Windows 8 Preview


Today our Senior Windows Correspondent, Drew gives is the low down based on a recent video released by Microsoft.

spoof of daily show feild report with justin as john and drew as a feild reporter

Windows 8 Lock Screen
The Windows 8 lock screen isn’t going to be seen by many more users than the Windows 7 lock screen is. Essentially, the lock screen appears when the computer wakes from sleep, when it wakes from the lid being closed, or when the users manually locks the computer if the user is going away for a while and doesn’t want passerby to see or mess with the computer in that time. But until Windows 8, the lock screen was simply a password-protected barrier leading back to the desktop.
In Windows 8, the lock screen is inheriting the feature set of the lock screen from Windows Phone. It will show a user-customized image, the date and time, and beneath the large print of the date and time, it will show small icons with numbers next to them representing to the user what was missed while he or she was getting a coffee refill. It will show a small mail icon and a number next to it showing how many emails have come in since the lock screen was engaged. This same formula applies to things like instant messages, missed voice or video calls, and generally, other forms of social media you may care to know that you have missed. It’s nice to see some added functionality, and to have those icons as guides for what you need to do once you sit back down.

Live Tiles
Windows Phone also lends the developers the luxury of live tiles which Microsoft has re-appropriated onto what they are calling the Start screen. Live tiles are like widgets that also serve the function of icons. For example, the live tile that represents the calendar applications shows the date and the next appointment (be it that same day or the next day). It is meant to provide an at a glance view of the calendar, perhaps saving you the trouble of having to actually open the calendar application. However, you can open the full application by clicking the live tile.
The presenter of the video didn’t go into great depth on the tiles as tiles, instead he used them to jump into the applications. I was able to extrapolate some information from the live tiles by pausing the high definition video and looking them over. Having experience with Windows Phone, I have a general idea of how Microsoft expects these to work.
The above-mentioned calendar live tile appears just as it does on Windows Phone and as I explained above. New tiles included an email tile that included a three-line preview of your most recent message; it’s worth as a tile is questionable. A third-party Twitter application was running with a live tile and the tile showed the avatar of the user as well as the user’s most recent status update. Again, it would be better to show a number next to the tile to see how many new tweets have appeared since the last view, but that is up to the third-party developer, not Microsoft. There was a tile that showed live stock feeds; if you are in the market for that sort of information, I imagine it would be useful to see your stocks at a glance. A useful-looking weather live tile was present which I always find handy in that at a glance situation. Finally, there was an RSS reader that had a live tile showing the most recent article title and the accompanying image.
It’s important to note that all of these tiles lead into full-fledged applications. The weather tile leads into an application that shows a 7-day forecast. The RSS reader leads into an application with all of your feeds in one place that looks very well thought out. The live tile is just an icon for these application, only a more useful icon.

Navigating new terrain
This panoramic view of tiles that lead into full-screen applications is a drastic departure from an operating system that has depended on a bottom-located toolbar and start button since 1995. But this shouldn’t be considered a complete departure from the old way; in typical Microsoft fashion, this is going to be a long and gentle (in my opinion, it’s probably going to be too long) transition. One of the live tiles you see on the Start screen is Desktop. This icon will take you back to the traditional Windows 7 desktop. There is also a tile for Windows Explorer, the file manager. So these things haven’t been pushed out of the new interface. Older applications, not designed for the big, touch-oriented Start screen still run and look the same as they have in previous versions of Windows.
But what is important is learning to navigate the Start screen environment. It has a new set of rules that could involve a bit of a learning curve for those that aren’t adept at switching desktops often. Microsoft has put all of the functions of the Start screen into the left and right sides of the screen.
Reach off to the right side of the screen and you can pull out a small bar with the options Search, Start, Settings, Connect. From the video, these functions aren’t clearly designed. Only Start is shown; it will take you out of your existing application and back to the Start home screen full of live tiles. The others we can only speculate about now.
Reach off to the left side of the screen and you pull out the applications that are open. This is the form of multitasking in Windows 8. From the video, it is very unclear how this works. It seems as if you are grabbing randomly from the applications you have open; if there is any rhyme or reason to it, it is not apparent in the video.
A final feature worth mentioning is the docking of applications. If you have Internet Explorer and a video playing at the same time, for example, you can grab Internet Explorer and dock it to the left 65% of your screen and let your video remain in the other 35%. This would be great for larger screens where you want to keep a handful of applications in your view all at once.

Perspective
All I can say right now is that I’ve watched the video a few times, paused it several more times, and used my combined might and knowledge of Microsoft to extrapolate as much as I can without speculating too much. It’s interesting to know that this all started with the Zune HD which was the inspiration for the Windows Phone interface which is now the inspiration for the Windows 8 interface. But Windows 8 is still over a year from release, and I’m sure we’ll see more before then. Microsoft has confirmed that there will be a public beta, so eventually everyone will have a chance to use it or throw it into a virtual machine. As some say, KDE does Microsoft better than Microsoft, so at least they have some new material to work with now than they’ve had since Windows 7 has slowed down.

And now to our Senior Windows Correspndent… Drew O’Brien


Today we start a new segment on the blog where we are filled in on what is happening on the otherside of the computing pond… in Windows Land, by a new Windows Phone owner and our senior Windows Correspndent Drew O’Brien.

The Windows Phone Ecosystem

Microsoft has been busy coming up with catchy taglines lately for their products so much so that it almost makes it seem like they are distinct products. But they aren’t. They are part of an ecosystem that functions only when each part plays its role. Some parts may be removed, but then some features and functions are removed. How about a few examples?

Windows 7 and Windows Live: “To the cloud!”
Windows Phone: “Finally, a phone to save us from our phones.”
Xbox 360: “Jump in.”
Zune: “your entertainment, everywhere.”

So what is all this madness? Perhaps we should look at each component individually, in short, and then figure out how they jigsaw together because all five of the services listed above to merge into one device, Windows Phone.

Windows 7 is Microsoft’s flagship operating system. It replaced Windows Vista and will be replaced by Windows 8 in 2012 in typical operating system fashion. The operating system controls what software you can run and how it is run; think of it as the foundation of a house, your applications the structure of the house, and your data the furnishings of your house.

Windows Live is Microsoft’s cloud-based service environment. This allows you to store your data or copies of your data in the cloud which is a technical term for an off-site server maintained by a company, in this case by Microsoft. Windows Live allows you to save a copy of your contacts, calendar, photos, videos, and office documents on their servers. The benefit to you is that you can access them from your friend’s house via their web browser or you can retain a copy of those important files if your computer breaks.

Xbox 360 needs only a short introduction because it lives in a smaller world than the rest of Microsoft’s products. It’s a gaming console that competes with Nintendo’s Wii system and Sony’s PlayStation 3 as well as traditional comuputer games. Gamers are given a Gamerscore that indicates how much they have achieved in their gaming activities and an avatar to represent their virtual gaming self.

Zune is Microsoft’s multimedia platform. It handles their marketplace for music and movie downloads and rentals. It competes with many other companies’ similar products, most notably Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 Store and Video on Demand store. With Windows 9, it is set to become the official bundled application for media, replacing Windows Media Player (which has been the staple player for two decades).

Convergence on Windows Phone

Now that these products have been explained individually, let’s take a look at how they all come together on Windows Phone. Windows Phone is what is termed at “convergence device.” This means that it brings the functionality of multiple devices into a single device like a combination video camera and still camera.

In order to use Windows Phone, there are three key components from above that you must have. I should point out that these are not strictly required to use the phone as a phone, but if you want to use all of the features of the phone you need these components.

The first component is Windows Live, and this one is absolute. When you first turn on the phone, the walkthrough requires that you sign into or create a Windows Live account. There is no turning away from having a Windows Live account. What is the benefit of this? Let’s use me as an example. My email is Hotmail (the Windows Live email component); my calendar is Hotmail Calendar (the Windows Live calendar component); my contacts are stored in my email (again, part of Windows Live); my photo collection is stored on SkyDrive (Windows Live provides 25GB of free storage space for files). So when I signed into my Windows Live account on my new Windows Phone, it copied all of that information from the cloud and automatically populated my contacts, calendar, email, and photo collection. This took a matter of about 20 seconds. When I change something on the phone, it makes that change on the computer and vice versa, keeping everything in sync. This also keeps my data in three places (my computer, my phone, and the cloud); so if my phone were to be dropped and broken beyond repair, I would still have all of my data backed up in two other places.

The second component in Windows 7. To use the phone strictly as a phone, this is not necessary. But if I want to sync my media (music, videos, and photos) to and from my phone, I need to use the Zune software (the third required component). The Zune software only works on Windows 7. So in order to sync media to the phone, you need to invest in a computer with Windows 7, download and install the Zune software, create a Windows Live ID to sign into the Zune software client, and plug in your Windows Phone into the computer. This is referred to as an ecosystem; each part is dependent upon another part. If you are a Macintosh user, you cannot sync your media nor can you if you use a Linux-based or BSD-based operating system because the Zune software is only available for Windows.

To round out the discussion of the ecosystem, I wanted to discuss the Xbox 360 integration. This is purely optional and if you don’t play games, it won’t have any bearing on your Windows Phone experience. But if you have an Xbox LIVE account, you can view your Gamerscore, avatar, messages from other gamers, and view Achievements (the events you perform in the games to earn points that build your Gamerscore). The Xbox LIVE application on the phone requires that you have setup your Windows Live ID to connect to the Xbox LIVE service (a matter of a few clicks which doesn’t require you to even buy the Xbox 360 hardware) and it serves as a place where all of the games you download to your phone are centrally stored (so they don’t get sorted into the list of your other apps).

Perspective

Microsoft is not breaking new ground with Windows Phone. They’ve come to the smartphone business late in the game. I am saying that with some bias because I consider this current generation of smartphones to be the real thing. The older Palm Treos, Blackberry devices, and Windows Mobile devices were nothing like iPhones, Android devices, modern Blackberry devices, or Palms primarily because of things like mobile web and the creation of third-party app development.

In terms of creating an ecosystem or cloud-based system, they are also late to the game. Android devices merge Gmail, Gmail contacts, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and many more Google services into the phone. As a previous Motorola Droid owner, I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of the Google ecosystem because I didn’t find it as robust as what Microsoft has created. Microsoft has desktop applications and websites that tie into their cloud while Google exists only in the web browser (save for using IMAP email in a third-party desktop email client). But that is simply a matter of personal preference, not functionality.

I’ve now got a HTC Arrive on Sprint. It’s running Windows Phone version 7 (and Microsoft has said that version 7.5 “Mango” will be backported to first generation devices like mine) with the “NoDo” update which added a few minor features. Microsoft has mandatory hardware requirements for Windows Phone (to make app development easier and prevent fragmentation like Android is now experiencing) that are as follows: 1GHz “Snapdragon” CPU, 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM, 8GB or 16GB user-accessible storage, 5 megapixel camera (must be acccesible in one click via a hardware button), 800×480 screen resolution, and three buttons below the screen in portrait stance (Back, Home, Search).

I hope this introduction has proved useful. I know for many readers this will sound like very basic information, but for some it may provide some perspective on how Microsoft is leveraging their products together to create an ecosystem that sells not only a phone, but an operating system and additional software as well.

Questions on anything from hardware to software to applications are welcome. I will try any application and provide a review for you if you wish, but if it is an application that costs money, I do expect to be paid via PayPal for the amount required to download the application. Hopefully, I can prove to you that Microsoft is in this to win it.