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Windows 8 Nervousness and a Trip in the Time Machine

May 30, 2012
Roscoe, N.Y.

Some computer-industry pundits and Windows old-timers evaluating Windows 8 have come to the conclusion that Microsoft has really — to use an expression common among early American astronauts — screwed the pooch.

Are they right? Or is this verdict solely the result of short-sightedness caused by the radical break that Windows 8 has made with the past?

Some of us with longer memories can remember similar attitudes in the mid-1980's about the radical nature of Windows when compared with MS-DOS, as Harry McCracken discusses in a recent column on the Time magazine web site.

In making his argument, Mr. McCracken quotes (rather extensively) from an article I wrote some 25 years ago for the June 9, 1987 issue of PC Magazine (starting on page 271 in the link at right). This article in ostensibly an introduction to reviews of some of the first available Windows applications, but I used the opportunity in part to catalog everything bad I had heard about Windows — some of it in print, and some of it expressed to me personally by people whose job involved accurately predicting the future.

Keep in mind that Windows had been available about a year and a half at this time. The first book about Windows programming (Programmer's Guide to Windows by David Durant, Geta Carlson, and Paul Yao) had just been published in May 1987, and my own contribution to the genre (Programming Windows) wouldn't become available until early 1988. The computer industry certainly moved a lot slower back then!

But here's a difference between then and now that has an immediate appeal: The paperback of the first edition of Programming Windows cost $29.95. The ebook of the sixth edition of Programming Windows is just $10 for the next two days.

Try coding some Windows 8 Metro-style applications and decide for yourself whether Microsoft has screwed the pooch or procreated another animal entirely, but one that is definitely not a dog.

Programming Windows, 6th Edition

Special Price through the End of May 2012!

For just $10, you get:

(1) the Consumer Preview ebook right now
(2) the Release Preview ebook in a couple months
(3) the final ebook in November

Programming Windows 6th edition
Programming Windows 6th Edition
Consumer Preview eBook


Do you have same feel today that "Windows is the future of PC software despite its seemingly shaky state"?

(I bought the book already, so you can be brutally honest with me:))

— Ed, Wed, 30 May 2012 14:48:25 -0400

You think Windows seems "shaky" now? — Charles

Following context, by Windows I mean new Windows, that is Metro. And yes, I think it seems shaky now.

And what do you think? Do you believe in Windows 8 as you believed in Windows 1? Or, this time you are not so sure?

— Ed, Wed, 30 May 2012 18:21:52 -0400

I don't see how something can be "shaky" that's not due to be released for another 6 months. Have we become so obsessed with quarterly earnings that we declare a failure any product that anticipates where PC hardware is headed rather than where the hardware is right now?

I also reject the idea that Windows 8 is like Tinkerbell, in that it must be "believed in" to survive.

It's very clear to me that multi-touch is an extremely important step in the evolution of user interfaces, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Consequently, I think it is essential that Windows become predominantly a touch-centric interface. Nobody questions this for phones or tablets — even giant tablets that hang on the wall. The only concern is how Windows 8 will fly on the desktop. That's obviously a big concern, but it's only a concern for people who can't imagine a touch-centric desktop.

It's exactly like people back in 1985 saying that Windows will never succeed because most MS-DOS users don't have a graphics display or a mouse. — Charles

I find it amusing that in the Apple world, there are pundits and old-timers evaluating Windows 8 and saying that MS have "screwed the pooch" by NOT making a radical break with the past!

Most recent example is the announcement that Flash will be built into the Win 8 browser. The viewpoint from the Apple world is that this shows MS themselves don't believe the new WinRT runtime and development model will work.

— Hugh Fisher, Wed, 30 May 2012 22:02:36 -0400

Supporting Flash is merely acknowledging its ubiquity. — Charles

I believe part of the nervousness is also currently fed by the absence of any (comprehensive) touch/mouse LOB application design guidelines and implementation examples under WinRT.

— Marc, Thu, 31 May 2012 02:17:51 -0400

I feel that my question made you little uncomfortable.

Sorry about that.

I just wanted to hear your opinion on the perspective of Windows 8 provided we accept the analogy that Windows 8 to Windows XP/7 as Windows 1.0 to MS DOS.

Again, if you somehow feels that's irrelevant or uncomfortable question - I apologize.

— Ed, Thu, 31 May 2012 10:01:38 -0400

No big deal. I just felt weird about measuring my personal enthusiasm level now compared with 25 years ago (which is weird enough), but I don't think that my personal enthusiasm level is even relevant. — Charles

How is the book's state now; does it feel finished? I think you should probably have had only two levels of pricing as the multiple levels make it seem firstly like an unfinished product in the early stages, and secondly, they make you feel bad because you missed a phase. I understand the psychology but is the increase in pre orders worth the feeling of profound melancholy instilled in later buyers?

Danyal, Mon, 4 Jun 2012 08:47:58 -0400

The book is nowhere close to being finished. The Consumer Preview eBook has fewer than 300 pages. The completed book (in November) is anticipated to be at least 800 pages.

Right now, the book is still a bargain at $20. You can buy it now or pay more later. (I'd prefer you buy the book much later because the more you pay for the book, the greater my royalties, but that's your decision.) — Charles

Regarding whether or not Microsoft screwed the pooch, we may need to wait and see. On the one hand, a forced marriage of Desktop and Metro seems the best way for Microsoft to get their foot in the door in the world of smartphones, tablets, and a Windows Store. But on the other hand, I know a lot of non-tech people (like my 78-year old mother) that are going to have a really hard time making the transition into the new multiple-personality environment.

As a developer who has focused on rich apps for the past 20 years, I'm also skeptical of the dumbed-down interface that is optimized for touch. On a phone or tablet? Wonderful! But on a desktop? My stock-trading clients sit in front of multiple big-screen monitors all day long. But what will they do with all that screen real-estate without MDIs? It's hard to picture a world of dual-monitors that are limited to a maximized window and 2 Snap Views. I'm thinking that's a big step backwards for the desktop.

Thus far, I haven't heard anything definitive regarding the future of the Desktop "App". Microsoft has strongly stated: Don't worry, you won't lose access to the Desktop or your old x86 programs. But that's a far cry from saying: Don't worry, rich apps will always have a future in Microsoft Windows.

So... what's in the cards for rich apps? Should we expect a future version of XAML that supports MDIs and popups? Or will the Desktop "App" live on forever, forgotten by Microsoft but still needed by some?

Regardless, thanks for the early release of your EXCELLENT book. Most Metro programming manuals aren't scheduled for publication until late summer or fall, and it's not been easy piecing together a decent tutorial from the Microsoft blogs. So your first 7 chapters have been a real find. Can't wait to see more.

— Pete, Tue, 5 Jun 2012 19:05:34 -0400

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