10 Days with Windows 8 Developer Tablet- the “Plusses”

It has been ten days since I attended Microsoft’s BUILD developer forum where I listened to many of the public details on Windows 8. The most valuable time I spent was that with customers, developers, press and analysts to share thoughts about what we all just heard about Window’s future. I also picked up a Samsung tablet with Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview on it. I have found that after actually using a product, I can learn 10x more than from any slide deck. I’d like to share my first impressions after using Windows 8 Developer Preview for 10 days, and I will start with the positive aspects. In my next blog, I will discuss the less appealing aspects or areas where it’s just too early to call.

State of Windows 8

Windows 8 is currently in the stage called “developer preview”. How does this relate to alpha or beta stage? Consider it pre-beta, in that it is almost feature-complete. So my thoughts will be in the context that this is a developer preview, not beta, and certainly not a shipping product.

Start Time

Starting the Windows 8 tablet was nothing short of amazing. Press the power button, and in 3-5 seconds you are at the start menu. Nothing short of incredible and I hope this will be consistent between platforms and when lots of software is installed. I remember Windows Vista seeming good at beta stage, but then I started installing programs…

Metro Touch UI for Tablets is “Thumbtastic”

I was stunned at how well Metro works and how good it looks on the developer tablet. It is fast and fluid, minimal, graphical and optimized for a user holding the tablet with two hands in 16×9 landscape orientation.


In fact, most of the important things I wanted to do I could accomplish with my two thumbs.

  • Multitask by scrolling through open programs
  • Go “home” or to the Start screen
  • Initiate a search
  • Share content to a service or to another device
  • Change key settings connecting to a network, volume, brightness, notifications, and power


No other tablet I have used comes close to that at 10” and above. Android Honeycomb forces me to reach in to the center to change programs and the thumb action is too far down the tablet in the lower right and left corners. Thumb actions need to be where the thumbs naturally rest.

Live Tiles to Launch Apps and Provide Info

Instead of icons and widgets, Metro uses live tiles. This combines simple navigation with instant access to relevant information. I have always loved Android’s widgets and screens. The issue with Android widgets is complexity and uniformity. Windows 8 goes a step further to provide uniform sizes and a simple update methodology.


Dock as PC

I am an unrepentant fan of “smart” modularity, or making a device serve completely different functions when connected to another device. This must be done intelligently; otherwise users just won’t do it because it’s either not obvious, or too difficult.

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I was very impressed with my tablet’s ability to dock with off the shelf peripherals. Samsung’s tablet dock had ports for USB, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, and audio. When I returned from meetings, I connected the tablet to a 22” display, a full size keyboard and mouse. In desktop mode, it was like I was at a desktop PC, where I could do heavy-duty work and content creation. When I was done or if I went to meetings or home, I would undock and it was good on the couch.

“Play To” Amped Up

Anyone with a Windows 7 PC can currently play content to another Windows 7 PC. This is via a feature called “Play To”. Also they can play content to a DMA like WD TV Live Hub and even an XBOX 360.

What’s different in Windows 8? First, it’s not buried five layers deep. It’s one thumb swipe away. Secondly, it supports content from the Internet Explorer 10 browser. For instance, even though it’s a preview version, I streamed HTML 5 YouTube videos from my tablet to my HDTV via my WD TV Live Hub.


Finally, at BUILD, Microsoft outlined a new program to certify that the experience would be really good for “certified” Play To devices. For Windows 7, peripherals weren’t certified for experience, but were tested for compatibility. This meant that it would work, but may not work well. With Windows 8, I am hopeful we will see many Play To devices that are certified for compatibility and experience.

Runs Windows 7 Apps

I ran every app I use on my Windows 7 machine in “desktop mode” without any compatibility issues. I used apps like MS Office 2010, Adobe Reader X, Evernote, SugarSync, XMarks for IE, Google Chrome browser, Amazon Kindle for Windows, Hulu Desktop, and Tweetdeck.


Full Screen Internet Explorer 10 Browser

Admittedly, I have been skeptical on full screen browsing. I’ve tried to like it since full screen browsing options started, but it always felt out of place and awkward because no other apps were full screen. Also, without “chrome” or borders, it was difficult to change programs. Windows 8 and Metro changed all of this.


Compatibility was good, too, as long as I didn’t go to sites where plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight were required. I didn’t encounter many compatibility issues at all, surprising given how early this version is. Heck, even LogMeIn worked.


While it’s only been 10 days, it’s easy to get the feel of Microsoft’s Windows 8 Developer Preview operating system. This is particularly true after using so many different tablets over the last few years. There’s a lot to like about Windows 8 so far, particularly the Metro UI on a tablet and its chameleon-like capabilities to transform into a PC. As in life, there are always down sides to decisions or it’s just too early to tell how something will end. That’s the case for Windows 8, and I’ll be exploring this in my next analysis.

See Pat’s bio here or past blogs here.

Follow @PatrickMoorhead on Twitter and on Google+.

Metro Could Drive Voice and Air Gesture UI

Last week, I attended Microsoft’s BUILD conference in Anaheim, where, among other things, Windows 8 details were rolled out to the Microsoft ecosystem. One of the most talked-about items was the Metro User Interface (UI), the end user face for the future of Windows. The last few days, I have been thinking about the implications of Metro on user interfaces beyond the obvious physical touch and gestures. I believe Metro UI has as much to do with voice control and air gestures as it does with physical touch.


Voice Control

Voice command and control has been a part of Windows for many generations. So why do I think Metro has anything to do with enabling widespread voice use in the future, and why do I think people would actually use this version? It’s actually quite simple. First, only a few voice command and control implementations and usage scenarios have been successful, and they all adopt a similar methodology and all come from the same company. Microsoft Auto voice solutions have found their way into Ford and Lincoln automobiles, branded SYNC, and drivers actually are using it. Fiat uses MS Auto technology as well. Microsoft Kinect implements a very accurate implementation for the living room using some amazing audio beamforming algorithms and a hardware four microphone array.


None of these implementations would be successful without establishing an in-context and limited dictionary. Let’s use Kinect as an example. Kinect allows you to “say what you see” on the TV screen, limiting the dictionary of words required to recognize. That is key. Pattern matching is a lot easier when you are matching 100s of objects versus 100K. Windows 8 Metro UI limits what users see on the screen, compared with previous versions of Windows, making that voice pattern matching all the easier. One final, interesting clue comes with the developer tablets distributed at BUILD. The tablets had dual microphones, which greatly assists with audio beam forming.

Air Gestures

Air gestures are essentially what Kinect users do with their hands and arms instead of using the XBOX controller. When players want to click on a “tile” in the XBOX environment, they place your hand in the air, hover over the tile for a few seconds, and it selects it. Kinect uses a camera array and an IR sensor to detect what your “limbs” are doing and associates it with a tile location on the screen. Note that no more than 8 tiles are shown on the screen at one time, increasing user accuracy.


Hypothetically, air gestures on Metro could take a few forms, and they could be guided by form factor. In “stand-up” environments with large displays, they would take a similar approach as Kinect does. In the future, displays will be everywhere in the house and air gestures would be used when touching the display just isn’t convenient or desired. I would like this functionality today in my kitchen as I am cooking. I have food all over my hands and I want to turn the cookbook page or even start up Pandora. I can’t touch the display, so I’d much rather do a very accurate air gesture.

In desk environments, I’d like to ditch the trackpad and mouse and just use my physical hand as a gesture methodology. It’s a virtual trackpad or gesture mouse. I use all the standard Metro gestures on a flat surface, a camera tracks exactly what my hand is doing and translates that into a physical touch gesture.


Microsoft introduced Metro as the next generation user interface primarily for physical touch gestures and secondarily for keyboard and mouse. Metro changes the interface from a navigation-centric environment with hundreds of elements on the screen to content-first with a very clean interface. Large tiles replace multitudes of icons and applets and the amount of words, or dictionary is drastically reduced. Sure this is great for physical touch, but also significantly improves the capability to enhance voice control and even air gestures. Microsoft is a leader in voice and air gesture with MS Auto and Kinect, and certainly could enable this in Windows 8 for the right user environments.

See Pat’s bio here or past blogs here.

Follow @PatrickMoorhead on Twitter and on Google+.

Windows 8 on a Laptop: A First Look

For the past few days, I have been playing with the developer preview of Windows 8 on a conventional–no touch screen–laptop. My initial reaction is that no matter how good the new Metro user interface may be on tablets, it is nothing but a pain on a keyboard-and-mouse PC.

Some caveats are in order. These are very early days for Windows 8 and we are dealing with pre-beta software. The Metro applications included in the release are not very polished or very useful. And by the time Win 8 ships, probably about a year from now, PCs may have changed to take better advantage of the new interface (a MacBook-style touchpad, which effectively simulates a touch screen with gestures, would be a huge improvement over a typical Windows touchpad.) But still, the experience has been sufficiently disconcerting to make me question Microsoft’s strategy of trying to combine tablet and conventional PC operating systems into one package.

Where are my programs? It’s easy enough to move from the tiled, Windows Phone-like Metro UI to a standard Windows desktop. Just move the cursor all the way to the right side of the screen and click the desktop image that appears. The desktop looks sort of normal–until you click the Start button. Instead of seeing a program menu, you are dumped back into the Metro home screen. There is no obvious way to launch a program that doesn;t either have a Metro tile or an icon on the standard Windows desktop.

It would appear that the favored way to launch an app is through the universal search feature. Start typing on the metro home screen and a search box appears. If the search is set to Apps, a list of matching programs appears in the left panel as you type. Click on the one you want and the program will launch. It works, but it is awkward and weird. It feels almost like a throwback to the command line. (Yes, you can also launch programs this way in Windows 7 by typing a name in the Start menu’s search box, but I’ve only used it for obscure system utilities that don’t appear in the program list.)

There are downloadable utilities that let you toggle the Windows 7-style Start menu on and off and a Registry fix that will turn Metro off altogether, but neither is a very satisfactory solution. Microsoft, of course, has plenty of time to fix things, but for now, the conventional desktop version of Windows 8 feels distinctly like a second-class citizen.

Meanwhile, the Metro interface and its associated apps are awkward and uncomfortable on a PC. When I work on a desktop or laptop, as opposed to a tablet, I typically has a lot of windows open and move between them frequently. In fact, the ability to run multiple apps and to move data among them is a primary reason why I work mostly on a conventional computer. (The illustration above began with Windows 8 running in a virtual machine on an iMac. I used the Grab program to create the screen shot, which I then processed in Photoshop, and inserted into this WordPress post in Chrome.)

Metro improves on the standard tablet approach by letting you have two apps open at once, that’s not nearly enough for desktop work. And bad as it is on the 13.3″ laptop screen, it would be much worse on a 30″ desktop monitor. And while I haven;t had an opportunity to try it, I suspect the Windows 8 conventional desktop is every bit as awkward on a tablet as Windows 7 was, because you are dealing with windows, icons, and menus designed for use with a keyboard and mouse.

The bottom line is that Microsoft has not convinced me this two-headed approach to Windows is going to serve either tablets of mouse-and-keyboard PCs very well. As I said, there’s still lots of time to get it right, but there is an awful lot to be done.


How Google Can Learn From Microsoft

There has been some interesting commentary around how different the approach between Microsoft and Apple is as it relates to their developer conferences.

It is certainly true that these two companies approach them differently but as Steve Wildstrom points out in his article on why Microsoft’s approach is more open than Apple’s, it is because of the more complex ecosystem Microsoft has.

Microsoft has many vendors, who build a wide variety of product configurations based on their software. Because of that it is very important that Microsoft be open and clear with all in their value chain so that the appropriate plans can be made.

With that in mind and after reading Steve’s article I can’t help but think about how very different Microsoft’s developer and partner strategy is from Google’s.

With Microsoft they are out there talking to OEM and ODM partners early, actually working with them to make better products and tune their systems to work with Windows 8. And oh by the way they are doing this and have been doing this well over a year in advance of their product.

Now Microsoft and Google have almost identical partner ecosystems. They both rely on hardware companies to bring their software to market. Yet Google does not talk to their partner ecosystem until much later in their development. Unless of course you are one of the chosen few to go live with the latest Google release you are almost kept entirely in the dark.

That may be entirely fine for Google but that puts your hardware partners in very difficult positions because they plan their hardware and make design plans with the ODM’s at a minimum of 8 month’s out.

I can’t tell you how often I hear from OEM and ODM vendors who express their frustration with Google on how they work with their hardware “partners” around Android.

Because of this and because Microsoft takes a much more partner centric strategy with their software, I am hearing a great deal of excitement from around the industry for this next release of Windows. It appears that the vast majority of those who make PC’s and tablets are going to rally around Microsoft for this next release.

That of course does not ensure its success, my only point is that by working with partners early in the cycle it gives them a more confident feeling and approach to supporting the Microsoft ecosystem.

The level of secrecy that Google employs around Android literally makes zero sense. It would be one thing if Android was light years ahead of anything on the market in terms of an OS but the reality is it is not. I’m sure we can debate this all day but I see no value in Google keeping hardware partners in the dark as they do, and all it does is rub key partners the wrong way.

Google should learn from Microsoft on how to take a true partner centric approach to their development of Android and treat all who desire to ship Android as partners and not keep them in the dark until the last possible minute.

How Microsoft is Starting Over With Windows 8

One of the things that I have been observing as we have seen bits of Windows 8 get shared publicly, is the drastic re-thinking of the OS and the role of the OS by Microsoft.

Obviously the most glaring sign is the Metro UI which presents information in an entirely new way. The other somewhat obvious but somewhat subtle observation is around touch. Given that Microsoft has been thinking about touch as it relates to Windows for quite a while now, it is surprising that they actually got it right as late as they did.

Regardless of how long it took I actually think Microsoft has finally nailed touch at least in the area of the operating system. The next question will be can they and their development community nail touch with applications.

The last interesting observation is around Windows on ARM. There is still very little information regarding and being shared with WoA (Windows on ARM), which may not be a good sign, however we do know that new applications created using MSFT’s tools are supposedly able to cross both X86 and ARM versions of Windows.

There is still the question of legacy applications written for X86 and whether they will work on ARM. As far as I can tell from talking with industry folks the consensus is no, they would need to be re-complied or written again from scratch. Another early observation and perhaps needed clarification is whether or not the non-Metro UI version of Windows is available on ARM. I am yet to get a clear answer on that point but some trustworthy sources tell me only the Metro UI is Windows on ARM.

Now if that is true that existing Windows applications are not backwards compatible with ARM and the Metro UI is the only way you experience WoA then I am left to conclude that Windows 8 on ARM is essentially a brand new operating system.

It is an entirely new look and feel, it requires brand new apps with no support for existing ones, therefore an entirely new third-party development ecosystem needs to cultivated. If that is true then how can we not consider it an entirely new OS platform?

So why doesn’t MSFT call it something other that Windows? The answer I believe is because WoA and Windows 8 holistically is Microsoft’s best attempt to completely start over with Windows.

Windows on ARM is clearly a re-start of Windows, assuming my claim of a new OS is valid, and they are pushing the Metro UI as a larger part of the overall Windows experience while downplaying the more familiar start bar, program, task manager, application bar part of the Windows UI.

I don’t think it is any industry secret that Windows has continued to maintain many of the same fundamental OS technologies for over a decade. Some of those things like the registry for example may not be the best ways to go forward. This is why I believe Microsoft knew they needed a fundamental rebuilding of the OS at a functional and fundamental level and Windows 8 is their best attempt at a re-start.

If they can successfully transition their partners to a new OS that is built to thrive in the PC and the Post-PC era then it will benefit them greatly.

I actually applaud this work of theirs to scrap many of the things they clung to from Windows of the past and look more to the future role Windows will play in the personal computing ecosystem.

In fact if you think about it there is no better time for Microsoft to have a fundamental re-start of Windows than now. My ONLY hope is that they execute on this platform and that they get it right the first time.

I do not believe Microsoft can withstand the “third times a charm” syndrome they have faced in the past given how fast this market is moving.

Why Microsoft’s Development Must Be More Open Than Apple’s

Matt Rosoff at Business Insider writes that a principal reason why Microsoft reveals a lot more about its development process than Apple does is that Apple is a consumer products company while Microsoft is a technology company.That’s somewhat oversimplified, but mostly true as far as it goes. However, it misses some deeper reasons for Microsoft’s greater openness.

Windows 8 screen shotThe most important reason is that Windows lies at the heart of an extremely complex ecosystem. Microsoft needs to provide its partners, both computer manufacturers and enterprise customers, with a clear development roadmap. For OEMs, this is vitally important if they are to be able to ship optimized hardware, such as the new Windows 8 tablets, when the new software is released. This requires lots of lead time.

Windows also runs on an almost uncountable variety of of hardware configurations. Device manufacturers, like computer OEMs, need lead time to have optimized drivers ready when the new OS ships. Fortunately, Windows 8, like Windows 7 and unlike Vista, does not require extensive rewriting of drivers. But there are always issues of fine-tuning the software.

The variety of configurations also calls for extensive beta testing. There’s no way Microsoft can test any but a tiny proportion of the possibilities in-house. It needs debugging input from a large number of users.

Apple, by contrast, tightly controls the ecosystem. It can, and does, regularly release OS versions that render relatively new hardware and software obsolete. Apple can get away with this approach, which enables it to avoid Microsoft’s endless problems with legacy code, largely because it does not have to worry about keeping enterprise customers happy.

Apple’s development secretiveness does cause problems. New OS releases often cause serious compatibility problems. Even a relatively minor upgrade like Lion has produced a long list of hardware and software incompatibilities that probably would have been a lot shorter had Apple been more open with third-party developers. This is a price Apple is willing to pay, but that Microsoft, because of its different position in its own ecosystem, cannot afford.

Microsoft’s Windows 8-Deja Vu all over again

In 1994, Steve Balmer came down to San Jose and took me to dinner to show me an early version of Windows 95. Yes, in those days they valued analysts and actually came and met with a few of us often. As you probably know, this was their first full blown OS with a GUI after a rocky attempt at creating an OS with a new GUI in 1993.

As Ballmer was showing me the new user interface on top of a DOS shell, with its colorful icons and more graphically driven screen, I kept thinking to myself that I had seen this already. Of course I was thinking about the Mac’s GUI in which Apple pretty much showed Microsoft and others how to create an OS with a graphical interface and in fact, by 1995, Apple had their version of this on the market for 10 years.

Fast forward to 2011 and this time as I watched Microsoft show off a new OS for Windows at their Build Conference in Anaheim and as I saw the demo unfold and looked at the new Metro UI with its touch features and cloud links, I had that déjà vu experience again. As in 1994, I had already seen many of these features they showed and more from Apple two years ago as they began to show developers an early peak at Mac OS X Lion. And all of the gestures and touch features they showed in Windows 8 are already on the iPad. Yes, the Metro UI is different in its tiling approach to organizing data, but otherwise, many of its features are like Mac OS X Lion including in the way it moves the tiles from screen to screen and most of the gestures.

To be sure, both operating systems have a variety of advanced features and I will let the Windows and Mac aficionados slug it out as to whose is best and what is different from the others. But the bottom line is that Windows 8 is an impressive upgrade from the Windows of the past and it will finally bring the Windows OS into the 21st century.

The first noticeable thing in Windows is their tiling UI called Metro. If you have a Windows Mobile 7 smart phone or have seen one demoed you already know what this looks like since it quite similar. You assign various tasks and apps to a tile and pin them to your screen and you can pin as many as you want to and then move from screen to screen to find and launch them.

For the Mac users, it is very similar to how you go from app screen to app screen on and Mac or iPad. But on a Windows PC or even a tablet it is a most logical next step in Windows design and important to the Windows community. Also, since the Metro UI is fundamentally the same on a Windows PC and their Windows Mobile Smartphones, Microsoft is hoping to get more Windows 8 users to buy into their Windows smartphone strategy.

Another thing that is quite important is their seven-second boot time. This is something that Microsoft’s customers have been asking for since Windows came to market. And it is quite impressive. This alone should be a reason for people to upgrade to Windows 8.

And the demo they showed of their cloud links throughout the OS to their SkyDisk and apps in the sky are ground breaking for Windows PC users. Again, it mirrors much of what is in Apples iCloud offering coming this fall, but in reality, this is the future of cloud, OS and app integration for any OS in the future. More importantly, from the Windows 8 demo I saw, the actual integration seems very rich and if done as shown, is also one of the more impressive features of Windows 8.

And the other noticeable thing with Windows 8 is the fact that while it will run on Intel’s X 86 processors as is, there will also be a version of Windows 8 for ARM, aka Windows on ARM. This is quite important as the ARM processor is known for its ability to deliver long battery life and that too is one of the goals of Windows 8. It is designed to work well on tablets, where long battery life is key and on laptops where longer battery life has always been a demand.

From what we hear, all apps written for Windows to-date will work in Windows 8, but developers will have to modify them if they want their apps to use the Metro UI. But, it appears that Windows 8 with the Metro UI designed apps will need to be modified significantly if they are to run on ARM based devices as it has to be written to the ARM code, instead of Intel’s X86 core. That means that Windows 8 will first gain serious street cred on Intel based laptops and tablets, with Win 8 on ARM lagging a bit behind it. On the other hand, they showed some pretty impressive Windows 8 demo’s on nVidia’s Tegra 3, Qualcomm’s SnapDragon and TI’s OMAP processors and it would not surprise me to see development for Windows 8 on ARM accelerated in the near future.

You may think that Windows 8’s initial push will be to on laptops but I understand from my contacts in Taiwan that this is not a correct assumption. Windows 8’s first push will be to tablets. Microsoft is quite concerned about being so behind in tablets and they are really pushing their OEM’s to get Windows 8 tablets out as fast as possible. That will be the biggest push at first and I suspect that the first commercial version of Windows 8 will be on tablets. But I don’t expect the version for PC’s to be too far behind.

The one big question that Microsoft did not answer at their keynote was when Windows 8 would ship in either tablet or PC flavors. I have heard a lot of estimates and scuttlebutt behind the scenes about this, but we probably won’t see the first commercial version shipping until perhaps mid 2012 at the earliest. However, I know for a fact that they want to saturate the market with Windows 8 devices by the holiday season 2012.

Looking at Windows 8, it is pretty clear to me that this is a big an upgrade since Windows 95 debuted and will introduce Windows users to a great new UI experience. And just as they did in 1995 when that OS eclipsed the Mac, I suspect that barring any new surprises from Apple, this new OS will give Windows users at least a solid path towards keeping them in the Windows camp and Microsoft could have a monster hit on their hands in the very near future.

Microsoft Has A Chance to Compete With Windows 8

It’s way to early to count Microsoft out. Just look at history. Microsoft has a fighting chance with Windows 8 because they are Microsoft. We can argue and debate whether they understand the consumer. Or whether the market has passed them or not but the simple truth is they are still a force in the computing landscape.
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