In July of this year, Microsoft announced that they were combining several of their tech conferences like Microsoft Management Summit and TechEd into one event and making it more broad-focused that each of the combined ones were by themselves. At the time though, they had not named the conference, just simply made a note that it was happening, and that it would be May 4 to May 8 in 2015 in Chicago.
On October 16, Microsoft not only announced the event name, but also made available some of the other events coming in 2015 for those interested in Microsoft’s tools and technologies. The new event will be called Microsoft Ignite, and as communicated earlier, it will be in Chicago from May 4 to May 8. This event will feature the cream of Microsoft officials headlined by the CEO Satya Nadella. Others scheduled to be at Ignite include Brad Anderson, Joe Belfiore, Dave Campbell, Peggy Johnson, Chris Jones, Julie Larson Green, Gurdeep Singh Pall and many others. Clearly, this event is going to be a big deal.
The other events announced:
Convergence 2015 in Atlanta, March 16-19
//Build in San Francisco, April 29-May 1
Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando, July 12-16
Back to the new conference, Ignite. Here’s what Microsoft says about it:
If you are on the hook to help your company make the right tech moves in the new world of mobile and cloud, Ignite is the show for you. For the first time ever, we’re putting under one roof the education, vision and guidance for the full spectrum of our enterprise solutions. Our best and brightest minds, along with thousands of your peers, will be there to help you chart the course for your team, your company and your career.
They claim this will be for everyone from senior tech strategist to a hard-core IT admin. They further say:
Ignite is where you’ll come up with your next great idea, based on what you learn about the upcoming wave of products and services. We’re going to cover it all, across cloud infrastructure and management, big data and analytics, productivity, unified communications, operating systems, mobile devices and more.
So Ignite seems like a conference about the “productivity” part of Satya Nadella’s “productivity and platforms company” label and //Build will be the “platforms” part of the same.
At its annual developer conference //build/ on April 2, Microsoft announced an update to Windows 8.1 simply called Windows 8.1 Update. This update will arrive via Windows Update on April 8 and is available via msdn from April 2.
As the name suggests, this is an update to the operating system but as you will see, the changes implemented in this update are all made to make it easier for mouse users to navigate and use Windows 8.1. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are obviously touch-friendly so tablet usage is not a concern. Also, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts including power user shortcuts like Winkey+X which allow heavy keyboard users to navigate their way around. Mouse users, especially on larger displays, had to move their mice too much in order to get things done. Not anymore. Some key user experience changes:
Adding common controls to Start Screen: A power button and a search icon get added to the top, right next to the user name/photo on the Start Screen, making it easier to shut down the computer and intuitively search the computer. Similarly, a PC Settings tile gets added by default to open up Control Panel. These are small changes but given that these actions are taken quite frequently, it makes a lot of sense that they are bubbled up to the Start Screen rather than having the users try to find them or stumble upon them accidentally.
Title bar in Modern Apps: The action to “close” a Modern App today is to take the mouse to the top of the screen and drag down the app in a single motion from top all the way to the bottom until the app disappears. That action, to say the least, is mouse user-unfriendly. On a small tablet, it would seem ok since taking a finger from the top of the tablet to the bottom is simple enough of a gesture.
In order to simplify this task, Windows 8.1 Update introduces a small (auto-hidden) title bar at the top of all Modern Apps and that title bar includes a minimize and a close button just like today’s Windows desktop applications. This makes a lot of sense, since a mouse user would normally go to look for those actions where they are used to seeing them in pre-Windows 8 operating systems.
Right-click context menu on Modern Apps: Another setting that completely makes sense. In non-Windows 8 environments and even in Windows 8’s desktop realm, anytime a mouse user wants to do something to an item, they would right-click. But in Modern Apps, a right-click does not pop up a menu where the cursor is, but instead it opens up the App Bar which could be at the bottom and/or at the top. By making the same Windows 7-style context menu now pop up where the mouse cursor is, Microsoft is making it easier for Windows XP and Windows 7 users to transition to Windows 8.
Pinning Modern Apps to taskbar: Yet another step towards making it easy for users to transition from Windows XP and Windows 7 is the ability to pin Modern Apps to the taskbar. That way, if someone spends most of their time in the desktop environment, they are not “cut off” from the Start Screen. Also, in a move to increase interest in the Modern Apps, Microsoft also announced that the Windows Store app will be auto-pinned to the taskbar on a default Windows installation. This, they hope, will prompt more visits to the Store because of the nature of being defaulted in Windows, thereby increasing the chances of someone downloading Modern Apps.
As you can see, the trend in the key updates coming as part of Windows 8.1 Update is to make the OS more welcoming to those migrating from Windows XP and Windows 7. If the transition is eased, more users will end up not wanting to avoid or being afraid of Windows 8, and thereby increasing the installed base and the developer opportunity. An introduction to the update in the video embedded below:
Are you looking forward to this update? Anything you had wanted to see that they did not include? Sound off in the comments!
//build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference kicked off on April 2 and the marathon keynote included several announcements that finally bring Microsoft’s “One Windows” vision closer to reality.
Although it may not be an official or formalized mission, “One Windows” seems to be an ever-so-close possibility since the time Windows Phone moved to NT kernel to make it very similar to Windows 8 on PCs. First, the relevant announcements:
Windows Phone 8.1: The version number incremented by .1 would seem to imply an incremental change, but that is absolutely misleading. The number, and magnitude, of changes in Windows Phone 8.1 from Windows Phone 8 is perhaps far greater than the changes Windows Phone 8 itself introduced over Windows Phone 7. Consumer features like lock screen themes and Start Screen background image and enterprise features like VPN support are just a few. The biggest change perhaps, is the presence of digital personal assistant called Cortana, which seems to be a smart mix of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google now.
Windows Phone 8.1 walkthrough by Joe Belfiore
Universal apps: Even though it is possible to create apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8 where a lot of code is shared between the two, Microsoft announced what they are calling “Universal apps“. These apps are actually built with the intention to be run on the phone as well as on tablet and PC. It is a single binary which potentially could render differently depending on the device on which it runs. In order to make this possible, developers would need to modify their apps and with the appropriate changes applied, have their customers purchase once and (optionally) use it on multiple devices. Until now, even though much of the code could be reused/shared, it was not possible to have a single binary nor was it possible to allow the customer to buy on a phone and use it on a tablet. That has now changed, and is a huge step in the unification of Windows. What’s more, in their “vision” part of the keynote, Microsoft executives also promised that the Universal apps would extend to the Xbox as well, thereby making these apps truly “universal”.
Windows Universal app icons
Windows for “Internet of Things”: Also as part of the vision, Microsoft introduced a new as yet unnamed version of Windows aimed at all other kinds of devices which are proliferating around us, and generically called it “Windows for the Internet of Things“. These devices, until now, have all been using Android or something else, but definitely not Windows, so it was clearly an opportunity Microsoft did not want to miss out on. The operating system will be released in preview form this Spring.
Windows license cost of $0: Along with this announcement, Microsoft also took a bold step towards increasing interest in and adoption of Windows among developers by making all versions of Windows free for devices under 9 inches in size. Essentially, this signals that device makers making devices in this hugely growing category would have no barrier in terms of cost, to sell Windows in those devices. Given that Android indirectly costs money (potentially to use Google Mobile Services on top of Android Open Source Project, but additionally, surely for patent licensing fees), device makers will find themselves looking at Windows as the *cheaper* OS for their devices!
Shared experiences: In addition to announcing keyboard and mouse user-friendly updates to Windows 8.1, Microsoft also demonstrated how experiences will span Windows Phone and Windows on tablets and PCs. With Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1, users will now be able to share IE settings, tabs, passwords, favorites, etc. between the phone and tablets/PCs. Similarly, via their Microsoft account, customers will also be able to have the same theme across phone and tablet/PC along with several other settings that are already possible to be synced between Windows 8.1 devices.
There were several other announcements but the above items show the steps Microsoft has taken, listening to customer feedback as well as executing on their product roadmap, to make it seamless for customers to use Windows regardless of the device they use it on. The developer story therefore becomes even more compelling because it is not just phones or not just tablets that is the addressable market. Suddenly, any device that ships with Windows, will be able to consume the apps and games developers build and not just in theory. This has always been the advantage of the iOS ecosystem and Apple executed it well from the beginning because they were in a much better position to do so, having defined the entire path themselves. Google’s Android followed, although in a slightly different way – Android phone apps stretch out on a larger screen if there is no specific tablet version available. Microsoft’s vision is definitely more like iOS but at the same time, due to the excellent tooling in the form of Visual Studio, it also seems like it may be much easier to build a universal app targeting Windows. The devil of course is in the details and we will see how developers react to this vision by observing how many existing developers convert their apps to Universal apps and how many new developers enter the ecosystem with their creative ideas.
This is a solid move by Microsoft and while some (including yours truly) may say it was long overdue, it is also better late than never. Microsoft is doing its best to court all kinds of developers including many in the Silicon Valley and many with an affinity towards open source projects, and they will have to continue to do even more going forward. Nothing matters more though, than hard numbers. If Windows devices get a decent market share and continue to prove to be higher revenue generators than the competing platforms, developers will automatically flock to the ecosystem.
Until then, Microsoft can only hope that “One Windows” matters to a developer as much as it is necessary for Microsoft.
We were greeted to Windows 95’s launch by The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, a reminder of the new, but now iconic Start button in Windows. Maybe for Windows 8, Microsoft should use The Doors’ Touch Me.
We have been waiting anxiously for this day to arrive. Tomorrow, after months of keeping a tight leash (leaks notwithstanding) on the progress of or the details about Windows 8, Microsoft will reveal its newest operating system to the world at BUILD.
BUILD is Microsoft’s new developer-focused conference, a combination of PDC (Professional Developers’ Conference) and WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference). It is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, CA.
What we know
Ever since Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green revealed Windows 8 at All Things D’s D9 conference in June this year, the anticipation and expectations have gone up for what Windows 8 will be. Windows 8 sports a brand new Metro style interface with its big tiles. This interface is obviously suited to touch gestures and along with the upcoming Xbox dashboard update, it completes the trifecta of Metro styled interfaces from phones (Windows Phone 7) where it started, to PCs and TVs. Recently, Microsoft started a new blog dubbed Building Windows 8, where they have revealed (or confirmed rumors regarding):
Support for ARM architecture
System requirements for Windows 8 will be the same or less than Windows 7 requirements which means the hundreds of millions of PC’s being used today can be upgraded to Windows 8 without the need for further investment
The teamswithin Windows 8, which in some ways confirmed rumors such as existence of Hyper-V in the Windows 8 client and an App Store for Windows.
From what is explicitly mentioned in the blog and what was demonstrated at D9, we also know that Windows 8 will have two user interfaces. The first being the Metro style, tile-based, interface and the other being the classicWindows 7-style interface. Both these interfaces, Microsoft claims, are an effort to have no compromise. By no compromise, they are implying that just because an interface has touch-first design, does not mean it will not support keyboard and mouse. Microsoft realizes that a large portion of its user base uses Windows in an enterprise where the tile-based, touch-first interface may not be the most optimum. Hence, instead of ditching the past and starting afresh with the new paradigm, Microsoft is now at a stage where it has to explain how the two interfaces will co-exist. This co-existence leads to many more questions, which brings me to my next topic.