with the device either in my hands or on my lap.  So far, I’ve not managed to find a device which is as comfortable for taking notes on as a keyboard, and many tablets with keyboards won’t rest nicely in my lap.  Later, I’m going to want to transform these notes into documents.

After a day at a conference, I’m in my hotel room.  When I travel, I prefer not to take my main computer with me – I prefer to have something cheap, something which doesn’t have all my data on it (I have backups, so I could stomach the loss of my data – and a good quantity of my data is in the cloud, but still, I don’t want the inconvenience).  Recent experience has shown that my windows tablet (with docking station and bluetooth keyboard) does well here (though isn’t that cheap – still any tablet & wireless keyboard combo would clearly do almost as well).

As an added benefit, it would be nice to be able to make doodles and drawings to accompany my notes, using a pen or stylus.

My suggested solutions are:

Carry a laptop, and some form of extended power.  This would be a good reason to buy a macbook air.  But an air, or an ultrabook would not meet my criteria of being a cheap device.

Carry a netbook and some form of extended power.  Then also use a tablet for the things tablets are better for.  The problem here is that netbook keyboards are not as big as I would like.

Carry a tablet, and then use one of those pens which record what you write for making notes:  This isn’t a bad plan – although I doubt the OCR capabilities of the pen’s software.  And we could probably achieve the same thing with pen, paper and a travel scanner.

What would seem to me a better idea would be a tablet case which has a built in keyboard, and is designed to work as a laptop.  Extra marks if it can contain extra batteries to increase tablet lifetime.  We’re not just talking a tablet dock, we’re talking about something specifically designed for using on your lap, like a laptop.  The idea of it being a case more or less rules out android devices – they are just too different from one another, you would end up with some half functioning system equivalent to those suction pads you use to attach phones and GPSs to car windows.

The right sort of thing already exists for the ipad – consider for example the keyboard case from clamcase.com.  There is a japanese company selling a notebook case which also sports a  battery, but this doesn’t seem to have worldwide availablility yet.

I wonder, however, if this is an opportunity for windows OEMs who were blindsided by Surface.  Suface, no matter how funky the magnetic keyboard thing is, won’t work from your lap.  Yet a Windows RT device would meet all my needs as described above.  A WinRT laptop would have a niche that Surface can’t quite touch – and a slightly higher spec varient could easily come with a stylus.  Ultimately, a device like that might mean I would rarely, if ever, need to use a proper laptop for anything.  And also that my life in conferences, meetings, and bland corporate hotel rooms would be much improved.

 

Microsoft Surface For Windows 8 – is it a good idea?

Some quick and initial thoughts on MS releasing their own Surface tablets:

Q. Did I expect this?

A. A week ago, no.  A day ago, I thought it was a possibility, based on the ideas below.  I still thought that an ARM tablet for developers to have early access to was more likely.

Q. Will their OEM partners mind?

A. Yes.  Yes they will.  And they may well bitch and moan a bit.  But let me ask you a few more questions:

Assuming Microsoft really are betting the consumer shop on windows 8 (and it seems they are), do they actually have to compete with anyone other than Apple?

If Microsoft are competing with Apple, will they (based on previous experience of the OEMs) have a better chance if they make design decisions about hardware?

Would their OEM partners mind if today MS announced that they could license XBox?

Q. Will OEM partners keep on manufacturing tablets?

A. Yes.  Probably.  If I told you you could go out and sell your own ipad compatible device, do you think you might consider it.  If MS is clever they will design one device (well, two – one for ARM, one for Intel) and put it at the sweet spot, price wise, for the home user.  Other OEMs can fill the niches on price, power or features.  My bet is that they will.  A bigger question is:  if MS are successful, how long will they feel the need to support their OEMs as much as they do today in the consumer segment?

Q. Can MS function as a hardware company?

A. They don’t have to.  They are no more a hardware company than Apple.  Or indeed than Dell.  All their hardware is going to be built by the Foxcons and DNIs of the world.  What MS are is a brand label, a design house, a venture capitalist, an advertising agency and end user support.

Q. Can MS keep prices low?

A. They would be stupid not to. Each tablet sold is the loss of one windows licence fee.  So thats how much profit they need to make on the tablets.  Meanwhile, by keeping quality high, and prices low, they will be telling their OEM partners the prices they need to aim for.  There was no other way MS would be able to ensure that the pricing of windows tablets would be competitive with the iPad.

Q. Overall?

A. MS are adapting to a new marketplace. And are doing it rather slowly, but more skillfully than I would have expected a year ago.  They really do seem to be betting their consumer shop – but they are trying their best to stack the deck in their favour.  Will it work?  I think there is a good chance they will carve out a strong postion, albeit not the market leading position they used to have.  With this new hardware strategy, they are playing an interesting game : will licensing their OS to other manufacturers be a bigger win, than the amount it costs to support said manufacturers.  Interestingly Apple played this game once and that gamble didn’t pay off.

Oh, and I don’t think this affects the corporate / enterprise space at all (at this point).

Q. Will MS’s history mean they only repeat the bits of Apple’s history that they want?

A. Watch this space.

 

Is my Windows 8 Tablet a Whore?

It has been said that the perfect wife is a whore in the bedroom, a chef in the kitchen and a lady in the living room (not that I can find out who first said it or how it was first said, or anything much other than people asking the same question).  In any event, the same is true of the computer.  The perfect computer should be a productivity machine in the workplace, a quick reference device in the living room and a reading companion in the bedroom.  Unfortunately there is no perfect computer, so I’m left with my laptop in the bedroom (which, is, you know, my true love) and having affairs with the high powered young desktop at work, and the sleek, shiny, not even really out of beta school yet tablet in the living room.

Or I was.  Because today I’ve finally decided to shake up my life.  Not by settling for a life of monocomputey – While machines have physical locations and have to be moved from space to space, I’m confirmed polyinterfacarous – but I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t be spending a bit more quality time with my laptop, and introducing my tablet to the ways of the bedroom.

Byt enough of an over-extended, and frankly disturbing metaphor…

I’ve long been a believer in the sofa computer – a computing device for the living room.  This is the machine you grab from your couch when you want to quickly surf the web or dash of an email.  In an automated home (when do I get my automated home?) it would be the control panel for complex tasks like controlling the PVR, and setting the heating schedule.  At first I thought the sofa computer would be the netbook – but my attempt at this, an early ASUS One was too slow to boot, and too clunky to be useful.  My next belief – on seeing the iPad – was that the tablet would fit the niche.  For a far time, I relied purely on my smartphone (I couldn’t justify paying for a fondleslab), but when Microsoft kindly gave me one, I figured I would be in techno-sofa nirvana.

Meanwhile, my laptop has lived upstairs.  Its meant to be my general purpose machine – where I play with new ideas and do my home coding, writing and web design.  That sort of thing.  But increasingly it has become the device I surf the web on when I’m unable to sleep.

In fact my writing is not nearly frequent enough.  And often, I’m sitting in the lounge with ideas for things to write, but not quite managing to motivate myself to start.  Despite the fact my tablet is sitting right there.

Because tablets are a pain to type on, when you are sitting on a couch.

My windows tablet is actually better than it might be: it has a bluetooth keyboard, and a dock.  But the dock is out of the way – not where I would want to see the screen when I’m typing to it.  And the keyboard, being light, doesn’t work well on a lap top or the arm of a chair.  Neither of these are problems with my MacBook.

However, I’m concerned that my tablet might not quite live up to its youthful promise in the bedroom.  Much of my strict bedroom routine requires it to play well with Google reader, and right now, the internet explorer client won’t scroll the feed bar, while Chrome is a bit picky about what it thinks I’m clicking on.  I suspect I’ll actually have to do more control with either a stylus or a keyboard – but at least the dock is in the right place for this to work.  I also suspect the keyboard will work better for typing from bed than it does typing from a sofa.  This remains to be seen.

The tablet did make a delightful travelling companion – the dock and keyboard letting me use it for a both work and pleasure on my recent city break in London.  I guess this was really the first time I took it into the bedroom.  The dock turned out to be particularly useful int hat it took a wired ethernet connection – this was a big win for it which I could not have predicted.  It also seems to be better at picking up the house’s WiFi signal than my MacBook, which is another point in its favour.

And the laptop in the living room – how is that doing?  Well, its early days: one always has to adjust to new living arrangements.  And I still need to see if my wife can put up with my new and experimental ways.  But I’m writing on it, and its comfortable and fun.  So I’ll need to find new excuses not to write more blog entries.

(brought to you by the “titles that make a bit more sense once you read the first paragraph” department.  And also by the “Ade will kill me if she ever actually reads any of this” department, for that matter.)

A potential game changer for Microsoft

We know ARM tablets won’t run old Windows applications, right?

What if they did?

Not by actually running them.  They won’t be up to doing that – at least not well.

But MS keeps talking about its cloud play.  About SkyDrive and about Azure.  About all the new features of Remote Desktop.  About the VDI things they could do.

So what if your ARM tablet came with the ability to subscribe (cheaply – and probably with a free trial) to an online service which gave you a virtual windows PC?  A Virtual PC you could install all your old software on, and run the software on.  Imagine they linked this to a ‘Desktop’ icon.  For most people, most of the time, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.  All the documents could be synced by skydrive.  And you would get perfectly reasonable performance.

Could MS do this?  Why not?

Wouldn’t it create quite a stir when they announced it – especially if they managed to keep it secret right until the tablets were unveiled?  Your ARM tablet can run all your legacy software… but you won’t want to, because you’ll prefer to work with Metro.  And you’ll be able to run this software from any Windows computer… or Windows 8 Phone.

I’ve not heard any suggestion MS are thinking of doing this – but if they did, it would be the thing that would give them the greatest chance of winning the tablet wars.  A war in which, right now, they are not even considered a particularly important contender.

Feeling more Metro-politan : 10 things the Windows 8 Consumer Preview has made clear to me

Having played with the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for a few days, I’m beginning to pick up a feel for it:  indeed, more than that, for the first time in years I’m beginning to feel like I want to own a windows desktop PC, because for the first time I’m realising I really want to develop software for Windows.  Its all down to the Metro interface – and how much smoother it has become to use since the developer preview.  I thought I would list 10 things I have come to understand about how Metro works – and how you work with it:

1) You live your life in Metro.  The desktop is a distraction.  You avoid it when you can.  Metro is where you prefer to spend your time – at least when you’re working with touch.

2) But the desktop now works with touch.  Unlike the developer preview, where I had to keep reaching for a stylus to do anything desktoppy, I can now control desktop applications with my fingers.  Touch works on the desktop – you’ll probably use it instead of a mouse most of the time, if you have a touch enabled monitor which is comfortably positioned.

3) You’ll probably wind up treating the desktop a bit like Metro.  When you pin the desktop to the side of your screen, you get each application listed separately.  Now, to be fair, you’ve had this with alt-tab for a while, but now you just touch to get to where you want.  It feel natural to treat each desktop app like a full screen application.

4) Linking online accounts works wonderfully, but feels a bit creepy.  I installed W8 on a VM, and logged in with my live id.  My face grinned back at me – a photo I had taken months ago with the developer preview.  I didn’t expect it to be at work.  Similarly, various apps started sucking information from google, facebook, linked in.  I had given them permission, but it all integrated too well – better than I had come to expect from my phone.  It crossed that line into feeling like I had less of a computer than I did a stalker.

5) But, that said, the ‘People’ App shows exactly how integration can be effective – and how Metro is meant to work.  I look at a live feed of my twitter and facebook statuses, seamlessly integrated.  Sometimes I click on a link someone has posted, and I’m taken to the web browser.  I may surf onwards, doubling back by scrolling to the left, and then when I want to get back to the People app, I drag it on from the left hand side – which is exactly where I expect to find it.

6) Metro is made for dashboards.  Right now, the only dashboards we are given are people (a social media dashboard), weather and finance.  Weather and finance are very similar, and probably shows what an awful lot of Metro apps will look like.  You scroll left and right to see the data you want, use semantic zoom to get to a table of contents, data is updated live from the net, you can flick between certain displays of data by touching onscreen buttons, and a summary of the most important facts are shown on the live tile when you return to the start screen.

7) There is no good way of taking notes – yet.  Evernote for metro is available, but doesn’t work in portrait mode (which is the most comfortable way to hold the tablet and type).  You can use your favourite desktop application, but for me, that’s gvim, and the touch keyboard doesn’t have an escape key, which kills its usefulness.  The skydrive version of Word doesn’t work properly (it won’t bring up a keyboard when you want to write), so right now, I’m left with either notepad, or Google docs.  Neither are a great choice.

8 ) In fact, there is still quite a lack of useful apps all around.  Hopefully this will be fixed soon.  Things I’m missing are:  A notepad.  A hypercard style thing for creating my own metro dashboards (as described above) and books.  A decent version of Amazon Kindle which takes advantage of Metro… right now I find the windows app running in the desktop to make particularly poor use of the tablet’s screen.  A metro calculator (in fact, I would quite like python and Idle for metro.  That’s probably a wish too far – especially as the lack of special keys on the metro keyboard is quite limiting).  A metro version of explorer.  A metro version of powershell.  And finally a metro iPlayer.

9) Lots of things are quite tricky to find – especially power features.  I tired to change set the APN so that I could use a data sim .  I managed it, but it took a lot of looking – and the old windows way of doing it no longer worked. (incidentally, for folks in the UK with a Build developer preview tablet, if you want to use mobile data, a giffgaff pay as you go sim works well in mine now I’ve figured it out)  Unpinning and uninstalling metro apps is easy once you know how [touch and hold a tile, drag it down slightly so it gets an orange border, then use the bottom of screen menu] – but I had to search the web to find out how to do it.  The menu bars remain quite unintuitive… they’ll probably get better as I get more used to it, but I can’t help feeling the design reflects how the Metro framework works internally more than what a user might want to do with it.

10) Ultimately, it feels good to use.  The developer preview didn’t.  Some of this is due to stability.  Some due to performance.  Some due to the ‘right click’ touch gesture is now far easier to do.  I’m not sure how convinced people will be when Windows 8 replaces their desktop, but for people coming in to Metro as a touch first interface, I expect it to be widely considered a good thing.

How to make a Windows 8 Article… Insanely Irritating

This article from Forbes is meant to be about ‘How to make Windows 8 Insanely great”.  Unfortunately it fails to be insightful either as punditry, and yet offers no informational content.  In order to explain why it is so bad, I’m just going to have to address each element of the article point by point

The author talks about what hes hearing from Microsoft.  He doesn’t seem to be hearing much, and everything he’s heard rings of the nineties.  Things like touch screens (which really only made a significant impact with the intro of the ipad near the end of the first decade of the 21st century.  Or a Metro interface.  Which – alongside being an interface designed for touch – and an interface with a new design paradigm, also seems to be MS’s first encounter with real, high quality, design – not a characteristic the UIs of the 90s were known for.  Even the Mac was looking tired in those days.  And of course, he has left out lots of other interesting features – Windows on ARM (fair enough, I was using a Risc PC in the 90s, and could run Windows under an emulator… but most people didn’t), an interest in power consumption, virtualization technologies, a better runtime library for new code.  All ignored.  All missing.

What does he care about – apparently people replacing their old XP machines.  People who upgrade once a decade.  Frankly, if this was MS’s target market, they would have gone bankrupt years ago.  MS doesn’t care what the bottom feeders of the industry will do, they care about the people who upgrade quickly and pay for support.  The people the author cares about are not the people who lead change – rather they are the people who will pick up on change when its ready… right now, they might move into ipad space… who knows where they’ll move in 5 years… it all depends on the quality of Windows 8 – or maybe Windows 9 (MS have a habit of playing the long game – their first OS release is the one which makes the changes, the next release then capitalizes on the changes and turns it into a good product)

The author is right that Apple and Google have challenges – but he’s missing them again.  Google create lots of products, not to make money out of the products themselves, but to build up their patent portfolio (to protect themselves going forwards), to keep good people on board (because good people = good ideas) and to lead the market – jumping ahead in technology so the main players int he market have to keep up – keep up in the direction google want them to go.

Apple have to remain cool, but MS can’t rely on Apple losing that cool token any time yet – the main reason for this is that someone has to be cool to take up the crown.  And Apple’s products are good – it’ll be a few years before they start to drift – and thats only if we assume Mr Jobs was the only person at the company with a clue.

Meanwhile MS has its own market.  Pretty much every desktop machine you see is a Windows box.  So are a hell of a lot of laptops and servers (Google and Apple don’t really have any foot int he commercial server market – that is all MS and Linux).  Its the consumer space where MS are loosing the ground – which is why they seem to be building an OS experience aimed at mobile devices.  Its a gamble, but its a gamble to hit exactly  the market the author thinks they should be hitting.  However, meanwhile, they have to keep thinking about the big business side of their company – that has to keep on working too.

So the name:  Windows 8.  Drop the 8 he says.  Well, that’s one way of stopping people from ever upgrading again.  Not a smart move for MS at all.

Stop different options – or to put it another way, stop having multiple price points.  Again, that’s about as bad business decision as you can possibly make if you want to get big bucks from the enterprise space and keep being friendly with the home user.

provide all updates via Windows Update.  Well, there is a case for that – and I fully expect most OS updates to be done online in future.  But they won’t be free.

Make your OS fast – well, from what I see, Windows 8 is fast.  Really fast.  but then so is Windows 7.  The author seems to equate fast with ‘startup time’ – two very different things.

MS has been doing good work with startup time, and, if the author had read any of the tech details for Windows 8 you would see changes to hibernate making starting and stopping your PC much faster.  You would also see UEFI boot – which is much speedier than bios booting.  Windows 8 will turn on and off much more like a TV – certainly as much as a Mac Book does… and we’ve known it will for six months at least.

Leave the apps behind.  Really?  Along with killing backwards compatibility, you’re taking about significantly reducing functionality, and confusing the majority of users.  No, by hiding the old apps, and starting afresh with new apps in Metro, MS is doing the right thing here.

Operating systems should be lightweight.  Actually, that’s a fair argument.  But since we expect Windows 8 to be the base of the next generation of Windows phones, we can tell already:  it is pretty damn lightweight.  I don’t however, expect my desktop experience to be lightweight – I expect it to have the functionality which allows me to be productive.  Sure you could produce ‘Windows Metro Netbook edition’ Or some such to cater for the device market – but that’s a different market – not the home market, not the server market.  Apple have apparently figured it out.  Apparently.  My MacBook (same market space) seems to have quite a few things shipped with it.

Pricing:  Go with an annual fee.  I hate to tell the author, but that’s what the big boys do already.  We license windows.  We pay for our support contract.  It happens on a rolling basis.  The single fee is for individual machines, and people who don’t buy into (or in the authors case doesn’t seem to have heard of) this pricing model.  But maybe they should make it available to the home user… so that every year after I spend my hard earned cash on a windows device I have to keep paying for it to continue to work!

No… none of this would make Windows 8 insanely great.  But let me list a few things that might make a future version of Windows better:

Lets have a system where you can sync your laptop to your desktop, and control your laptop’s apps from your desktop.  Why not sync & control your phone in the same way?  Once a phone is connected to a PC, why not give the PC access to the telephony features – so you can text from the comfort of your desktop.

Presumably users will all have their own SkyDrive account – so let applications use this (don’t rely on apps using their own accounts – that’s taking my data away from me – which is bad).  I want to save a file on my PC, then access it from the same app on my phone.  I don’t even want to think about how I’m doing it or what I’m doing.

Ideally, I want a backdoor way into my desktop PC from my phone.  And to my laptop.  Even if its powered off.  How?  By syncing the disk image frequently – so a power off isn’t just ‘save to disk’ it becomes ‘save to network’.

I want to see the desktop ‘metro-ize’  Why not run each app in their own virtual desktop, and then display them to me separately like metro apps?

Something like Siri would be useful too – but don’t make me have to talk.  I have a keyboard in lots of situations, so let me use that – and make MSiri smart enough to know what I’m asking for – even if that relies on knowledge of my other devices.

Be social.  Frankly, if MS do one thing for consumers, get some really good UI folk working on a social network integrator.  Something that is compatible with every social network you can think of.  There is room for someone to be the best at this, and it would be a killer feature for windows tablets if they had it.
Would these make Windows insanely good? no.  But they would give it a leg up against the competition.  And they would give companies a reason to want to buy Windows tablets rather than Ipads for their workforce.  Which would ensure MS stays insanely profitable

 

A UI Thought – ordering icons

The windows 7 taskbar – if you have only a few windows open – shows images for all the windows you can select from a taskbar icon.

When I use a dual screen monitor I generally use one screen for “stuff I’m doing” and one for “other stuff and reference”.  In my case, I do stuff on the right monitor and reference stuff on the left.

So when I see the icons brought up from clicking on the taskbar, I assume the window I want will be on the right if it’s something I’m working on and on the left if its something I’m doing.  This assumption is generally wrong.

So what I would like to see:  Well, you could just order the icons left to right by window position (and then maybe by either height or z-order to resolve disputes), or failing that (because its actually may not give the results you want), an icon list for each monitor would be good.  Which monitor should a window crossing 2 screens be listed under?  The one it would fill when maximised – after all maximising is something you can do from this menu.

 

Bonus points if I can move a window from one screen to the other by dragging it’s icon position.

 

A Long Game?

I’ve worried that with Windows 8 being so far away (guesses range between next summer and the spring after next) that it won’t be able to make a dent in a runaway tablet market.

It occurs to me that making a dent in the tablet market may not be the plan.

The reason I think this is to look back at Windows NT.  When Microsoft introduced Windows NT, comodity server market was a far more specialised area than it is today.  You didn’t just call a random IT consultant and get a linux box or two in a server room.  MS were planning ahead.  Specifically, MS realised that the Windows 95 line of products were never going to be the server class OS they wanted.  They also realised that people would one day want server class operating system stability and functionality on their desktop… just not yet.  So NT was maintained alongside the 95 strain.  Eventually 95 was eradicated, and with the introduction of XP we all moved over to NT.

I think MS  might be trying to do the same with tablets.

Right now tablets are not quite up to being full PCs.  Not if you want battery life and low weight.  But they might well catch up with what desktop users want on day – especially as more and more processign moves into the clouds.  So Windows 8 might not be a play to corner the tablet market tomorrow, or next year.  Rather it might be a play to put a foot in the door.

Once MS have a foot in the door, they can keep working on dekstops. They can keep working on laptops.  And they can keep working on heavy, underpowered tablets.  And they can keep making all three of them better.  Tha gamble is, as tablets improve, and as Windows looks more and more like it is ready for tablets people (and IT managers) might think to themselves “Why don’t I just use Windows tablets?”

Its a gamble, because it assumes tablets are slowly going to become PCs.  I’m unconvinced by this argument – I see desktop PCs and Laptops ultimately becomeing more like tablets.

Its also a gamble because, with 95 you could move to NT without losing too much (or even noticing, int he case of most users, I imagine).  MS are assuming people will want to move from desktops to tablets, which seems to opposite direction from DOS-based to NT based PCs

But its a long game stategy.  And it might work.

I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

A Sandbox In Every Walled Garden

The Apple wold seems to be throwing a wobbly at the announcement that sandboxing will be required for all apps in the mac os app store.  People are discussing what might be a better solution, and if we might eventually only ever be able to install applications from the walled garden of the apple store .

It all gave me a sense of Deja Vu.  Weren’t we having the same thoughts over in Microsoft land a few months ago?  Are Apple developers really that out of touch about what is going on on other platforms that they haven’t noticed the parallels?  Apparently yes – I hav’t seen the words Metro or WinRT mentioned in this discussion.  Which is odd, because surely how the competition is trying to solve the same problem – and going down the paths which have Apple devs so up in arms – can feed into their strategy for how to approach our brave new world.

So, herewith, a cheatsheet aimed at showing the parallels:

What Apple Have Announced?

Mac OS apps for the Mac Os App store will have to implement sandboxing – which is to say, they will have to list a set of capabilities that their app requires, and then not make any calls which require capabilities they have not listed.  It appears (from people saying that this currently buggy and affects AppleScript) that this is enforced at runtime.

What Apple Have Not Announced That People Are Scared Of?

It might seem only a short way from there to declaring that the app store becomes the only way to install apps on your Mac.  And only a short way from there to giving Apple the chance to have a kill switch on every Mac Os application.

What People Have Suggested As Alternatives?

Certification.  Specifically having per developer certificates signed by Apple, so that if someone does something bad, Apple can revoke their trust in the developer certificate.  And ditching the whole sandboxing idea.

What Have Microsoft Announced?

If you want to use the new Metro UI, you can only use a subset of Win32 calls alongside calls to the new WinRT runtime.  Furthermore, you must specify a set of capabilities your app will be using at compile time.

The only way to install your apps will be via the new Windows App Store (this isn’t strictly true… there is a way to install developer signed apps on a developers own machines, and we are expecting to hear a way for enterprises to install apps which will presumably be more than just the App Store)

To get your apps into the app store, your app will have to pass a set of tests.  Microsoft will run these tests, but they also provide them to developers, so that developers know if they will pass.  Once MS have validated you pass the tests, MS will sign your app and put it in the app store.

One of the tests that MS will provide is to ensure you make no calls which are not allowed by the set of capabilities you have requested.  In short, the sandboxing is done prior to signing, rather than at runtime.  (This has some security issues, specifically in the area of self modifying code.  I presume MS plan to handle this via legal and social means, rather than technical)

Oh, and all your old Win32 Apps will continue to run unaffected – but not via Metro.  You will even be able to install Win32 apps via the App Store.

Have Microsoft Ever Done Anything Like This Before?

Yes.  We’ve had driver signing for years – each driver type has its own set of functions it is allowed to call, and there are any number of testing hoops you have to jump through in order to pick up a signature.  Just check my twitter stream to see how much pain WHQL causes me every so often.

This means Microsoft have experience of the real world implications of trying to manage a certification and signing scheme.  The main implications being “for every rule we lay down, there are exceptions”  generally many exceptions – there seem to be as many special cases as there are drivers.  Half of the fun of passing WHQL is convincingMicrosoft that a set of rules they require drivers to obey are wrong, or insufficient, or just plain shouldn’t apply to your driver.  The good thing is that Microsoft can usually be convinced.  Eventually.

Now, I’ve no idea if Microsoft’s driver signing experience will feed into their App signing experience, but there are enough similarities between the processes for me to guess there has been some communication beween departments on this issue.

Are Microsoft Doing Anything That Seems Wrong?

The biggest problem seems to be requiring that things are signed.  Because once you require apps to be signed, you need to sign every script you run (or just sign scripting languages – in which case you’ve lost most of the security you were aiming for).  It looks like the solution to this involves dev certificates which so far are only available via Visual Studio.  So all development will involve Visual Studio in one way or another.  (Incidentally, PowerShell has had signed scripts since day one – maybe there is some intention to integrate that architecture – but I don’t see a straight forward path).  It may be that all scripting will stay on the Win32 side of the fence.

Is there anything Apple could learn from Microsoft?

Firstly, MS are allowing old apps to continue to work with no changes.  There is no Win32 walled garden.  All the changes are only for people who want to use the new WinRT hotness.  Now, we’ve no idea if anybody will want to use WinRT, but MS do seem to be providing us with a world where people get to make the choice between two different environments.

MS are also allowing the same of old-style apps via their app store.  It seems that this will be more ‘providing a link to your companies website’ and less ‘a full integrated install experience’ for Win32 apps.  As far as I can see, its a way MS can make money while still saying ‘do this at your own risk’.  I’m guessing here that anything distributed this way may have to be an MSI – if so, you might just be giving the app store the ability to uninstall apps which turn out to be dangerous.

MS realise that there are exceptions, that app stores and enterprises won’t mix (think bespoke software), that admins have to have some control over what users install, that perhaps some software won’t fit into the model they are testing for.  Apple have always wanted to provide the user with the best experience, whereas MS are more about providing the developer with the best way to ship their software.  Apple is about fitting in around how Apple work, whereas MS is more about MS fitting in around how your application works – and we see this with the attitude towards signtime vs runtime tests for sandboxing. With Metro, MS is trying to learn from Apple, Apple could probably stand to learn a few things from MS too.

Are there any other thoughts

Moving to OS X bought Apple a whole load of developers who wanted Unixy tools on a reliable machine with a nice UI.  OS X comes with many many scripting languages which are able to access the core of the system and do everything a compiled program can do.  Do we honestly think that apple are going to restrict those scripting languages so that scripts can no longer access the system?  That one move would cause a major rupture in the dev community and harm Apple significantly.  MS can get away with it (if you want to develop for Metro, use Iron Python on top of the CLR and you’re happy – if you want to run a script, theres Win32), but without a new hotness to tie all these changes to, Apple would just be taking developers favourite toys way – and suffering the tantrums that follow.

Of course, most mac users don’t know or care abou what a scripting language is.  These will be the people who use the app store.  Just like Itunes makes it easier to get music (so fewer and fewer people bother buying CDs and ripping them to fill their iPod), the App store makes it easier to get your apps – your average user won’t consider getting apps any other way.  There is no need to restrict the techie few that the Mac software ecology depends upon.

And is Signing the answer?

Signing isn’t a flawless solution to all your problems – assume you have a killer app your system depends upon – lets say “Photoshop” for the mac.  Assume the manufacturers of Photoshop were to bring out another piece of software Apple didn’t like (I’ll call it ‘flush’).  If apple wanted to revoke the signature for flush, they could either revoke the signature on every release of flush ever made (and on the new applications ‘flish’ and ‘flosh’ that might be submitted thereafter), or they could revoke the developer’s signature and loose their killer app (and annoy many customers in the process).

Signing also requires that certificate lists are kept up to date on every system involved (or that you have reliable internet connectivity all the time)

But signing does allow for technical, legal and social means of deciding which apps to allow to run.

Most notably though – signing is really really irritating to have to do all the time – especially if you’re scripting.  I can’t see it as a real solution to the problem if you want to keep developers hanging around.  What you need is to just let people write their scripts and get on with using their machines…  By all means make developers go through some sort of hoop once to be able to script and install their own software (lets say by joining a group, or turning off a particular feature of their user account), but don’t come up with a technical solution that will only irritate.

© Ben.Cha.lmers.co.uk
CyberChimps