I ran my Apple Keynote review two weeks ago but I still hadn’t gotten around to my first look at Windows 8 impressions from D9. There isn’t much to work on, but I’ll give it an honest shot. I’m going in order of the video that Microsoft shared.
To start, the new default UI is based on the current generation of Windows Phone 7 phones. The basic UI is built in blocks instead of Android and iOS’ icons. Unlike the original Metro-UI, the textual design has given way to discrete spaces. These tiles leverage two ideas that icons of old did not have: interaction and updating. Tiles can display information while not be used, but if they are tapped or clicked, they can do things in response to the user, not just opening the app itself. In addition, by using web technologies, these tiles can display more information than just is available locally. It’s more than just weather and twitter integration, it could be anything.
Since the purported applications will be basically HTML5 apps running in an IE10 sandbox, the possibilities aren’t quite endless. Actually, the news has been quite heated about this. The future of Silverlight and .net technologies are in intense debate now about how they will be used in Windows 8. That’s scary if you invested in .net, which is something I did back in 2007, for a short period.
In Windows 8, the default UI will be optimized for touch based input. Oddly, there will be full support for keyboards and mice. Huge blocks are great targets for fingers but for mice? Really now?
There probably won’t be too much multi-tasking whining. Windows 8 default UI offers a touch gesture to switch between apps just by sliding the fingers across the screen. And then there’s pinning, or snapping which is basically Aero-snap but for the new default UI. But the original feature is that the snapping can snap an app at a two-thirds position on the screen. The feature maintains the traditional one-half position too, of course.
Web browsing is completely encompassed in whatever a touchy Internet Explorer 10 turns out to be. Internet Explorer 9 was good but did it matter? I gave up supporting IE6 a while ago and I couldn’t really care less about the future incompatibilities with IE7 and IE8. Depending on the market penetration of IE10, it could turn out to be the future of the web for the next ten years. But I doubt it, for right now anyway.
The keyboard is nice. I’ve been using the little-android keyboard from Froyo. It’s terrible compared to the keyboard in iOS. It’s shocking at how much a bad keyboard can turn you off from an operating system. The Windows 8 UI allows for the traditional virtual keyboard but it adds a split version for thumb-typing. And then those Microsoft guys were flustered when the iOS iPad stole the feature three months ago.
Everyone was remarking that the video called the classic desktop the Windows 7 view. I think that was probably for the best at the time when they still have to figure out the marketing for the new default UI. In addition to that, they don’t want us to know the new codename, but it really should just be Windows 8. Or Windows Grapefruit. That’d be good. Switching back to the now-normal desktop is a good thing to have, but does that mean it’s always running? If that’s the case, then that’s a serious drain on resources.
Quickly mentioned aside features: Windows 8 apps work with now-normal Windows 7 apps and they work with the same Aero-snap/snap feature in two-thirds/one-half views. The file system is still visible through explorer, but apps are sandboxed so they have to be given an explicit permission to access the file system. Finally, apps can use the local system but additionally leverage some cloudy-storage.
As per the video narration, this is only the first look and a small taste. So far then? It’s less exciting than it should’ve been for a first look. It doesn’t impress the right people at a technology conference either. It’s up in the air still if the new default UI is really going to be the absolute new default UI – in other words, will it only apply to new certain form factors or will it be for everything?