First impression of Windows 8: Wonderful

Last Tuesday I had a wonderful evening: coming home from a run on an endorphin high, I sat down in front of my computer with a plate of strawberries and ice cream watching the Steven Sinofsky Windows 8 keynote at Microsoft’s BUILD conference. And boy was it awesome. I couldn’t stop smiling.

The big thing: Metro everywhere

As regular readers of this blog know, I am big fan of the Metro Design Language that Microsoft has used in Windows Phone 7 as well as on Zune and Xbox. So it is great news that the primary interface for Windows 8 will be Metro style. It’s a bold departure from the kind of UI that has served Microsoft and its users so well since Windows 95. And it is also refreshingly different from the two other major platforms for PCs and devices today: Mac OS X/iOS, which are becoming more and more the same from a UI perspective, relying on the UI concepts of “grid of icons” introduces with the first iPhone in 2007, and Linux/Android which just seem dated.

Paul Thurrott has good coverage of BUILD on the SuperSite for Windows, including several screenshot galleries (1, 2, 3, 4), but to really appreciate the new possibilities, you have to check out the keynote video on Channel 9. It will show you the myriad ways that Microsoft is reimaging Windows.

The basic proposition is, I guess, that Windows should be the only computing platform you will need. It will run just as well on classic Intel-based PCs as it does on ARM-based tablets an maybe even phones. Metro will be common UI for all these platforms as well as you Xbox, so you won’t have to learn different UIs for the different kind of device categories. To control it, you will be able to use touch, a stylus, a mouse and/or a keyboard, depending on the type of device and what you feel like. It is sort of the single computing platform that I had been dreaming about in a blog post a couple of weeks ago. I think this is a wonderful idea and I really hope that Microsoft can deliver on this promise.

The big question, of course, is whether users will go along with this. I know several people whose first order of business when they get a new version of Windows is to turn off the new UI features to make it look like the previous version of Windows. Even if it is just little things like the Aero glass effects in Vista and Windows 7. Since the Metro style interface is such a big departure, I am concerned users might not give it a chance and revert back to the old desktop interface at first. This would be a shame, as this new interface really has a lot to offer (see for yourself in the keynote video) and should be huge improvement in terms of usability for many people. I only hope Microsoft will be successful in convincing users of its advantages. This is, after all, Windows, so success or failure of Windows 8 is a big deal to Microsoft and hundreds of millions of users.

Finally better Windows Live integration

Right now, Windows and Windows Live have precious little integration (read about my troubles integrating SkyDrive into Windows Explorer). With Windows 8, Microsoft is improving this area in a big way, for instance by  including support for SkyDrive right out of the box. And the maybe most important thing for users is the way Windows pulls together their content from all the Windows Live services and other accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn that have been associated with one’s LiveID. You can see this in Windows Phone today, the way it lights up with your content (contacts, email, pictures) as you log on with your LiveID for the first time. In Windows 8 even more things will be synced, such as application settings, bookmarks et cetera. It’s great stuff.

Miscellaneous

And then there is WinRT a new set of new APIs for developers that are accessible from XAML and C# or HTML5 and JavaScript (so no abandoning of .NET as some had rumored). And there is also better integration with Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing solution. This should allow some really interesting applications that store their state in the cloud allowing users to work with the same app in the same state on multiple devices.

Final thoughts

Windows 8 is a big deal. Both for Microsoft and the billion or so Windows users. I am very excited to get my hands on the developer preview (already downloaded it, but unfortunately I don’t have a machine here to install it on).

It is also worth noting that while Windows 8 has a clear tablet focus, it is thankfully not an iPad or Android clone, but so much more. As I said earlier, Windows 8  will pretty much run on all your computing devices and is therefore the only OS you will ever need.

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