Windows 8 – 2 UIs Are Better than One

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 August 2011 11:52 Written by Mire_B Wednesday, 31 August 2011 11:51

Are two UIs better than one? I actually wans’t all that worried about the Windows 8 UX until Steven Sinofsky (President, Windows and Windows Live Division) volunteered an explanation for the FrankenUI experience that awaits users. It’s going to be a bit of some new stuff, Metro, and a bit of some older stuff, Ribbon and whatever else grandpas and grandmas are still using on their Pentium 1 PCs.

 

I simply don’t like the fact that Microsoft needs to justify Windows 8′s UI. It takes me back to the good old days when they fanatically came out with excuses for Vista. Remember the horrid copy experience in Vista? Can you believe that Microsoft had spined it so far that they honestly claimed it was actually better than in XP?

 

It looks to me like  Sinofsky expected the shUIt (accidental typo, scout’s honor) to hit the fan and already drafted an apologetic encyclopedia of justifications to spam users with. Here it is:

 

We thought it would be good to take a moment to talk about where we are heading in terms of the user interface of Windows 8.

By now you’ve seen two different elements of the Windows 8 design—first, a Metro style user interface we showed previously and in a video seen by millions of folks. And recently, we have described in this blog some of the enhancements we’re making to familiar Windows desktop tools such as Explorer and the copy file dialog. We’ve seen a lot of dialog about these changes.

Some of you are probably wondering how these parts work together to create a harmonious experience. Are there two user interfaces? Why not move on to a Metro style experience everywhere? On the other hand, others have been suggesting that Metro is only for tablets and touch, and we should avoid “dumbing down” Windows 8 with that design.

This is a balancing act, and one we’ll be talking quite a lot about in this blog in the coming months. Having both of user interfaces together harmoniously is an important part of Windows 8. As a starting point for the discussion, here is how we approached the design of Windows 8 from the very beginning.

We started planning Windows 8 during the summer of 2009 (before Windows 7 shipped). 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.  Our goal was a no compromise design.

This is an ambitious undertaking—it involves tools, APIs, languages, UI conventions, and even some of the most basic assumptions about a PC. For example, how do you isolate applications from each other, or prevent applications from stealing all your battery power? How can installing (and removing) apps be as quick and painless as changing the channel on the TV? How do you attract the broadest set of developers possible to a new platform? How do you build a touch-first interface with a unique point of view?

When we showed the first demos of Windows 8, we introduced our new Metro experience—fast and fluid, immersive, beautiful, and app-centric. We are certain that as we show you more in the coming months you will see just how deeply we have reimagined Windows.  Metro style is much more than the visual design as we shall see.

Image showing the Metro UI with the word "Start", and several tiles representing different apps in Windows 8.

At the same time, we recognized that Windows 7 has been a huge success. Not just as measured by sales figures or by the number of people using it, but also by the depth of usage. Hundreds of millions of people rely on the Windows 7 UI and existing Windows apps and devices every day, and would value (and expect) us to bring forward aspects of that experience to their next PCs.

In this light, the role of the Windows desktop is clear. It powers the hundreds of thousands of existing apps that people rely on today, a vast array of business software, and provides a level of precision and control that is essential for certain tasks. The things that people do today on PCs don’t suddenly go away just because there are new Metro style apps. The mechanisms that people rely on today (mice, physical keyboards, trackpads) don’t suddenly become less useful or “bad” just because touch is also provided as a first-class option. These tools are quite often the most ergonomic, fast, and powerful ways of getting many things done.

We knew as we designed the Windows 8 UI that you can’t just flip a bit overnight and turn all of that history into something new. In fact, that is exactly what some people are afraid of us doing. Some have said that is the only path to take. Yet, even those who have fully embraced tablets also own a laptop for those times when they need more precise control or need to use one of the apps that are mission critical (and are still being developed). In people’s desire not to carry around two different devices, “remote desktop” programs for tablets and phones have become popular but extremely awkward attempts to harness the usefulness of the Windows 7 desktop within a new form factor.

Why not just start over from scratch? Why not just remove all of the desktop features and only ship the Metro experience? Why not “convert” everything to Metro?  The arguments for a “clean slate” are well known, both for and against. We chose to take the approach of building a design without compromise. A design that truly affords you the best of the two worlds we see today. Our perspective rests on the foundation of the open PC architecture that has proven flexible and adaptable over many significant changes in hardware capabilities and software paradigms.  This is the flexibility that has served as a cornerstone through transitions in user interface, connectivity, programming models, and hardware capabilities (to name a few).

We believe there is room for a more elegant, perhaps a more nuanced, approach. You get a beautiful, fast and fluid, Metro style interface and a huge variety of new apps to use. These applications have new attributes (a platform) that go well beyond the graphical styling (much to come on this at Build).  As we showed, you get an amazing touch experience, and also one that works with mouse, trackpad, and keyboard. And if you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop—we won’t even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there!  This is Windows reimagined.

But if you do see value in the desktop experience—in precise control, in powerful windowing and file management, in compatibility with hundreds of thousands of existing programs and devices, in support of your business software, those capabilities are right at your fingertips as well. You don’t need to change to a different device if you want to edit photos or movies professionally, create documents for your job or school, manage a large corpus of media or data, or get done the infinite number of things people do with a PC today. And if you don’t want to do any of those “PC” things, then you don’t have to and you’re not paying for them in memory, battery life, or hardware requirements.  If you do want or need this functionality, then you can switch to it with ease and fluidity because Windows is right there. Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.

Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience. You don’t have to compromise! You carry one device that does everything you want and need.  You can connect that device to peripherals you want to use. You can use devices designed to dock to large screen displays and other peripherals.  You can use convertible devices that can be both immersive tablets and flexible laptops.

Which brings us back to the improvements we’re making to the desktop experience: we believe in the Windows desktop. It powers the experiences today that make a Windows 7 PC the most popular device in the world. So, even if we believe that over time many scenarios will be well-served by Metro style apps, for the foreseeable future, the desktop is going to continue to play a key role in many people’s lives. So we are going to improve it. We’re having a good dialog about what folks might think about our design choices but also wanted to put these choices in a broader context of the unmatched utility of the desktop.

Our design goal was clear: no compromises. If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop. Existing apps, devices, and tools all remain and are improved in Windows 8. On the other hand, if you prefer to immerse yourself in only Metro style apps (and platform) and the new user experience, you can do that as well!  Developers can target the APIs that make sense for the software they wish to deliver.  People can debate how much they need or don’t need different aspects of the product, but that has always been the case.  All of this is made possible by the flexibility of Windows.

This is just the beginning of the discussion. There’s so much more to talk about as we dive into details about the Windows 8 UI. We’re delivering a whole new experience, reimagined from the chips all the way to the user experience, to enable new scenarios, new apps, and new ways of using a PC.

–Steven


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Just Double Click ISO and VHD files in Windows 8

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 August 2011 02:00 Written by Mire_B Tuesday, 30 August 2011 02:00

Just double click ISO and VHD files in Windows 8, nothing more nothing less. If I were you I wouldn’t rush to delete my ISO mounting application and virtualization program just yet. Not until we’ll get to see just to what extent Windows 8 supports ISO and VHD files. Microsoft claims native support, and the demo sure looks nice. Let’s just hope there will be more to see when we get our hands on a pre-release Win8 Build.

 


Download this video to view it in your favorite media player:
High quality MP4 | Lower quality MP4

 

 

In continuing with the improvements in core Windows functionality and also oft-requested features, we are adding native Explorer support for ISO and VHD files in Windows 8. While terabytes of storage are available to all of us, managing disk (or disc) image formats remains important for a number of mission-critical operations in many organizations and among power users. We know even more support for VHD is a big request, so stay tuned. Rajeev Nagar authored this post. He is a group program manager on our Storage & File Systems team. –Steven

The trend of incredibly large and small form-factor hard disks means we can store ever increasing amounts of data without worrying about running out of capacity. Windows 8 enables easy access to the contents of two important storage formats, ISO and VHD files. While we generally think of these formats when they appear on media, they are also very useful as files within a file system and that is where native support in Explorer comes in handy.

Working with ISO files

While optical discs continue to be useful in many situations, large hard disks allow us to decrease our dependence on them. Personally, I’ve spent a load of my time (legally) ripping about 900 GB worth of music, and more recently almost 1TB of home video DVDs into my collection. I know that my backup of our photos and home movies is probably the most important data in my house. Together with backups, storing the most basic things in my house now requires terabytes of space. Just a couple of years ago that was an unimaginable amount of storage. These days, however, I know I can buy a 3TB hard disk for less than $200.

Given cheap hard disks and our mobile lifestyle, we have little interest in carting around collections of discs. Also, we expect to be able to receive content as well as share and collaborate with friends, family, and colleagues in an instant – typically through online file transfers. Last but not least, our desire for thin and light form factors such as slates and ultra-mobile laptops often leaves no room for vendors to add optical disc drives. This is exactly the feedback we received from many of you who used Windows 7 – the ability to directly use ISO files (also known as ISO images) without requiring a physical CDROM or DVD drive is very important.

A quick refresher on ISO files might be helpful. ISO refers to the International Organization for Standardization which is an international standard-setting body, and a world leader in developing and publishing international standards. For the purpose of this blog entry, our interests lie in a couple of standards published by ISO, namely ISO-9660 and ISO-13346. Simply stated, these two standards each describe a method by which photos, video, applications, documents or other content (excluding CD audio) are organized on CDROM or DVD optical media. The reason for the popularity of these standards is they allow CDROM and DVD media content to be easily interchanged across systems from different vendors e.g. you can create a DVD on a Windows PC and read it in your living room DVD player. An ISO file is simply a disc image stored as a file, composed of all of the contents of a CDROM or DVD disc. You can also think of an ISO file as a full-fidelity image (digital copy) of the optical disc.

ISO files are used by vendors to distribute software. Backup applications also store content in the ISO format and many utilities allow creation of an ISO file from existing CDROM or DVD media. Once created, these files can be sent around, downloaded, and stored just like any other file – however, before you can access the photos, video, applications, documents, or other content contained within the ISO file, you either have to “burn” the ISO file to a writable optical disc or download and install software that allows you to “mount” and access the ISO file contents directly (i.e. without burning). With Windows 8, we have eliminated this last step – you can simply access the contents of the ISO file without needing either needing to burn a new disc or needing to find/download/install additional software just to logically access the ISO.

So how does this work in Windows 8? It’s quite simple – just “mount” the ISO file (you can select mount from the enhanced Explorer ribbon or double-click or right-click on the file), and a new drive letter appears, indicating that the contents are now readily accessible. Underneath the covers, Windows seamlessly creates a “virtual” CDROM or DVD drive for you on-the-fly so you can access your data. Let’s walk through the flow that will enable you to access such an ISO file.

As you see in the figure below, we have three ISO files in a local folder. The one we will work with contains the (legally obtained) Office application suite. To mount the ISO, you can either double click the file or click Mount on the Actions tab.

Mounting a new ISO

Once you mount the ISO, a new drive letter appears for the virtual CDROM/DVD drive that Windows seamlessly creates. The contents of the ISO are accessible just as they would have been had you inserted the CD/DVD media into a physical optical drive. Only, operating on the contents happens at the speed of your hard drive, not an optical drive.

The mounted ISO appears as a new drive letter

Once you are done using the ISO, you can (virtually) “eject” it, and the virtual drive disappears.

Virtually ejecting an ISO

In case you need a utility to create ISO images from existing optical media, there are many tools that give you that capability. One I use is the Oscdimg command line tool that is available as part of our automated deployment kit.

That is it! Accessing ISO files has now become a snap with Windows 8. Regardless of whether you have an optical drive accessible to you or not, accessing your data is never a problem.

Working with VHD files

Another place we’ve simplified access is with Virtual Hard Disk files. Virtual Hard Disks are the format used by Virtualization software Hyper-V or Virtual PC. In a future blog post, we’ll talk more about the enhancements to Windows Virtualization technology, Hyper-V.

The Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format is a publicly-available image format specification that allows encapsulation of the hard disk into an individual file for use by the operating system as a virtual disk in all the same ways physical hard disks are used. The VHD format is used by Hyper-V to store information for Virtual Machines. In Windows7 & Windows Server 2008 r2 we have the ability to boot the system off a VHD file, and we had command line and MMC plugins for managing them. VHDs are handy for portability of system settings or to play back what has been saved as a snapshot of a system.

Accessing a VHD in Windows 8 is as simple as what we’ve done with ISO files, but there is one important difference: rather than appearing as a removable drive (as is the case with ISO), VHDs appear as new hard drives.

Accessing a VHD

Underneath the covers, Windows provides a virtual drive letter pointing to the volume within the VHD. You’ll notice that the icon for the drive G: below is the same as the icon for a VHD file.

The VHD appears as a hard drive

You can then work with the virtual hard disk just like any other file storage in your system, whether you are modifying, adding or removing files.

Ejecting the VHD

Once you’ve finished working with the VHD, like an ISO, you can right-click it and click Eject (or just use the Eject button on the ribbon). Any changes you’ve made remain saved within the file.


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Windows 8 Build 6.2.7927.110214-1930 Leak Soon?

Last Updated on Monday, 29 August 2011 10:29 Written by Mire_B Monday, 29 August 2011 10:28

Windows 8 Build 6.2.7927.110214-1930 is so very very old! It’s a Milestone 2 release from February, 2011. But some guys over at Beta Archive are claiming that they leaked it. If that’s true then it’s going to make its way to all users soon enough. If not, well, there are some screenshots and a video to hold you over.

 


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