Conferences University

Windows 8 Camp

One of the slides compared how people see Windows 7 and 8 using what people drew after each experience, this slide shows Windows 7 – All of the experience is actually chrome not content

Today we had a Windows 8 Bootcamp at the University of Hull. The idea of the camp was to showcase Microsofts up-and-coming operating system and hopefully inspire us to produce some Metro-style applications for the Windows 8 Marketplace.

Simon Michael and Joanna Tong provided some cool insight into the OS, which has just reached the Release Preview stage of development — you can download it for free here.

I was particularly impressed by the concept of “Contracts” within the OS, which allow a program to say “I can be searched” or “I will accept pictures from another application” and then be searched or shared to from any other application. This means in theory that if a new big social network comes out developers won’t have to integrate into it manually, they can just wait for the network to make a Windows 8 app that says “I can have pictures and text shared to me” and it will automatically work with their programs without any changes — just like a more future proof version of the ShareStatusTask on Windows Phone 7.

Another feature which I quite liked was notification support. I’ve thought for the last few years that Social Networking and even Email has been better on smart phones than the desktop, particularly on Windows Phone and iOS and this is partly due to the fact that you always know when you have a message, whether and application or programming is running or not, it’s delivered through the operating system! I’m all for taking the best features of mobile OS’s to the desktop, and this is one of those occasions where it makes sense — as long as apps don’t abuse it :P.

A lot of the talk was on how to produce good quality, chromeless, Metro-Style applications on the desktop, it was really interesting how much thought Microsoft have put into the idea and implementation — even down to the exact font sizes that should be used in different situations.

One of the diagrams shown to express why chromeless applications are better is shown above — after a few hours use of Windows 7 people were asked to draw their experiences, the average result is the picture above, notice how it’s all user interface items (the start bar, applications buttons, a window with minimize, maximize and close buttons and some scroll bars) — Microsofts argument is that no one starts their computer thinking “Ooh, I wanna see some buttons!” — ok, ok, maybe computer scientists do 😉 — but instead they start their computer looking for content, whether that be train times, weather or news or even social networking feeds.

The next diagram we were shown, which I neglected to take a photo of,  showed the diagrams people drew after a few hours of use with Windows 8. My attempt to recreate it is shown below:

Windows 8 UI Diagram
Windows 8 UI Diagram

As you can see, everything the user drew in this diagram was actual content (the title, and the tiles were information about weather in a weather application). Microsoft say this shows that Windows 8 “makes content King” which is what you want if you’re a content provider, or even if you just want people to remember your application rather than the Operating System around it.

The actual Windows 8 applications are really very good looking, due in part to their simplistic monochrome Icons and large image — or even video — backgrounds. A great example of which is the weather application which displays a video background based around the current weather. If its sunny you’ll see a nice sunny scene, if its raining droplets of rain will “hit” your screen and an occasional pair of windscreen wipers will come along to get rid of  it — its quite cool in practice.

Windows 8 Weather Application Metro UI
Windows 8 Weather Application Metro UI

During one of the breaks I got my first opportunity to play with a Windows 8 Tablet, and I must say it was really fluid and really made a lot of sense — compared to on a desktop where sometimes the whole mix of desktop and metro user interfaces doesn’t quite work. The tablet itself was a x86 device so had access to the full Windows 8 experience including the complete desktop — which the cheaper, more power efficient ARM based devices won’t have. So it’ll be interesting to see how useful they are when they’re released. 🙂

The only bad thing about the session, and perhaps Microsoft as a whole recently recently, was the “No comment” stance on XNA support in the operating system. XNA is a game development framework which I personally love. It’s the only way to write games on Windows Phone 7, and according to Rob Miles will be fully supported on Windows Phone 8, but it’s been left out of WindowsRT so far and therefore cannot run in the metro environment or on ARM Tablets whatsoever, however it will function as normal in the traditional desktop on x86 machines.

When asked about XNA support Joanna said “The official line is No Comment, keep checking” — which I suppose is better than a flat out “we wont support it in Metro or on ARM” but I’d like to know the unofficial line too 😉

A suggestion was that people could move on the C++ and DirectX or HTML5 and JavaScript for development of games on the desktop but its a shame that XNA, a framework we’ve all learnt so recently, but more importantly a framework which is so good at what it does, appears to be being neglected :(.

Other than that It was a great session and I reccomend anyone who has the opportunity goes to a Windows 8 camp!


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