Windows 8 has got it right

14 03 2012

I have read a lot of great things about Windows 8 and a lot of negative things about it too. It seems that Windows 8 has polarized opinion across the media, and this really is shown on blogging sites such as ZDNet and Business Insider. I have noticed with Windows 8 that there are two types of bloggers, those that want to use it, feel it, see what’s actually new and think of it as a new piece of software at beta release (which it is), and those who simply are looking for any reason to say why it will fail and why Windows 8 is the next Vista, or why we should all use an iPad for business or something….What is weird, as yet, I haven’t read a blog that really skews its slant in a biased way towards windows 8 (must be the sign of the times).

So like many things in life, there is no point listening or reading so called journos on such matters (just as I rarely listen to film critics), you simply have to use it, and spend some time with it. So when the CP of Windows 8 was released at the end of February I thought it was time to install it on my work machine and see what it really is made of…

By the way, I am writing this on my Windows 8 machine, using Metro IE 10, which I have to say is the nicest browser experience I have used on any form of device, be that mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop…I really like it….

 

Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen

 

Touch

OK, many blogs say Windows 8 is far too focused on touch, and it neglects the desktop and the good old days of mouse and keyboard. This may seem true, when you read the blogs and see some screen shots, but actually use it for a few days (in my case in a hard work environment) and you soon realise that actually, Metro works just as well with a mouse and keyboard. Sure it’s nicer with touch, but everything is nicer with touch, far more intuitive and even dare I say still novel.

What we must all remember is that touch is the future, and that includes the desktop and laptop worlds. Already we see many PCs with touch monitors, and if you have used them, you find their experience is better than standard PCs without it (even running Windows 7). By the start of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if most new PCs came with a touch screen option. Windows 8 is a new UI for the next 10 years for Microsoft, and touch has to be at the centre of it, like it or not. If you are one of those people who still want to use a mouse and keyboard, that’s fine too, but don’t knock an OS for supporting what will be the mass market shortly.

Clashing Metro and Desktop

Clashing user interfaces is something that is also being thrown at Windows 8 at lot, people claiming that its “jarring” moving from the metro world to the desktop. I really think this is looking for faults for the sake of looking for faults. I have 3 monitors and 2 of which are in desktop mode, the third Metro, and to be honest I don’t find the experience jarring at all. Sure they look and behave differently but so do many programs you run. Currently with any OS, you have a few windows open and the experience between those windows is just as “jarring” as there is no standard design for apps.

I really don’t find a clash, especially if you stop seeing them as different user interfaces, and see them for what they are. Metro home screen is the start button, just full screen. When you run multiple monitors it’s really nice having the metro side of things on a screen on its own, it works really well. I also have the option to ditch it and go full desktop. We have to realise that metro is start, and metro apps are immersive experiences, designed yes for touch and tablets, but work just as well on the desktop. The Maps App for example means I will never use Google maps or any maps in a browser again! It is a brilliant experience on a desktop machine.

When you run multiple monitors you find that probably on one of them you will have one window open to the full screen, typically for me this will be Outlook, and the other monitor may have VS 2010 open full screen and the third lots of multiple windows open, depending on what I am doing. So the concept of full screen apps in metro fits in nicely with multiple monitors I find. If on a single monitor, if you want to have two windows open at once, you can with Metro, nothing stops you, just that the apps run side by side (a feature many of us use in Windows 7 to snap windows side by side). Not many of us have multiple windows open so we are viewing them all the time, we have multiple windows open so we can work with them, but to actually view them no, we switch between windows. I think the alt tab is the most used key, and with Metro this doesn’t change, nothing is stopping you from opening many many apps…

 

Mystery in using the Metro UI

With anything new, comes new ways of doing things. Many have written that you have to “re-learn” the Metro world, and know where to hover your mouse etc. This is sort of true, sure you have new areas or zones where you hover your mouse and new things happen, but that is “added” to your windows experience, and if you can’t remember to move your mouse to one of four corners to activate something then you really won’t even remember why you are on the PC in the first place.

There are new things to learn, for example start button is gone, but metro home is start, you access “charms menu” by hovering the mouse in the bottom right, or top right hand corner of the screen, sure its new but now you know, it’s pretty easy to remember. If anything its very intuitive once you give it a chance. My Dad who is approaching his 70s is always scared of a new OS coming from Windows as he is still in XP mode, but after 10 mins with Windows 8 he was more than happy with it.

Once you get used to some of the new ways of doing things, you soon find that these are standardised across everything in Windows, which makes life so so so much simpler. Think about changing settings in your browser, or an app, often we end up looking through menus to find where they are (not always in the most obvious place). You then go to a different application and you want to change those settings and yeap, you spend ages looking for them in that app as they are not in the same place. With Windows 8 all that is gone, just go to the charms menu, and there they are, settings…No matter what app you are in.

Oh, and don’t forget, Metro is for all your devices, phone, tablet, laptop, desktop….

Lumia800

Nokia Lumia 800 showing its Windows Metro Interface. Metro across all your devices makes life simple

 

Default classic desktop

So you boot up and you are greeted with Metro, some saying they want to be greeted by the classic desktop and bypass metro, but I really don’t see why. Once in the desktop, what will you do, you will look to open an application. So why didn’t you simply open the application from the metro start screen? If it’s a desktop app, it fires and you are in desktop mode? Booting into desktop, and then clicking on start, then programs, then selecting your application of choice is far more time consuming than selecting it from the metro start screen. Plus, in desktop mode, do I have live tiles telling me information I may need?

 

Metro doesn’t work for everything

Ahh this is true, and this is the point of Windows 8 in some ways. You have one OS for all your devices, so just as typical Windows desktop apps don’t work well for mobile devices, certain metro design concepts won’t work for certain applications. I doubt there will be a VS 2012 in Metro, or a Photoshop metro app. You simply need the accuracy of a mouse, you need the text based menus with all your options, so traditional desktop interface works well.  With Windows 8 you get the best of both worlds, and more to the point the flexibility. I want to be able to do “everything” on my chosen device, and with Windows 8 I have that flexibility. It maybe that I have a metro version of outlook or mail open, but then need to work with Photoshop; I have the freedom within the OS to work as efficiently as possible in both environments. Can you say that with any other OS across any or should I say all of your devices?

I personally am glad metro doesn’t suit everything. If it did, think of those entire legacy apps people would be trying to re-write…They won’t will they, and the desktop works well for those apps, so why re-invent the wheel for something that isn’t broken.

 

Kinect Support missing

This made me laugh out loud; that someone has complained about this is mad! Windows 8 is a beta / consumer preview edition; it’s not a finished OS. Likewise do we have Kinect Support on all other operating systems…erm, no. I’m sure it will be there come the end of 2012, and in many ways you can argue it is there already. Since the desktop world supports legacy apps, it will no doubt support the current Kinect drivers, API etc available for Windows 7.

 

Live tiles ….

I think you either love these or hate the look of them. I personally love the practicality they bring. With my Metro start screen I see so much information without doing anything other than look at the screen. I have noticed I do the same with my Windows phone, no longer do I flit between multiple apps for quick updates, and I simple look at the screen and the various tiles. In many ways, Live tiles are great from productivity and making sure you are aware of what’s going on…

I think if you hate the look of them, you haven’t actually spent any time with them. If you have, the blocky nature makes things easy and clear to see, and the fact they are actually live, constantly moving and updating you with information is great. Many have said that they will look messy once you get different apps and graphics being used, I have to disagree, if anything the tiles look more vibrant. I think the tiles look more standardised, even with lots of different apps and graphics being shown than a sea of icons which I used to have (be that on my phone or desktop). Moving back to the old icon world really does feel like a step back in time now, and I think that will be many people’s thoughts once they spend a little time with Metro and live tiles.

 

Business adoption will be slow

This may be true, but not because Windows 8 is something they don’t like, rather because the Enterprise update in cycles, and this usually means an update ever 2 versions of Windows in recent years. Most companies went from Win 95 to Windows XP. I don’t recall anyone opting for Windows 98. On the server side we went NT 4 to 2000. Roll forward and enterprise moved from XP to Windows 7 and server side from 2000 to 2005/8. It’s not because the other versions of Windows were cra* rather the releases didn’t fit in with the Enterprises upgrade timescales. I think Windows 8 is being released so soon after 7 so that it does miss the Enterprise upgrade path on purpose. This means by the time Windows 9 is being released; everyone will be happy with the Metro concept and be very eager to move to Windows 9 in the enterprise.

Sure in the tablet scene, many businesses will opt for Windows 8 tablets, especially with support for legacy apps. I read in one blog though that because windows 8 on ARM won’t support these legacy apps that business will turn to the iPad….You see the sort of rubbish that gets written? Why would any business chose an iPad in such a case? The iPad also won’t run your legacy apps, so I think the business will opt for Windows tablets on Intel chips and sacrifice the added 2 hours of battery life (so that’s 10 down from 12 looking at the battery span of the Windows 8 Developers Preview tablet).

 

Gamble…

Is Windows 8 a gamble…Yes, but is it a massive one, no not really. If you hate metro, you will live in the desktop mode. If like me you like to move forward, and you are prepared to spend more than 5 minutes judging a book by its cover, then you will soon like Metro and everything it stands for, and that will include the Metro start screen and “apps” in Windows 8…

I think Microsoft have got it right with Windows 8, and we have seen some real innovation finally from a desktop OS.

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Connectivity, Efficiency, Experiences

23 11 2011

When looking at BPM (Business Process Management) solutions, or talking about BPM the concept, many of us think of how it relates to actual business processes or business goals, cases, targets etc. This is the main aim of BPM, to address how a business achieves a goal or carries out “work”, agreed? Ok, but my observation is, Is this right? Does the term BPM limit our thinking in real sense?

 

Outside of the business

If we take everything that we do towards a desired goal or outcome as a process, then BPM applies to everything we do in life, it’s not just limited to Businesses! For example, our own bodies go through processes every second of every day to achieve a goal. Think how we breathe, there is a distinct process, think how we turn food into energy, a distinct process, think how we run, a distinct mechanical process.

Now these examples are to simply prove a point that processes are around us and a part of our daily lives massively, which means any one process is made up of many others. Me running is a process, but in order for me to run, my body goes through a number of other processes, breathing and turning food into energy. This means businesses should not see their process as “the process”, rather as simply a smaller part of an overall and far bigger customer experience.

 

Real world example needed

To get my point across I want to use a real world example. Ok, I purchase a printer from a store. On checkout I provide that store with some basic information about myself. I then get home, install the printer and start using it. I fill in the warranty card, post that off, and then forget about it. A few days later the product breaks down, and I need to get it replaced. From the point of view of the manufacturer they don’t need to take into account any of the process I have just gone through, in order to kick off the process of dealing with the fault, but should they?

I believe yes.

 

Connectivity

Connectivity of devices and processes can have massive implications on process efficiencies, and the ability for external processes (that may not be directly related) to have a positive effect on our business processes.

First off, connecting and sharing data between different processes obviously provides added efficiencies and data accuracy. If we take our printer example, the process of checking out and paying for my printer should be integrated with the process of me completing a warranty card and informing the manufacturer.  That’s a process I shouldn’t need to be doing, and with improved connectivity of processes and data, I don’t have to. Now relate that back to the process of me returning the faulty printer, you see that process will be improved because of this connectivity in a different process. Both the store, and the manufacturer now know me, the product and the warranty, I don’t need to go through a number of steps at the start of the manufacturer’s faulty product process.

Secondly, device connectivity can have a massive impact on process efficiency, especially when connecting multiple and sometimes very different processes together. In the typical BPM world, do we take this into consideration?

Since the rise of the Smartphone, we have started to take into consideration connectivity to processes from different devices; we now see not just eMail being accessed on our mobile devices, but also ECM concepts along with the ability to actually work. However, when we flit between devices, such as our laptop, tablet, PC and mobile, often we have to do things again. Think deleting emails from your mobile device you have already deleted, think re-downloading a document we were working on etc. These are small things, but they can rack up a lot of time, and frustration amongst your work force. Now think of this from the point of view of a customer? You can see how better connected devices mean we can deliver better connected experiences to our customers, which have an impact on process efficiency.

Connectivity is a big thing, and one of the problems with multiple platforms and operating systems is the lack of connectivity. As a consumer, we like single user experiences, and we now want and like flexibility to do things whenever we want and on whatever device we want. Unfortunately having a different OS on my phone to the OS on my tablet, to the OS on my laptop and PC is not great for connectivity or user experiences. I’m not sure big players such as Google and Apple get this. Apple do it better than Google, and currently Microsoft, they learnt from the disjointed approach of Microsoft in the 90s. However, Microsoft seems to understand this connectivity and single user experience far more now, and they are moving ahead of the others. With Windows 8 and Windows Azure, one connected OS across all devices is only a few months away. That potentially provides massive connectivity bonuses to business and consumers.

 

Efficiency

BPM, APG (Adaptive Process Guidance), ACM (Adaptive Case Management) all aim to help businesses in a number of ways, raising efficiency, increasing standards, increasing accountability, ensuring compliance and improving customer experiences. These are just a few arguments for BPM thinking.

Efficiency is often looked at in terms of processes businesses own. Let’s look at our example process again. The manufacturer can improve the actual faulty printer process internally; it monitors what goes on, tweaks it here and there and improves it. However, external processes and greater connectivity should be leveraged to drastically improve this process further. Make sense?

In order to get a working printer, I the consumer, will follow through a process, which is a bigger process to that which the printer manufacturer has for handling this issue. If we step back, we can see that this process of getting a working printer spans over the store and the manufacturer, but if we step back further it also incorporates the process of me purchasing the printer in the first place. Do you see how a bigger picture of a process now surrounds my manufacturer’s simple process of dealing with my broken printer? If you do, then you can start to see areas in which we can make the manufacturers process of dealing with the broken printer far easier and more efficient than what is currently in place.

Essentially, if along the entire process of me purchasing the printer the manufacturer was thinking about the returns / repairs process, then they would want to get the warranty and customer information at the point of sale. This drastically improves the process efficiency for returns, in terms of internal efficiencies but also from the point of view of the customer, improving their relationship with that store and the brand of printer they have bought. I’m not going to break down the process further, rather I believe I have made my point, that business can improve process by taking into account external processes, especially those of their customers…

 

Experience

This post is about delivering a better customer experience. Leveraging the connectivity potential of devices and the connectivity potential of processes, business is able to improve its own processes. Taking our faulty printer example we can see how improved connectivity leads to external processes improving the manufacturer’s returns / repair process, in terms of efficiency internally and for the customer. We also see how connectivity of devices makes the customer experience far easier, simpler and more efficient, including for the manufacturer.

So with efficiency in mind, we look to greater connectivity, put the two together and you get drastically improved experiences…





BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…