Windows 8: A Fantastic Opportunity for Developers

Windows 8 Start Screen

There has been a lot of discussion about Windows 8, Metro-style apps, Intel vs ARM, etc., from the time Windows 8 Developer Preview was released at //build/ last year. A lot of the discussion and debates have to do with unclear communication and secrecy from the Windows team at Microsoft. For example, what exactly is the deal with Windows on ARM devices? Are they going to be a hard cutoff from today’s Windows and not have a desktop experience at all, or will they have a desktop experience? Will the desktop experience be open for all developers or only certain developers (like Microsoft Office) to provide signed apps for ARM which use a restricted desktop?

(Ed: On February 9, Steven Sinofsky posted details about Windows on ARM on the Building Windows 8 Blog, so some of the secrecy has been taken away. However, the points made here are in fact reinforced by the details revealed in the post.)

Those discussions and speculations aside, I truly believe Windows 8 is a huge opportunity for developers. In this post, I will tell you why I believe so. First of all, some math: According to Canalys, there were 415MM PCs sold in 2011. This is after accounting for a decline in sales per original projections! Even though smartphones have exceeded the number of PCs sold, that PC sales number is still a very large number.

Now, let’s assume that those 415MM PCs are split 60-40 with regard to sales to businesses vs. consumers. Taking a round number of 400MM PCs a year gives us about 160MM PCs sold to consumers a year. I am ignoring business PCs for now because let’s face it – they are not going to Windows 8 for some time, and even if they do, there is a strong likelihood of them turning off Metro via IT policies. Consumers on the other hand, won’t have the ability to turn it off, and all new PCs will ship with Windows 8 (Intel or ARM).

Rumor: Windows Store Games for Windows 8 Revealed

Reckless Racing

Windows 8 Consumer Preview (Beta) is nearing, and the news and leaks about the same have started flowing fast and furiously. Today (February 7), Tom Warren at The Verge is reporting that a source familiar with Microsoft’s Windows Store plans for Windows 8 has revealed several top notch games which will be made available in the Windows Store for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Full House Poker

Here is the list they have revealed (in addition to Cut The Rope which was demoed heavily at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas):

  • Hydro Thunder
  • Toy Soldiers
  • Reckless Racing
  • Angry Birds
  • Ilomilo
  • Rocket Riot
  • Full House Poker
  • Tentacles
  • Crash Course
  • Ms Splosion Man
  • Wordament

In addition, Warren reports that Pinball and Solitaire will come preinstalled on Windows 8.

Hydro Thunder

As you can see, these games are not only popular, but they are from top tier development houses. This is a good sign for Windows 8, because Microsoft is virtually going to have to start from scratch with their Store just like they had to do with Windows Phone 7 Marketplace. WinRT and Windows 8 are brand new and so is the Windows Store, and it has been well-documented that the most popular “apps” in any ecosystem are games. To have high quality games as well as top tier brands at the time of Consumer Preview, and most definitely at the time of launch is a must-have in order for Windows 8 to gain any kind of foothold in this rapidly approaching Post-PC or PC-Plus era.

What is more intriguing though, is that most of these games are familiar to Xbox and Windows Phone users. Could we see some sort of multi-player scenarios among Windows Phone, Xbox and Windows 8? Wouldn’t it be awesome to play Full House Poker with your friends who may be on their Xbox, and you are on your Windows Phone or your Windows 8 PC? Xbox has already enabled “Cloud Save” with games; could we see a scenario where I can continue Angry Birds on my phone and not lose the progress I have made on my Windows 8 PC? It is so annoying to have to start from scratch every time the game is reinstalled or you install the game on a new device. With the power of the Microsoft Cloud (a.k.a. SkyDrive), we could see games which tap into the Cloud Save concept and allow seamless movement across devices without losing progress.

Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Images:

Reckless Racing: From iTunes Store

Full House Poker: Xbox.com

Hydro Thunder: Xbox.com

Microsoft Kills the Start Button, New Windows 8 Screenshots Leaked

Windows 8 is a bold new step forward for Microsoft. We already know that the Redmond giant will be ditching the traditional Start Menu in favor of its Metrofied full-screen cousin. Now, it appears that Microsoft has also made up its mind to get rid of the Start button, which has been a hallmark of Windows operating systems for almost two decades.

Windows-8-No-Start-Button

In Windows 8 developer preview, the Start button’s role was reduced to toggling between Metro and classic interface, and displaying “Charms”, which provide quick access to some basic functionality. However, newer builds of Windows 8, such as build 8220 that is pictured above, does away with the Start button completely. According to Neowin, Microsoft has instead decided to implement a hot corner in the bottom left of the screen, which will both provide access to Charms, and facilitate toggling between the Metro and classic user interface. Touchscreen users will be able to access the same functionality through a swipe gesture.

The death of the iconic Start button will undoubtedly trigger mourning across the web; however, one has to agree that this had to happen sooner or later. The new full-screen, touch optimized Start page pretty much stole the Start button’s thunder.

The beta of Windows 8 is slated to be released in a few weeks. Meanwhile, here are a few more screenshots of Windows 8 post developer preview (build 8220) to ponder over.

Windows-8-Recovery
Windows-8-USB-to-Go
Windows-8-Power-Shell

Windows 8 Picture Password is Amazing

Say goodbye to long, old-fashioned alphanumeric passwords. How about authenticating yourself by just drawing a circle on a picture, or tap at a particular point? Sounds silly? Well, this is how you will be logging in to your Windows 8  system.

Microsoft on Friday revealed details on its new “Picture Password” technology, which basically allows Windows 8 users to login to their system by simply drawing preset patterns on a picture that is manually selected. So, every time you want to login to your Windows 8 system, you need to draw those specific patterns and get access to the computer.

Windows 8 Picture Password

In a blog post, Steven Sinofsky explains –

The experience of signing in to your PC with touch has traditionally been a cumbersome one. In a world with increasingly strict password requirements-with numbers, symbols, and capitalization-it can take upwards of 30 seconds to enter a long, complex password on a touch keyboard. We have a strong belief that your experience with Windows 8 should be both fast and fluid, and that starts when you sign in.

Microsoft filed a patent, numbered 8,024,775, for the feature in February in 2008, but was approved in September, giving Microsoft legal protection for its new approach to device security.

Also Read:  Interactive Authentication Methods Get Rid of Annoying Passwords

How does it work?

To create a Picture Password, you need to go to “PC Settings” panel, where you will be presented with an option “Create a picture password.” You will be prompted to enter your Account password, before you proceed further. You’re then asked to select a photo from your album.

Once you have selected a photo, you will have to draw three gestures on the screen (or the photo). Each gesture must either be a circle, a line between two points, or a tap. Once you have successfully confirmed and entered the gestures, the system will call up the photo at login. You will need to perform the same gestures, and if you get them all correct in the right order and direction, you will be given access to the system.

Technically, the image that you have selected will be divided into a grid. The longest dimension of the image will be divided into 100 segments. The shorter dimension is then divided on that scale to create the grid upon which you draw gestures.

Windows 8 Picture Password

While setting up the gesture, individual points are defined by their coordinates (x,y) position on the grid. For instance, the line gesture will have starting and ending coordinates. The coordinate points will be saved in the system, and when you’re attempting to login with Picture Password, the system evaluates the gesture you provide, and compares them in the background. If it matches, you’re given access to the system. Otherwise, the authentication will fail.

The new feature will only work on touchscreen devices, like smartphone, tablet, or touchscreen PC, since it involves finger gestures on the screen.

Also Read:  Windows 8: When Two Worlds Collide

The new feature definitely sounds interesting and I’m looking forward/quite curious to   trying/try it.  However, we’re not sure how secure the picture password is. Microsoft should probably allow free-form movements rather than the three gestures. What do you think of the new Picture Password? Do you think it’ll be secure enough?

Run Android Apps and Games in Windows with BlueStacks

The explosion of Android handsets across different price segments has made developers flock in hordes to the Android ecosystem. The Android Market already has amassed more than half a million apps, and given its growth rate, a million apps doesn’t look very far away. While many of the apps are silly and low quality, there are plenty of gems too. There are several awesome Android apps like Cut the Rope and Pulse that will be a joy to use even on the larger and clunkier form factors. Unfortunately, baring a few exceptions like the Angry Birds, none of the Android apps are available for Windows.

The good news is that a new application called BlueStacks is promising to make running Android apps on Windows really simple and intuitive. BlueStacks App Player supports embedded virtualization, and can emulate the Android platform on Windows running on x86 as well as ARM architecture. BlueStacks also claims to have the technology to emulate Android running on Chrome OS, or even Windows running on Android ARM hardware.

BlueStacks

BlueStacks App Player is essentially a desktop gadget that acts as an Android app launcher. Unlike the official emulator, BlueStacks feels breezy, and runs high-resolution applications in full screen mode. BlueStacks also emulates all the physical buttons including Home, Menu, and Back. Though some of the fun of running touch screen apps is lost while using a mouse and keyboard combo, apps like Pulse still feel useful.

Pulse-Windows

BlueStacks ships with 10 applications, and it should be able to support up to 26 apps. The official website also claims that you can sync apps through your Android handset using the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to download any app from the BlueStacks Channel as well as Android sync. However, BlueStacks is currently only in alpha, and issues are to be expected. The exciting thing is that BlueStacks appears to be optimized enough to be capable of running Android apps fluidly in full screen mode. Undoubtedly, the real test for BlueStacks will be running graphics intensive games and applications; however, BlueStacks has already succeeded in grabbing our attention.

Install Windows 8 Themes and Unlock Hidden Features with BluePoison

The Windows 8 beta release is still a few months away, but that hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from developing nifty apps for it. Earlier, I looked at MetroController and MetroUITweaker, while Amit reviewed Windows 8 Start Tweaker that made it possible to use a custom background (wallpaper) in the Windows 8 Start screen. Today I will look at another tiny Windows 8 application called BluePoison.

BluePoison-Windows-8-Themes

BluePoison has four tabs – Downloads, Unlock Hidden Features, Themes, and Activation. The Activation tab is a vestige of earlier versions and is unnecessary for the Developer Preview. The Downloads tab houses download links for Windows 8 Developer Preview (32 bit and 64 bit), and leaked Office 15 build 2703. My favorite section is the themes section, which houses ten different themes or skins for Windows 8. As far as I have noticed, BluePoison Windows 8 themes change the Start Menu background along with the Logon screen background. Applying themes require a restart, but is otherwise a simple one-click affair. The Unlock Hidden Features tab can be used to toggle Windows 8 Start screen with Classic Start Menu, and enable the hidden Applications folder that houses all the shortcuts displayed on the Start Menu. It can also be used to enable Metro Snap on lower resolutions screens than normally permitted.

Future builds of Windows 8 will in all likelihood offer out of the box personalization options. Until then, BluePoison offers one of the simplest ways theme your Windows 8 desktop. BluePoison is a portable app that can be downloaded from Windows 8 Italia.

[via LifeHacker]

Tweak Windows 8 Metro Start Screen With A Custom Background Image or Color

The default background color of Windows 8 logon screen is subtle green, which is pretty decent. However, most of us don’t like to see the same old background color or image on every other computer running Windows 8. You want your system to stand out from the crowd and one of the best ways to ensure this is to choose a custom background image for Windows 8 logon screen and set a custom image as Windows 8 Metro start screen background.

When you have installed Windows 8, your Metro start screen should look something like this

windows8-metro-screen

The above pixelated green background is cool but after using Windows 8 for a couple of weeks, you would surely want to change it to something you really love. Your family portrait, your beloved pet, your favorite sports team are some common examples.

To completely revamp your Windows 8 Metro screen background, try Windows 8 Start Tweaker. It’s a useful portable utility which can be used to change the background wallpaper of Windows 8 start screen and choose a custom color for Windows 8 logon screen as well.

All you have to do is extract the files from the package(122KB), run the program in administrator mode and browse to the location of the image file stored on your computer’s hard drive. (Note: the utility uses Chinese as default language, so Non-Chinese users will have to click the U.S flag option at the right bottom of the program window.)

choose-metro-background-color-image

 

When you are done choosing a custom background image for Windows 8 Metro background and a custom background color for Windows 8 logon screen, log off and log back in to see the changes.

Here is how I transformed the Metro start screen of my Windows 8 system. Cool right?

windows8-start-screen-example

If you are not so comfortable with the Metro style UI, you can always disable the metro interface and switch back to the classic Windows 7 style start menu. Until and unless a stable version of Windows 8 is released, I would prefer sticking to Windows 7 for heavy duty work, while navigating all the new features of Windows 8 in my spare time.

For best results with the custom Metro background, make sure the height of the image is double the height of your screen resolution. This will ensure that the image fills the entire screen background, width of the background image is not a factor though.

Also read: Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8 disables unnecessary Windows 8 features.

New Windows 8 Pre-Boot Troubleshooting Options

Windows 8 is an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to prepare Windows for the post-PC’ era. As we have discussed in our earlier coverage, Windows 8 abandons several Windows conventions in a bid to reimagine itself. One such casualty is the Safe Mode.

The Windows Safe Mode is designed to help you troubleshoot Windows, in case your system becomes unbootable due to incorrect drivers, corrupt system files, or buggy/malicious applications. Ever since its inception, the Safe Mode could be accessed by pressing F8 during Windows boot. However, in Windows 8, this is what pressing F8 will bring up.

Windows-8-Pre-Boot-Menu

In Windows 8, the troubleshooting screen has also been given the Metro treatment. Although Safe Mode doesn’t find a spot under the ‘Troubleshoot’ options, there are a couple of new options that users will find handy.

Windows-8-Troubleshoot

Reset Your PC: Selecting this option is akin to doing a factory reset. All your system settings, personalization settings, applications, and files will be removed.

Windows-8-Troubleshoot-Reset

Refresh your PC: This will keep your files and personalization settings intact, but remove any application that wasn’t installed through the Windows Store, and reset system settings.

Windows-8-Troubleshoot-Reset

Other options available through the new Metro troubleshooting interface include System Restore, System Image Recovery, Command Prompt, and Automatic Repair.

Windows-8-Troubleshoot-Advanced

Even though the Safe Mode is nowhere to be found in the new troubleshooting interface, it’s still included in Windows. To trigger it you simply have to press Shit+F8. Here’s the Windows 8 Advanced Boot options screen.

Windows-8-Troubleshoot-Safe-Mode

Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8

Yesterday I shared a couple of tiny utilities to toggle some of the new Windows 8 features. Now, TheWindowsClub has released another utility, which is very similar to the ones I covered yesterday, but has a few more bells and whistles.

Two of the most debated aspects of Windows 8 are its new Start menu and the Ribbonified Windows Explorer. Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8 makes it extremely simple to disable either or both of these features. Interestingly enough, if you chose to disable both of these features, the Lock Screen and modern Task Manager will also get disabled.

Metro-UI-Tweaker-Windows-8

Earlier today, I highlighted some of the major inconsistencies and stupidities of the Windows 8 interface. One of the issues I highlighted was the placement of the Power options. Windows 8 makes shutdown process complicated enough to merit a tutorial. Metro UI Tweaker can make life easier by putting the Power options in the Start screen. It can also add options like Lock, LogOff, and Switch User which are not present by default in the Windows 8 power options.

Power-Options-Windows-8

The final feature of Metro UI Tweaker is the ability to pin any file or application to the Start screen. Adding folders, however, is not permitted due to restrictions imposed by Windows.

Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8 doesn’t require installation and can be used on both 32bit and 64bit editions.

[ Download Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8 ]

Windows 8: When Two Worlds Collide

Steven Sinofsky, the President of the Windows division at Microsoft, has dubbed Windows 8 as Windows reimagined, and for once, it’s not just PR-speak. Windows 8 introduces sweeping changes that affects both users and developers. In many ways, it’s probably the most significant release of Windows since Windows 95. Windows 8 is a touch-first operating system, which offers a new immersive user interface that actually does away with the concept of windows.

Windows-8

From the start, our approach has been to reimagine Windows, and to be open to revisiting even the most basic elements of the user model, the platform and APIs, and the architectures we support.
– Steven Sinofsky

Windows 8 is Windows reimagined. However, Windows also has its own legacy and tradition that it just can’t axe at one fell swoop. Currently Windows has hundreds of thousands of apps that are utilized on a day to day basis by its millions of users. It simply can’t turn around and ask everyone to begin from scratch. Doing so will almost certainly have disastrous consequences for Windows both among enterprise users and consumers. As a result, Sinofsky has had to pull off a balancing act. Even though Sinofsky has stated that his goal was a no compromise design, Windows 8 is full of compromises.

Windows-Reimagined
Windows Reimagined

Windows 8 attempts to put the focus on the modern Metro interface, without abandoning the classic Windows shell. Windows 8 tries to put the focus on touch, without forgetting keyboard and mouse users. Windows 8 tries to simplify computing, without alienating its power users. In short, Windows 8 tries to please everyone. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. When two worlds collide, baby eating aliens are to be expected.