Why I Like Windows 8

see articles and opinions all the time about how the Windows 8.x family is such a failure. People dislike using it; they talk about skipping over it, about it being “the new Vista.” And I get it – I really do. But there’s another side to the story that I think is too easily missed.

Some of the bigger technology companies have produced videos illustrating their vision of how the technology being worked on in R&D labs might affect our lives in the next decade. Microsoft is one of those companies, and they’ve done it semi-regularly since at least 2004. Take a look at these – at least the most recent one:

(2006) Manufacturing Future Vision
Manufacturing Future Vision

(2007) Health Future Vision
Health Future Vision

(2009) Productivity Future Vision
Productivity Future Vision

(2011) Productivity Future Vision
Productivity Future Vision

Corning is another big name in the tech industry – they make the glass for most of the touch screen devices. They too have put out some impressive videos:

(2011) A Day Made of Glass…
A Day Made of Glass...

(2012) A Day Made of Glass 2: Same Day
A Day Made of Glass 2: Same Day

Now in the context of that imaginary future, tell me: Did you see a ‘Start’ button anywhere? How about a Start Menu? A TaskBar? Did see the standard Windows Desktop, with all its familiar icon clutter? What about application windows, did you see any of those being opened, closed, or minimized?

No, you didn’t.

Those classic metaphors have formed the backbone of Windows UI interaction since 1995. But the truth is their time is running out. The future is coming fast, and they are no longer a part of it for the simple reason that we need something better, something more intuitive. Today when we use a computer, we spend a lot of our time maintaining it, adjusting settings, searching for resolutions to problems, … always telling the computer what to do. We launch a program, use the program to create a file, save the file in a folder, and so on. It’s all very explicit.

The goal for the future is to reduce or eliminate all of those mundane tasks. In the videos, there is no maintenance. There are no settings as we know them today. The people aren’t telling the computers what to do, focusing on giving the right commands; they’re just getting the work done. They don’t create files and save them to folders, they simply manipulate the data. The computer handles all the details of where and how for them, behind the scenes. In this future, computers free humans from the drudgery and enable them to work more efficiently.

Now: Is Windows 8 perfect? absolutely not. Did Microsoft perhaps overstep in forcing too much change on people too quickly? I think so. But rather than write Windows 8 off as a failure, I believe it’s better to stand back and take it into proper perspective. When people start using Windows 8, they’re often expecting a newer, better version of Windows 7. That was never the goal. Windows 7 is the pinnacle of the classic Windows “desktop” environment. With 8, instead of continuing straight forward, Microsoft did a massive course correction. They changed direction completely. They realize that the future is all about mobile, machine learning, big data, and natural human interfaces. Instead of a computer, there will be many computing devices and display surfaces, and they all need to work together intelligently.

Windows 8 is the first effort by Microsoft to adopt that future. It’s a bold step in a new direction, and it makes me excited to think about the possibilities! It’s nowhere near it’s “perfect” form, just like Windows 95 was nowhere near as good as Windows 7. It will take some time to work out the right formula. But I applaud Microsoft for taking such a leading step in figuring it all out. I don’t think Windows 8 is for everyone; if you just want to maintain the comfortable, productive environment that you’re used to, stick with Windows 7. But if you’re ready to dive into the future, and the possibilities it holds, and provide constructive feedback on how we can make it better, then perhaps you’re ready for Windows 8.

Personal Branding

No, not that kind of branding.

I’ve read about Personal Branding before; about promoting yourself, your talents, and your knowledge as an asset. There are entire companies dedicated to helping people with it. And it always seemed like a really interesting concept – for people who have a brand in the first place. I figured once I too became a legend like Uncle Bob or Steve Jobs or Jon Skeet, then I’d have a personal brand to manage.

I stumbled onto the topic again last week; one article lead to another, and I ended up watching a 2-part presentation by Scott Hanselman; and something he brought up really struck me. He made the point that there is a finite number of keystrokes we’ll each be able to type in our lifetime, so how efficient will we make them?

You see, I occasionally write large emails at work. (And if any of my co-workers are reading this blog, they’re probably grimacing in acknowledgement right now.) We all know how much people hate meetings; so sometimes when I feel the need to make a strong point on a given topic, I’ll put together a … thorough … email instead. I figure hey – it’s fresh in my mind, I can make my case in one solid block, I can include charts and diagrams, and people can refer back to it later. And all without the singing and dancing that goes into scheduling and preparing a sit-down meeting/presentation. So I take the time and effort, write up an extensive email, and then … I send it to maybe 10 people max. Some of whom, upon seeing it’s sheer size, immediately roll their eyes and move on to something else.

I’m not conserving my keystrokes.

Whatever information I come up with, whether it’s amazing or not, is being researched, aggregated, compiled, packaged for export, … and then getting lost in transit. While I might not be one of the legends of software development, I can contribute what I have to the global pool of knowledge. Those essays I wrote should not have been forced on people who were not interested in them. They should have been put in a place where they could be permanently accessed by anyone at any time, and they should have been indexed so the people who do care about those topics could find them.

They should have been put in a blog.

A blog gives me all the benefits of the email, but without the huge drawback of locking the information away where it can’t be useful. And it gives me the additional benefit of leaving an actual mark on the world. What you see here (on this page) is the result of my decisions this past week to change the way I work; to conserve my keystrokes and make them more efficient. I’m a blogger now! This will be my brand, my footprint. And it will live forever – because the internet never forgets. I absolutely love to learn about computers, software, technology, and science – in fact some around me have called it an addiction. I don’t expect to find fame and fortune with this blog; but it will serve as my repository where I can store the knowledge I find in a way that will hopefully be of some use to the world.

So, welcome! Come in and make yourself at home! You can also follow me on Twitter now as well. Hopefully something here will be useful to you on your own adventure. And for heaven’s sake, get your own blog started!