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After months of anticipation, Windows 8 is here. It launches today and goes on sale globally tomorrow. For the last year and a half, we've tracked its progress across three betas and the final release, exploring the ins and outs of Microsoft's most ambitious product launch in two decades.

Over the next few days we'll be publishing a barrage of Windows 8 coverage. Today we'll have the main review, which concentrates on Windows 8's radical new user interface and asks if Microsoft has at last managed to realize its dream of a true tablet PC. We're covering the installation and upgrade experience in a separate feature. On tap is a screenshot tour that shows off Redmond's shiny new look and feel, and we'll also look at benchmarks to make sure the OS still runs as well as it should.

In the coming days, we'll be peeking under the hood in an investigation into the work Microsoft has done to make Windows 8 more secure, more efficient, and more flexible. We'll couple that with an extended look at Storage Spaces, the software giant's solution for managing all your disk space needs. We'll also be looking at the all-new Xbox-branded multimedia experience.

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Gabe Newell, the co-founder and managing director of Valve, the videogame development and online distribution company, made a rare appearance last night at Casual Connect, an annual videogame conference in Seattle.

Newell, who spent 13 years at Microsoft working on Windows, is not well-known outside of the videogame industry, but the company he has built in Bellevue, Wash., cannot be overlooked.

Valve is not only a game developer, producing megahits like Portal 2, it owns and operates Steam, which is the largest consumer-focused digital games distribution platform in the industry. By some measures, it may be valued at $3 billion.

Last night, at a dinner sponsored by Covert & Co., Google Ventures and Perkins Coie, Newell unveiled some of his most quirky and secretive projects in an interview onstage with Ed Fries, former VP of game publishing at Microsoft.

Newell, who has a desk on wheels so he can quickly roll over to his favorite projects within the company, struggled at times to put into words how he sees the industry shaking out as companies like Microsoft and Apple move toward closed ecosystems. At one point, he even lamented that his presentation skills aren’t up to speed because Valve isn’t a public company.

Here are excerpts from the conversation that took place in a packed and noisy room with an under-powered speaker system:

On the future of videogame distribution

“Everything we are doing is not going to matter in the future. … We think about knitting together a platform for productivity, which sounds kind of weird, but what we are interested in is bringing together a platform where people’s actions create value for other people when they play. That’s the reason we hired an economist.

“We think the future is very different [from] successes we’ve had in the past. When you are playing a game, you are trying to think about creating value for other players, so the line between content player and creator is really fuzzy. We have a kid in Kansas making $150,000 a year making [virtual] hats. But that’s just a starting point.

“That causes us to have conversations with Adobe, and we say the next version of Photoshop should look like a free-to-play game, and they say, ‘We have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, but it sounds really bad.’ And, then we say, ‘No, no, no. We think you are going to increase the value being created to your users, and you will create a market for their goods on a worldwide basis.’ But that takes a longer sell.

“This isn’t about videogames; it’s about thinking about goods and services in a digital world.”

On closed versus open platforms

“In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong tempation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’”

“We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.’”

On Valve’s interest in Linux

“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.

On the evolution of touch

“We think touch is short-term. The mouse and keyboard were stable for 25 years, but I think touch will be stable for 10 years. Post-touch will be stable for a really long time, longer than 25 years.

“Post touch, depending on how sci-fi you want to get, is a couple of different technologies combined together. The two problems are input and output. I haven’t had to do any presentations on this because I’m not a public company, so I don’t have any pretty slides.

“There’s some crazy speculative stuff. This is super nerdy, and you can tease us years from now, but as it turns out, your tongue is one of the best mechanical systems to your brain, but it’s disconcerting to have the person sitting next you go blah, blah, blah, blah.

“I don’t think tongue input will happen, but I do think we will have bands on our wrists, and you’ll be doing something with your hands, which are really expressive.”

On wearable computers

“I can go into the room and put on the $70,000 system we’ve built, and I look around the room with the software they’ve written, and they can overlay information on objects regardless of what my head or eyes are doing. Your eyes are troublesome buggers.”

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Photo illustration by Aurich Lawson

Microsoft wants Windows developers to write Windows 8-specific, Metro-style, touch-friendly applications, and to make sure that they crank these apps out, the company has decided that Visual Studio 11 Express, the free-to-use version of its integrated development environment, can produce nothing else.

If you want to develop desktop applications—anything that runs at the command line or on the conventional Windows desktop that remains a fully supported, integral, essential part of Windows 8—you'll have two options: stick with the current Visual C++ 2010 Express and Visual C# 2010 Express products, or pay about $400-500 for Visual Studio 11 Professional. A second version, Visual Studio 11 Express for Web, will be able to produce HTML and JavaScript websites, and nothing more.

Visual Studio 11 is an improvement in many ways over Visual Studio 2010. Its C++ compiler, for example, is a great deal more standards-compliant, especially with the new C++ 11 specification. It has powerful new optimization features, such as the ability to automatically use CPU features like SSE2 to accelerate mathematically intensive programs, and new language features to allow programs to be executed on the GPU. The new version of the C# language makes it easier to write programs that do their work on background threads and avoid making user interfaces unresponsive. The .NET Framework, updated to version 4.5, includes new capabilities for desktop applications, such as a ribbon control for Microsoft's WPF GUI framework.

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The boot options menu on a UEFI-based PC

Combine Windows 8 with a fast SSD and a UEFI motherboard and you have a system that could POST in two seconds and boot in seven. That's fantastic until you want to go into Windows' boot menu to fix a problem, or tell the firmware to boot off the USB key you just plugged in. The fast booting means that you have just a few hundred milliseconds to press space or F8 for the Windows boot menu—or F1, F2, F12, delete, or whatever your motherboard vendor picked this week to get into its boot device menu.

Fast-booting UEFI systems are still a rarity today (though slow-booting UEFI systems have become commonplace), but they're expected to be abundant once Windows 8 ships. Also abundant will be systems that make it impossible to hit the keyboard keys fast enough, because they won't have any keyboard keys at all; they'll be tablets. To address both of these problems, Microsoft has changed the way the boot menu works in Windows 8, as detailed in the company's latest Windows 8 blog post.

Windows 8 will do two things to help out. If you know that you want to use the menu before you even shut down (for example, to tell the system to boot off a USB key or optical media), you'll be able to elect to do so before you reboot. There will be three different ways to do this: the Settings applet has a button to reboot into the menu, you can hold down shift when rebooting from the regular shutdown menu, and there's a new option for the shutdown.exe command-line program.

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Die Entwicklung von Windows 8 schreitet in großen Schritten voran und so hat Microsoft gestern die offizielle Beta-Version für Endkunden veröffentlicht. Interessierte können die sogenannte Consumer Preview auf der Homepage von Microsoft herunterladen und auf ihrem PC, Notebook, Netbook oder Tablet installieren. Die neue Metro-Oberfläche wurde bekanntlich vor allem für Touchscreens optimiert, so dass ein Vergleich von Windows 8 auf einem Tablet und iOS 5 auf dem iPad 2 naheliegt. Dies dachte sich auch Joshua Topolsky von TheVerge und hat in einem Video die wichtigsten Features der beiden Betriebssysteme miteinander verglichen.

ipad 2 windows 8 vergleich 564x346

Zwar lässt sich das User Interface der beiden OS nur schwer vergleichen, da die Benutzerführung grundlegend verschieden ist, doch einzelne Funktionen sind durchaus vergleichbar. So liegt Windows 8 beispielsweise bei der Suchfunktion vorne, während Apple den Kalender besser gelöst hat.

Bis zur finalen Version kann sich aber natürlich noch einiges an Windows 8 ändern und auch Apple bleibt in der Entwicklung nicht stehen. So könnten vielleicht die Neuerungen des iPad 3 noch eine letzte Inspiration für die Entwickler von Microsoft sein.

Auf der Video-Seite von Microsoft könnt ihr euch übrigens die komplette Präsentation von gestern nochmal ansehen.

mobiFlip

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As inflammatory as this sounds, and it will piss quite a few Microsoft fans out there, but let me just get this piece out of the way before you make some snap fang filled responses.

The current “metro-style” as Windows 8 team puts it, simply is at present a huge missed opportunity that seems to be constantly being bent out of shape and isn’t ready to go electric (i.e. Bob Dylan went electric and everyone trashed him for it, who’s trashing now!).
Feature Density is cancer to Metro-Style.

The minimalist approach to design has been pretty much on the web for quite some time now thanks to a lot of creative souls in the CSS movement of the past (A List Apart, CSS Zen Garden etc. have all hinted strongly around grid focused design etc.).

There is really nothing new that the current “metro-style” brought to the table in terms of principles of design, the Zune however did put a new face to the idea that the a website-like User Interface could exist on a Desktop application.

It’s from there that the Microsoft UX mercenaries within various orgs began feeding the fire around what if you combined web design skills with desktop development.

Circa 2005ish we saw the first traces of the idea about bridging the two worlds together, but WPF got bloated and crappy performance and eventually failed in delivering to meet expectations. Microsoft Expression Blend also failed as at the time we found that whilst there where quite a number of downloads via MSDN subscriptions it had no revenue stream coming in and developers tried and pushed it aside. Designers disliked the complexity that came with the product and we at the time burnt quite a large bridge with Adobe in making the two potentially integrate with one another smarter (Adobe vs Microsoft war killed the vision).

It wasn’t until the guys behind the Metro as we know it today decided to regroup and come up with a pitch to the world on how Microsoft branding overall should unite, and to be fair – it at the time was a welcomed strategy (I for one was keen to see its momentum get traction).

Taking a page out of the Zune design it simply grew into what we see today, the infamous “metro-style” UI whereby you have a fairly flat canvas, a lot of typography, some primitive shapes and maybe one or two complimentary colors – boom, here’s your Metro-style application you ordered!

Attractive bias aside, the UI’s do look good and I don’t mind sharing that I’ve made a tidy profit churning these designs out for various clients, as they are dead stupid simple. The problem though I’ve personally found over time and discussed with many other fellow metro-designers out there in the interwebs is around how to navigate the pitfalls of feature density.
What do I mean by feature density?

Feature density is when you have a team of feature hungry customer(s) all wanting and willing to pay large bounties to cram as many features into the one product as possible and despite your many educational rants around “less is more” it plays out in way that basically ends up being a really bad execution of “metro”.

Interestingly when you discuss such things with others they tend to climb on top of that horse and start preaching the gospel around controlling the client, usability studies, user experience principles and what not to the point where you simply roll your eyes, make a hand jerk motion and thank them for listening and walk away from them even more frustrated than you were before – YOU DON’T FUCKING GET IT raging through your mind.

I at first like most out there I guess would be free to say that maybe I don’t get it, maybe I’m the guy who seems to not find the right balance between feature density and design?
The cracks began to emerge.

That is until I started to pay a lot closer attention to the way Microsoft themselves have been churning out applications within their own kingdom of metro`ness. Ahh yes, I’m watching you bozos and I can see what you’re doing so stop trying to hide it.

What I see is this, Microsoft started out with some pretty basic applications that arguably can fit quite snugly on a smartphone or tablet device? As in the end these aren’t necessary hardware elements in the day to day cubicles? They are more at-a-glance, downtime, basic operational use only (some may use them for word processing or two but in general it’s not a work tool at present).

Once you get past what I call “Kiosk” applications you then run into the same problems I’ve had a couple of years ago, how the hell are we going to keep parity with feature(s) in existing software with the new and modernized metro theme?

There’s a number of strategies I’ve formulated to help navigate these waters, but overall it comes back to cutting features down as much as you can and start dividing the monolithic application into user-contextual driven experience (content first is bullshit, context first is righteous).

Microsoft however aren’t catching up to this thinking as fast as I had thought, as I figured they are the ones who created this problem so surely they have some internal best of breed minds on the said problem right?

Wrong.

Look at Visual Studio 11, forget the grey controversy, that’s not the point what is the point is how do you think the Visual Studio team are going to navigate the metro waters with success? They are going to have to make some large sacrifices in features or come up with some radical left brain thinking here to overcome the “less is more” design principles outlined in the Microsoft doctrine titled “Metro Design Language”

Lets look at Office vNext (not officially but you get the point), I mean the current latest version of Office I’m typing this post in now has pretty much the right conditions for a flat metro theme, It’s almost pretty much there except that Ribbon kind of becomes the metro-style anti-pattern (note I said metro-style, not metro-principles).

Ok, so the overall problem with metro is that it’s probably gone a little to far to the left in scaling things back to the point where the grid-design patterns of the web probably aren’t going to map snugly to the desktop development story as even in the right hands it’s a balancing act.

In the wrong hands metro can fall off a cliff fast, you know those designs, you’ve probably seen them, hell even Microsoft itself puts those ones on full display (Microsoft.com itself is an metro-abortion on full display).
There is way out thought.

I think today, Metro itself as we see it in its incarnation is broken, it’s created this ongoing bad habit where if you nuke some gradients, whip up a lot of typography and pander to the masses you in turn get an instant “wow dude, so metro, high-five” – meanwhile you’re just feeling a little cheap inside, as you know that at the end of the day this is not your best work and you are just feeding the metro-zombies what they want.

Its only when I sat down to really think about how I would re-design Visual Studio that a few things began to click in how both I could navigate the feature density problem but also how unready the audiences were for such moves.

The problem I immediately am noticing the most, isn’t just about color selection (which to be fair guys is such a subjective discussion) its more along the lines of change management.

We are willing to accept small incremental changes or even twitter-like kiosk applications that sit on the Windows 8 mutated start bar or Windows Phone 7 install pile – they don’t really affect us as much as we think they do.

You touch my Visual Studio and Office whilst coming up short on whatever habits I’ve established today, expect a severe beating!!

On one hand the current execution of metro simply says “sorry, we’re going to have to make some radical changes here people” on the other hand it will require you the audience to be open to such change.

Its clear right now, in my view, the earlier can be done but the later, nope, that ones filled with a lot of forum focused anger “you suck Microsoft” style rants.

Sorry, Metro isn’t ready in the sense the current users aren’t ready for its minimalist focused design principles as we’re about to break the one known issue with most user experience today – Audiences dislike less is more, instead they are silently ok with the idea of having a 1000 features at their disposal even though the data says they probably use 20% of those features..

Metro isn’t ready for the mainstream.

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Windows-8-Store

Microsoft hat für Februar die Windows 8 Beta angekündigt die im Gegensatz zur bisherigen Developer Preview viel näher an der finalen Windows 8 Version ist. Mit der Veröffentlichung der Windows 8 Beta wird Microsoft den Windows Store freigeben, welcher nun erstmals in einem Video vorgestellt wird.
 
Wie nicht anders erwartet kommt der Windows Store im Metro Style. Die verschiedenen Kategorien wie Games, News, … werden in den Feldern angezeigt. Wer sich einen gröberen Überblick verschaffen möchte, kann via pinch-to-zoom Geste etwas herauszoomen und so mehr Kategorien auf einem Blick sehen.
 
In der unteren Demo sieht das ganze sehr Benutzerfreundlich und vor allem Touch-freundlich aus. Umso mehr freuen wir uns auf die ersten Windows 8 Tablets sowohl mit ARM Prozessoren als auch mit dem neuen Intel Medfield Prozessor von welchen wir ein 8,9mm dünnes Tablet auf der CES gesehen haben.
 

 

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Last night I was sitting in a child psychologist office watching my son undergo a whole heap of cognitive testing (given he has a rare condition called Trisomy 8 Mosaicism) and in that moment I had what others would call a “flash” or “epiphany” (i.e. theory is we get ideas based on a network of ideas that pre-existed).

The flash came about from watching my son do a few Perceptional Reasoning Index tests. The idea in these tests is to have a group of imagery (grid form) and they have to basically assign semantic similarities between the images (ball, bat, fridge, dog, plane would translate to ball and bat being the semantic similarities).

This for me was one of those ahah! Moments. You see, for me when I first saw the Windows 8 opening screen of boxes / tiles being shown with a mixed message around letting the User Interface “breathe” combined with ensuring a uniform grid / golden ratio style rant … I just didn’t like it.

There was something about this approach that for me I just instantly took a dislike. Was it because I was jaded? Was it because I wanted more? ..there was something I didn’t get about it.

image

Over the past few days I’ve thought more about what I don’t like about it and the most obvious reaction I had was around the fact that we’re going to rely on imagery to process which apps to load and not load. Think about that, you are now going to have images some static whilst others animated to help you guage which one of these elements you need to touch/mouse click in order to load?

re-imagining or re-engineering the problem?

This isn’t re-imagining the problem, its simply taken a broken concept form Apple and made it bigger so instead of Icons we now have bigger imagery to process.

Just like my son, your now being attacked at Perceptional Reasoning level on which of these “items are the same or similar” and given we also have full control over how these boxes are to be clustered, we in turn will put our own internal taxonomy into play here as well…. Arrghh…

Now I’m starting to formulate an opinion that the grid box layout approach is not only not solving the problem but its actually probably a usability issue lurking (more testing needs to be had and proven here I think).

Ok, I’ve arrived at a conscious opinion on why I don’t like the front screen, now what? The more I thought about it the more I kept coming back to the question – “Why do we have apps and why do we cluster them on screens like this”

The answer isn’t just a Perspective Memory rationale, the answer really lies in the context in which we as humans lean on software for our daily activities. Context is the thread we need to explore on this screen, not “Look I can move apps around and dock them” that’s part of the equation but in reality all you are doing is mucking around with grouping information or data once you’ve isolated the context to an area of comfort – that or you’re still hunting / exploring for the said data and aren’t quite ready to release (in short, you’re accessing information in working memory and processing the results real-time).

As the idea is beginning to brew, I think about to sources of inspiration – the user interfaces I have loved and continue to love that get my design mojo happening. User interfaces such as the one that I think captures the concept of Metro better than what Microsoft has produced today – the Microsoft Health / Productivity Video(s).

 

Back to the Fantasy UI for Inspiration

If you analyze the attractive elements within these videos what do you notice the most? For me it’s a number of things.

imageimageimage

I notice the fact that the UI is simple and in a sense “metro –paint-by-numbers” which despite their basic composition is actually quite well done.

image

I notice the User Interface is never just one composition that the UI appears to react to the context of usage for the person and not the other way around. Each User Interface has a role or approach that carries out a very simplistic approach to a problem but done so in a way that feels a lot more organic.

In short, I notice context over and over.

I then think back to a User Interface design I saw years ago at Adobe MAX. It’s one of my favorites, in this UI Adobe were showing off what they think could be the future of entertainment UI, in that they simply have a search box on screen up top. The default user interface is somewhat blank providing a passive “forcing function” on the end user to provide some clues as to what they want.

The user types the word “spid” as their intent is Spiderman. The User Interface reacts to this word and its entire screen changes to the theme of Spiderman whilst spitting out movies, books, games etc – basically you are overwhelmed with context.

Crazy huh?

I look at Zune, I type the word “the Fray” and hit search, again, contextual relevance plays a role and the user interface is now reacting to my clues.

image

I look back now at the Microsoft Health videos and then back to the Windows 8 Screens. The videos are one in the same with Windows 8 in a lot of ways but the huge difference is one doesn’t have context it has apps.

The reality is, most of the Apps you have has semantic data behind (except games?) so in short why are we fishing around for “apps” or “hubs” when we should all be reimagineering the concept of how an operating system of tomorrow like Windows 8 accommodates a personal level of both taxonomy and contextual driven usage that also respects each of our own cognitive processing capabilities?

Now I know why I dislike Windows 8 User Interface, as the more I explore this thread the more I look past the design elements and “WoW” effects and the more I start coming to the realization that in short, this isn’t a work of innovation, it simply a case of taking existing broken models on the market today and declaring victory on them because it’s now either bigger or easier to approach from a NUI perspective.

There isn’t much reimagination going on here, it’s more reengineering instead. There is a lot of potential here for smarter, more innovative and relevant improvements on the way in which we interact with software of tomorrow.

I gave a talk similar to this at local Seattle Design User Group once. Here’s the slides but I still think it holds water today especially in a Windows 8 futures discussion.

Microsoft.com Usability broken.
View more presentations from Scott Barnes

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