Windows 10 Release Imminent

Tomorrow is the big day! The roll out of Microsoft’s newest flagship OS begins. Free for users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1; it really is a no-brainer update. If you hated Windows 8 and stayed on Windows 7, it is time that you got the benefits of that OS as well as the new one…it is faster, boots quicker, the transparency has been removed, and it has a cleaner UI. If you are currently on 8 or 8.1, you get your start menu back!

For everyone, there is the personal assistant Cortana, a new web browser, improved multi-tasking, and updated Windows Snap and multi-monitor support. Windows 10 may be the achievement of Microsoft’s decade plus plan to have one Windows run everywhere.

There are plenty of good reviews out there (hint: use google), so I won’t do one here. The OS is solid with great backward support and is a must upgrade for anyone….and the price is right.

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Windows 8 a Desktop User’s Experience

While we are still two months away from general availability, Windows 8 was released to MSDN and Technet subscribers yesterday.

Much has been written about the juxtaposition of the new Modern UI (the user interface formerly known as Metro) and the legacy desktop.  One is for touch and the other for traditional PCs.  Since I have a traditional PC, I do what I can to avoid the Modern UI; thankfully it is a fairly easy accomplishment.

First though, Windows 8 is polished in the same way that Windows 7 was.  You may disagree with the design philosophy, but there is no arguing with the implementation. It is stable and fast and there is no need to wait for a service pack to make the transition.

But should you upgrade?  On a traditional PC I don’t see enough prominent changes to justify the expense and time involved in upgrading from Windows 7.  XP era computers will not be fast enough to run it and if you have held off upgrading your Vista box to 7, then wait a little longer and get 8.

First, what’s missing or replaced in Windows 8?  To name a couple of obvious examples; the start button, the start menu, aero glass, gadgets, Media Center, and DVD playback.  The start button and menu have been replaced with hot corners and the start screen, these operate the same as their predecessors did in earlier versions of Windows.  If 5 minutes doesn’t familiarize you with these changes, then you may want to get checked for early onset Alzheimers.  If the test is negative, there are lots of OSs available with a traditional desktop.   Aero and gadgets will not be missed while missing Media Center and DVD Playback is a boneheaded move to save a few dollars.  To my knowledge the price of adding these multimedia features back has not been announced and the upgrade is not yet available.

Since I don’t have a touch enabled device, following is what’s new for traditional desktop users.  The log-in screen has been altered substantially, I don’t know if it is better or worse than previous versions, but it is different.  While multi-monitor support is improved (hello multi monitor taskbar) I still find the need to use Display Fusion to manage my monitors.  File Explorer has been incrementally improved, the ribbon is masterful in its implementation (I had my doubts).  The ribbon can be hidden, its features are not needed 99.75% of the time, it both saves screen real estate and aids in feature discoverability.  The task manager has seen vast improvements in both usability and responsiveness.  MS account integration has been added to make syncing settings between PCs easy, iso (and other image files) files can now be mounted without the help of third party utilities (about time).  The recovery options have been revamped but I haven’t had the need to use them yet.  Also, Hyper-V virtualization is baked in but I haven’t played with that yet either.

I’ve installed Stardock’s Start8  which transforms the start screen into a smaller version of itself which overlays the desktop, it also allows you to boot to the desktop.  This free (so far) utility is necessary fare for those without touch enabled devices.

The new theme is so much better than any that has come before it.  Gone are the bloated transparencies, the pseudo-3D effects and gradients.  This leaves a polished and unobtrusive layer of chrome.  While it is entirely subjective, I like the new flat squared look.  The taskbar and selected window bar can be set to change with the background, a nice touch.  There are still a couple of areas that could use some clean-up, I would like to see the transparency removed from the taskbar and the goofy glow removed from hovering over taskbar items (at least they don’t jump;-)  Some settings windows have been updated to the Modern look, a nice improvement over the Windows 95/98 look they have had for 15 years.

I have not had any problems with hardware or software that ran on Windows 7, I think it is safe to assume that this stuff will just work.  Hardware wise, I am really wanting one of MSs upcoming surface mice (or is it mouses?)

In conclusion, I think Windows 8 is a solid incremental update to Windows 7.  I think that this is one where the supposed technorati will hate it while most users will like it.

More interesting is wondering what Windows 9 will be like.  Will it flesh out Modern UI to make it a desktop replacement or will both UIs be maintained in duo?

Towards Defining the Post-PC World

PC; before it became politically correct it stood for Personal Computer.  At first it only applied to IBM compatible systems, but anon it became synonymous with a class of computing devices regardless of provenance.  Historically, PC refers to a general purpose computing device designed to be used by one person at a time.  But more broadly it has also come to refer to a multi-user device that runs arbitrary code.

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other computing appliances; there has been debate about whether or not these devices are in fact PCs.  In some ways these devices are much more personal than traditional PCs.  Generally designed for a single user, these devices sometimes forgo the ability to run arbitrary code.  So, are they PCs?

I would argue that they are in fact PCs, but PCs of a special type.  I propose adding “Appliance Computer” (AC) and “ultra-Personal Computer” (uPC) to the lexicon of computing definitions.

An Appliance Computer can be defined as a PC meant for a specific purpose or without the ability to run arbitrary code.  ACs would include devices designed to only run a web browser (ie ChromeOS) and devices designed to only run a manufacturer’s defined code set.

An ultra-Personal Computer would be a device which meets the standards of a PC, yet whose size, purpose, and/or usage scenarios make it predominantly a single user device.  By this definition, AT&T Android devices (which lack the ability to run arbitrary code) would be ACs, whereas Verizon Android devices (which retains the ability to run arbitrary code) would be uPCs.

Windows RT (the upcoming ARM version of Windows) lacks the ability to run arbitrary code and, at best, can only be considered an appliance.  The same applies to Apple’s iDevices.  However; root, jailbreak, or otherwise hack these devices to run arbitrary code and they  become uPCs.

These ideas are simply formed and may not hold up under rigorous (or even cursory) debate.  Just getting out some things that have been percolating in my brain recently.

RIP: WIMP (1984-2012)

Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointer (WIMP) is a GUI paradigm popularized by Apple in 1984.  Of course Apple didn’t invent WIMP, that was Xerox PARC in 1973.  But Apple did steal borrow the idea and popularize it.  Microsoft gave WIMP its lasting look with the introduction of Windows 95, and until recently, not much changed.  Computing converged, and the WIMP paradigm reined supreme.

With the rise of mobile, full screen became the norm and the concept of windows retreated onto the desktop.  But the seeds for the demise of WIMP were sowed a decade ago.  In 2002 MS released Win XP Media Center Edition, the media center application eschewed the WIMP paradigm in favor of  a clean text based interface.  This new interface was fleshed out further with the first refresh of the Zune media player in late 2007.  The Zune desktop client also went sans menus and focused on a text driven interface.  With the release of  Windows Phone 7 in 2010, sporting a fully Metro-ized interface, the writing was on the wall, WIMP’s days were numbered.

Now, with the soon to be released Windows 8, WIMP’s dominance is challenged and Metro has achieved parity.  Metro is a Microsoft specific UI paradigm based in classic Swiss graphic design, favoring clean typography while removing as much UI chrome as possible.

In Microsoft’s Metro, Windows have been replaced with full screen apps and a (somewhat limited) tiling interface.  Icons have been replaced with text based tiles, providing more information more quickly that was achievable with an icon based system.  Menus have been slowly done away with and a ribbon interface is taking their place.  The pointer is still prominent in mouse driven desktops but is done away with in touch based systems (as well as gesture based systems like MS Surface and MS Kinnect).

Hence the title, RIP:WIMP.  This is not to say that we won’t be using the legacy WIMP UI for quite some time.  Windows 8 gives Metro parity with WIMP.  Windows 9 will move us more fully into the Metro paradigm and it is an open question if WIMP will be anywhere in site when Windows 10 rolls around.

So while WIMP was popularized, but not first implemented in 1984, its replacement is implemented, but not yet popularized, in 2012.

And WIMP is popular, it has been the dominant paradigm for 18 years (an eternity in tech time).  There will be heavy resistance to its replacement in the coming years.  Trial and error will have to occur before its replacement is accepted and completely implemented.  This new UI paradigm is still being fleshed out, it still lacks a catchy acronym/name, and the pieces are not all in place yet.  But they will be.  In the meantime we will have bastardized Frankenstein kludges like Windows 8.

Inertia is strong, but human/computer interaction will progress, and WIMP will be a casualty of that progress.  The writing is on the tile.

Edit: Here is a MS page on Metro that illustrates a lot of what I said above.  Watch the videos, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth ten thousand.

Win7, Microsoft’s Redemption?

With much ado, Windows 7 was released world wide yesterday.  The reviews are in and they seem uniformly positive.

The Guardian: Windows 7 is simply the best version of Windows you can get…a lot less buggy than Apple’s Snow Leopard.

Slate: the new Windows is not only the best operating system that Microsoft has ever produced. It is arguably the fastest, most intuitive, and most useful consumer desktop OS on the market today. Windows 7 edges out Snow Leopard…in several important ways and will leave any computers running an older version of the Mac OS in the dust.  [A]fter using it for a few weeks, you’ll remember what it was like to be in love with your PC.

NY Times: Windows 7 means that Microsoft employees can show up in public without avoiding eye contact. Looks like 7 is a lucky number after all.

AP: [I]f you’ve been weighing a Mac versus a Windows PC, then you should know that “7” makes Windows more attractive… is now easier to use and better looking than it was before, while maintaining its core advantage of cheaper, more diverse hardware.  Perhaps the most exciting thing about Windows 7 is that it’s inspiring computer manufacturers to try new things, and reviving old ideas like touch-enabled “tablet” PCs. It’s breathing new life into the computer market.

PC World:  [H]elps make Windows 7 the least distracting, least intrusive Microsoft OS in a very long time. It’s a giant step forward from the days when Windows thought nothing of interrupting your work to inform you that it had de­­tected unused icons on your desktop.

Gizmodo: Windows 7 is the biggest step forward in usability since Windows 95.

Cnet: Windows 7 is more than just spin. It’s stable, smooth, and highly polished, introducing new graphical features, a new taskbar that can compete handily with the Mac OS X dock, and device management and security enhancements that make it both easier to use and safer.

Wall Street Journal: After using pre-release versions of Windows 7 for nine months, and intensively testing the final version for the past month on many different machines, I believe it is the best version of Windows Microsoft…has produced. It’s a boost to productivity and a pleasure to use…I can heartily recommend Windows 7 to mainstream consumers.

Of course there are nits to pick in each of these reviews, but overall they are good.

I like that MS managed to keep a couple things until launch.  Some great art as down loadable themes–I like the Chinese Zodiac one–and a Media Center plugin for Internet TV.  Did MS release anything else that a Beta to RC to RTM user might not have noticed?  Let me know in the comments.

If your computer came with Vista pre-installed, an upgrade to 7 is well worth the cost and effort.  If you are still running XP, then you should wait until purchasing new hardware to make the switch.  Mac users should wait until Apple gets bootcamp updated later this year (if you are not one of those who will be disallowed from running it due to artificial constraints from Apple.)

Edit: Ars is reporting that if you want to run Win7 on Apple hardware then you have to purchase Apple’s latest OS too.  As often as Apple intentionally screws their users…it is amazing how supportive said users are.

Windows 7 RTM

Over the weekend I upgraded the RC versions of Windows 7 on my laptop and desktop to the final version of Windows 7.  I did a clean install on my desktop and an unsupported upgrade on my laptop.  Both installs were flawless.

Months after Vista RTM, just 12 days before general availability, I posted here my views on the OS:

Only 12 more days until Vista is unleashed on the public. Will it be finished? If the average user experience is comparable to mine, MS is in deep doo doo. No amount of excuses and/or blame is going to be sufficient to keep MS out of hot water.

You know the spinning beach ball in the Mac? Well MS has implemented a similar feature. About half the time that I click on Computer or Documents or any explorer applet, the computer just stops–nothing happens. Click it again…nothing, click it again….nothing…. Huh? Click on control panel, let’s go see what error messages are being generated….BAM! Windows all pop open, every desperate click is turned into an open window. No rhyme, no reason…totally annoying.

Also, do you know anyone who does not use DIVX? I don’t. Still there is no DIVX codec for playback on Vista. If you install the old one, every time you navigate to a directory with a DIVX avi in it, the computer hangs. The “com surrogate” crashes repeatedly, you spend the next minutes trying to get a head of the error warnings.

All of the pretty eye candy in the world will not hide the fact that this is the buggiest Windows release since Win 95…XP for games and virtualization, Vista is too buggy for either.

Sadly, I have been forced into the role of MS Apologist. But I don’t mind making excuses for beta software…hell, it is beta. But this is the final release…excuses for this sad train wreck of an OS come to an end… Come on MS, get it together. 5 years in the making….and this is the best you can do?  Too sad….

So I’m not much of an MS apologist.  But I really like Windows 7, I am excited by it in the same way that I was excited by Win2k.  When Vista was released, not wanting to keep using XP, I switched to Linux for a year.  Firefox and Flash combined with lazy programming by video distributors forced me to try Vista again some time between SP1 and SP2, and I found it to be acceptable. Maybe the fact that I did not struggle with it daily during that time led me to be more forgiving of its early transgressions.

To me, Win 7 is the culmination of all of the promises made with the Win 95 release.  I didn’t even use computers at the time, but the whole Start Me Up campaign was over the top and definitely found a place in this Luddite’s  conscience.

Anyone know what the netbook like device at 31″s is?

Windows 7, the road to RC…

I downloaded build 7057 and installed it on my laptop and desktop.

First some background.  I built my desktop to run Vista.  I knew the beta was buggy, I knew the RC was buggy and I thought the whole thing was on the fugly side.  But I trusted MS to get it right for the RTM.

On 10/10/06 I wrote on this blog concerning Vista RC2: “It is fugly…the UI needs work before release.  Come on Microsoft, get it together.  I am getting a little tired of making up excuses for your software.”

And after RTM but before general release (1/17/07),  I wrote:

Only 12 more days until Vista is unleashed on the public. Will it be finished? If the average user experience is comparable to mine, MS is in deep doo doo. No amount of excuses and/or blame is going to be sufficient to keep MS out of hot water.

You know the spinning beach ball in the Mac? Well MS has implemented a similar feature. About half the time that I click on Computer or Documents or any explorer applet, the computer just stops–nothing happens. Click it again…nothing, click it again….nothing…. Huh? Click on control panel, let’s go see what error messages are being generated….BAM! Windows all pop open, every desperate click is turned into an open window. No rhyme, no reason…totally annoying.

Also, do you know anyone who does not use DIVX? I don’t. Still there is no DIVX codec for playback on Vista. If you install the old one, every time you navigate to a directory with a DIVX avi in it, the computer hangs. The “com surrogate” crashes repeatedly, you spend the next minutes trying to get a head of the error warnings.

All of the pretty eye candy in the world will not hide the fact that this is the buggiest Windows release since Win 95.

Looking back now, my comments were pretty spot on.

The Vista debacle forced me to jump to Linux Mint–which I used exclusively for about a year and a half before moving back to Windows for various reasons.  During my 18 months in the wilderness, Vista SP1 was released, video drivers were stabilized and Vista had become usable, not great but usable.  I’ve been somewhat happily using it ever since.  But Vista had already earned its reputation, it could not recover.

[Edit: None of this is meant to denigrate Linux Mint, a great free OS.  I still donate regularly to Mint, the Mint KDE CE RC is the best KDE 4.x available.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for the entire Mint team.]

Jump forward to Windows 7 beta, the anti-Vista.  Upon its beta release, Win7 was already as good as Vista at launch, maybe better.  I’ve been generally satisfied with running the beta as my main desktop although I kept Mint KDE on my laptop because Win7 would not sleep properly (or more correctly it would not wake up properly.)

Which brings us to the point of this post.  I upgraded from the beta to the new build on my desktop and did a clean install on my laptop.  Everything worked out of the box–and it is elegant, it is usable, and is generally a joy to sit in front of.  How long has it been since I could say this about a MS OS?  At least since I upgraded from Win98 to Win2k, which I thought at the time was the best OS ever.

Granted it takes a little tweaking to make it fit my work flow, but what OS doesn’t?  If the final release of Win7 is as good as this pre-RC build then it will be possible to to be happy with Windows without succumbing to apologetics.  It is a genuinely good OS.

I think MS finally gets it.  The new desktop backgrounds are great, theming is superb, the inclusion of codecs is wonderful, the out of the box experience with Win7 is exactly what I’ve wanted from a desktop since….well, since forever.

I can honestly say that Win7 build 7057 is the best OS that I have ever used, no apologies necessary.

I’ve tried the latest Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, OS X, OpenSolaris, PC-BSD, and others…Win7 pre-RC puts them all to shame.  Could it be that we are heading into an era where it won’t be embarrassing for a geek to run Windows?

MS should remove the wayward ini file from build 7057, recompile and release it as RC.  I am thinking people will be happy with it (with the exception of the stability of WMP).

Color me impressed.