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…

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HTML 5, Flash, Silverlight, The Cloud…The future is here?

8 11 2010

I.T. seems to be at one of those cross-roads in terms of how people use software, where they use it, and how and where they choose to store their data.

There has been a lot in the press regarding HTML 5 and I have posted some thoughts on this in the past. There has been equally as much speculation as to the future of technologies such as Flash and Silveright and whether they are now redundant technologies as HTML 5 moves closer. In addition to these, rather large discussions, we are also talking about moving content and software away from traditional servers and PCs, and handing control over to the “Cloud” and “SkyDrives” etc…

So this post is looking at indicators of where we may all end up based on feedback I have received from businesses, the general public, phone professionals and my own thoughts…

HTML 5

This is the easiest one to start with really. HTML 5 will be here, at some point. Many say a lot sooner than I personally believe and many (as there always are) saying this will change everything (which it won’t at all). What HTML 5 will do, is simply to replace the need for browser plug-in to enrich a users web experience to an extent. For example, we will no longer typically use Flash or Silverlight to just stream video, give our website some pretty animations etc etc. Some will argue that’s a good thing, and if you are a purist (in terms of open environments, using only HTML to deliver content) then yes it is. For Video and animations, yes it is a good thing…

However, there are big problems with the whole architecture and the way HTML and the web in general works. The problem here is the web browser. When the web was conceived, the browser was simply an application that displayed some content, it wasn’t to be used as an environment in which processing can occur. But, we are here, and the browser is used to run “script” and to initiate communication between the client and the webserver…HTML sets out standards, but, with everything, with multiple choices (in terms of browesers here) you get different results. No matter what standards are in place, web browsers handle, and will handle the same HTML and even script differently to each other. This is a horrendous state of affairs, meaning that the same website has “allowances” for multiple browsers. This isn’t good…From an end users point of view, “who cares”, but from a development, maintenance and cost point of view, this is not acceptable really. Even if the browsers did handle it all the same (or got very close), testing would still need to be made on each browser platform, and for every time a new browser is released / updated. But this is where we will still be with HTML 5, don’t listen to any marketing hype or to any so called “experts” on this….This is simply the facts….HTML 5 will not change the web for us at all…

Silverlight and Flash

HTML 5 will have a big impact on Flash I believe, after all sites that utilise flash do so to enrich the website. HTML 5 will do this, and unfortunately for Flash, developers will adopt this and leverage it before they look at Flash. So where can Flash go? Well there are still many things Flash can offer that HTML 5 won’t be able to, or at least won’t be able to offer consistently across all browsers. Because of this I see Flash filling small gaps that HTML 5 leaves (the same applies to Silverlight). I do think though Flash will see a massive reduction its use on the web, but will maintain its use for presentations, short movies, and games.

Silverlight is a little different. I have never really seen Silverlight as a pure web technology, and those out there who keep comparing it to Flash or HTML 5 obviously know nothing about Silverlight. Sure Silverlight can give you animation online, deliver RIAs, stream movies etc (all that Flash and HTML 5 can do), but Silverlight has a lot more to offer. The architecture behind Silverlight I feel is spot on. It mixes both the worlds of Desktop and Web seamlessly, effectively delivering desktop applications (with all their power) via the internet for installation, communication and maintenance. This is very different to HTML 5. Because of this, developers will use Silverlight for business applications, for RIAs that need to do more (integrate, carry out complex functions etc) and all without the reliance on the browser or server doing processing jobs. This reduces testing and ensures a single code base (and that’s how it should be). In addition, you get frequent updates, and full support from Microsoft, which again are good things for real developers…

There has been some confusion as of late (mainly in the media and Microsoft haters) as to the value of Silverlight to Microsoft and the fact that it is also used on the new Windows Mobile & platform. Let’s get this clear, Microsoft will concentrate more now on HTML 5 as HTML 5 is a big online technology, and it needs to keep up with others. So this is no surprise. However, Silverlight is and will remain a core development platform for the web, RIAs, Out of browser applications and experiences (which it does now). Sure the Silverlight team will also now work more on its Mobile use and adoption, and that’s because they need too. So all we are talking about is prioritisation of the progression of Silverlight. This is clear from reading up on Silverlight, looking at Microsofts future plans and listening to what is said rather than reading between lines when a press release comes from Microsoft…Silverlight will become increasingly more important to Microsoft in the future, as more developers realise that they can use a single platform to code for the web, the desktop and mobile devices…

Cloud computing, SaaS and SkyDrives

I mention SkyDrives here as that is what Microsoft terms your cloud computing storage space with Windows Live and on your windows mobile 7 phone.

I think in the past couple of weeks, I have had more feedback than ever before on the cloud and its use, from both businesses and the general public.

So let’s look at businesses. Businesses cannot move everything over to the cloud, it’s as simple as that. There are savings to be made via the cloud for business, but it has to ensure that it can move those applications and content to the cloud. That it doesn’t already have a cheaper alternative, that it can trust the cloud providers security measures etc 100% and that there is a way to port to other providers in the future. All in all, business is still wary of this and why shouldn’t they be. I see businesses embracing the cloud and SaaS for smaller elements of their operation, ones that do not require so much compliance and that are not that critical to the organisation. This is not a bad thing, rather it is a good thing, the cloud here allowing IT to provide better solutions to the business at lower costs. I don’t believe the increased popularity of the cloud will translate to vast amounts of an organisations data or services being moved to the cloud. Rather the cloud becoming another IT implementation option.

So what of individuals. Well only last week I posted that individuals may well be the big winners of cloud computing. But even here, individuals are more sceptical of cloud based services. It seems that keeping some photos online, music and videos is fine. But when it comes to more personal documentation, you cannot beat a good hard drive or storage device at home. Because of this, I don’t see the masses adopting cloud computing and sky drives….Google may want us all to use the Cloud for software and storage, but the simple fact is, we like control over everything. If our data and content is only in the cloud, then we feel vulnerable, not just to theft, hackers or work colleagues finding things out etc, but also to cloud providers themselves. Let’s face it; Google has an appalling record on data protection and our privacy.

So what is the right usage for individuals? Well Microsoft though I feel has pitched it correctly. Providing 25Gb of space in a sky drive to windows live users (perhaps a little too small really). This is enough space for most people, sure it could be larger to allow us to synch a lot more content, especially music and videos. But it’s a good start. I also love the fact that my Windows Mobile 7 phone provides options to just take a picture and have it stored in my skydrive and not on the device. But, I still have enough space on the device to cart around with me a certain level of music, pictures etc etc. (No doubt this amount of storage will grow). So it’s a nice blend, one I personally am comfortable with, and one most people I speak too are comfortable with…

Conclusion, if any?

It seems in IT, too many marketing companies, experts etc provide to much hype. Everything is also “brilliant” or “rubbish and a fail”. It’s either 100% the way of the future or 0%…There is never any middle ground, and it is the middle ground which actually is where we are heading, in terms of our web usage, devices, online services and storage…And there is nothing wrong with that at all…