Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughts: Windows 8

Some weeks ago, Microsoft released the final version of Windows 8 (along with Windows Phone 8, but that's another blog post ;) I wanted to write something earlier but unfortunately did not have time to until today.
I already installed the first Preview Release and after some problems with the Windows 7 USB Tool finally managed to install the final version. If you ever want to create a bootable USB with mentioned tool: on a 32-bit Windows installation, you cannot create USB devices with a 64-bit Windows.

Some background to the PC I'm using with Windows 8: it's a PC I won from the Austrian company Code Meets Design. The PC – we call her Boxi because the during the contest, Code Meets Design wanted people to give the cute "dog-PC" Boxi a new home ;) – was designed as a test environment for one of their projects. It has a touchscreen recognizing 2 points and a custom designed wooden shell.
Boxi at the Code Meets Design office (Source)
At first I intended to use her as a media PC but as a developer I soon realized that I need a real Windows PC instead of Windows Virtual Machines ;)
That is why I installed the first Windows 8 preview release – you already know that I love testing new technical stuff.

From the preview release I already got a good impression of the new Windows 8 and I have to admit, I liked it a lot. And now that the final version is out, I can finally share my thought.
Compared to previous Windows versions the user interface is much cleaner – especially the desktop UI, where the Aero style was replaced by a much simpler but in my opinion more beautiful style.
The other main thing that changed was the start button: it had vanished and the new Windows Launchpad (or however it is called) took over. I immediately liked it – most likely because I have a touchscreen so using it is really great. As a developer I also have a mouse connected to Boxi and I agree, that with a mouse, the old system was better. Maybe Microsoft will improve that in the next version of Windows (we already heard critique from UX-guru Jakob Nielsen, although I don't fully agree with him, he definitely knows what he's talking about).

The rest of the system kind of stayed the same, so there's not much to say about that. I'm always having trouble configuring stuff, because the settings are hidden in much too deep hierarchies. Another thing is that I cannot understand why Microsoft doesn't change their hard drive policy and stop using those dreadful drive-letters instead of something more Unix-like – which I prefer. Has to be because of backwards compatibility or some other issues.

Let's not just talk about the system itself, let's also have a look at developing for Windows 8. I'm not going to talk about developing for the plain old desktop, because we already know it's awesome using C# and XAML/WPF – although I haven't written about that yet ;). I'm going to tell you something about the developing Windows Store apps (previously Windows Metro, which was a much better name!):

After setting up the whole development environment – Visual Studio 2012 – I started investigating what the difference is and was shocked. They want us to use JavaScript and HTML. Why would I do that? JavaScript is ok in the browser – could be better though – but why would I want to develop websites as fully-fledged apps? Especially because they use platform-dependent APIs so I can't even reuse them. And I think I don't have to talk about using HTML and CSS for layouting purposes.  So I already wanted to quit developing for Windows 8/Store when I found out, that they also support C# and XAML (actually I saw that from the beginning but I wanted to make it more dramatic ;)

I immediately had an idea for an app and started developing using C# and XAML of course. It was really simple and at the same time powerful – I did not expect anything less. I was lucky enough to finally get to know C# 5.0 which really improves asynchronous development (more on that another time). Although I didn't finish the app yet – you know how demanding university can be – I can't wait working some more using this great technology. Many programming language developers (cross-platform; please!) should learn from C# as well as XAML and create something as powerful (or better ;).
The SDK itself is also nice, even though the way Visual Studio handles autocompletion is sometimes awful. I didn't have time to check out everything yet, but so far, I think it's great – the resulting app is of course especially designed for touch screens, but that's what Windows Store apps are all about (if you don't know yet: I like gestures ;).
Unfortunately I don't have a portable Windows RT device so I won't be able to test it further – especially certain sensor like geolocation, which most of my apps (or ideas ;) use.

So what can we take away from this? Windows 8 is much better than its predecessors and I like that Microsoft is trying something completely new. And of course: C# is awesome and I don't understand why I would want to develop using JavaScript for the desktop ;)
I hope I didn't forget to mention some key thought I had. Thanks for reading all to the end and don't hesitante to leave a comment.

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