Monday, April 23, 2012

Don't Freak Out -- It's Just the Start Screen!

I recently created my first Metro style native Windows 8 prototype applications (in both XAML and JavaScript). Here are my initial impressions of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and Visual Studio 2011 Beta.

  1. Solid
    I created a VMWare virtual machine both on my Windows 7 box (work) and my MacBook Pro (personal). Both proved to be quite stable...I don't recall getting any lock ups or BSoD (or whatever the Win8 equivalent would be). And remember this is a per-release OS and a beta IDE. Kudos to Microsoft.

  2. Visual Studio is like your favorite concert t-shirt...all washed out, but still rocks
    The official name appears to be "Visual Studio 11", and it works pretty much the same as 2010. The most notable visual difference is that they sucked all the color out of the UI...but that doesn't bother me. It's stable; I immediately knew my way around; and I was able to be productive -- that's all I (and most developers) care about. There's some nice new Metro application templates (for C# and JavaScript projects), and they worked great. I was able to throw a native Metro style prototype app together very quickly.

  3. If you like Windows Phone, you'll like Windows 8
    I own an iPhone4, and live totally within the Apple ecosystem. That being said, I've developed a few Windows Phone apps (both work and personal), and really like what Microsoft has done with the Metro UI. If my phone went all pear-shaped, I'd actually consider a Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone for all of 30 seconds before heading back to the altar Genius Bar and ordering up an iPhone4s. Windows Phone is a unique experience, and (based on my very limited exposure) it appears to "just work".

  4. Take some time to get your bearings
    The Metro style Start screen, apps, and touch-centric interaction model are going to take some getting used to, but I think they'll be worth it in the long run. I set up the previous Win8 release (Developer Preview) on my MacBook (again in a virtual machine), but was quickly turned off by the apparent lack of support for mouse and keyboard interaction (as opposed to touch). This time around, the non-touch equivalents are much more clear. 
    1. Top right or bottom right of screen pull up the "Charms" menu
    2. Top left of screen lets you toggle to previous app
    3. Bottom left of screen lets you jump to start menu
    4. To close/exit a Metro app, hover at the top of screen until cursor turn to a hand, then click and drag downward

    Keyboard commands still work just fine, too:
    1. Alt-Tab to switch between apps (Metro and non-Metro)
    2. Hitting Windows key will take you to the Start screen 
    3. While on the Start screen, just start typing for search

    I have to admit to being really frustrated for a couple of days, but after I figured out the above I was feeling pretty comfortable.There is certainly some dissonance between the touch / tablet experience and the mouse / desktop experience...hopefully that will improve over time.

  5. The dreaded Start screen
    I've heard a lot of whining about the Start screen, and a fellow developer made the following observation: "It's just a start screen instead of a start menu." And you know, he's right. It works just the same way as the Start menu that we all know and (presumably) love:
    1. You can get to it by clicking the bottom left of the screen (even though there's no actual UI element until you put your pointer down there)
    2. You can get to it by hitting the Windows key
    3. You can use it to search (just start typing)
    4. You can get to all of your apps (Metro and non-Metro)
    5. Right clicking allows you to organize or delete applications
    6. You can still get to the desktop (yes, the desktop is still there) by hitting Windows-D
Windows 8 appears to have a lot going for it (ARM support, smaller footprint, better performance, support for touch, picture password, Windows to Go), and I know that Microsoft must have had to struggle to come up with something new, fresh, and innovative while not totally alienating their current ginormous, ofttimes whiny user base. I think they've done a great job, but there will be lot of stick-in-the-muds and nattering nabobs of negativism who will say they've blown it.

In the end, they had to come up with something compelling enough to get us out of our comfort zone sand make us want to upgrade...and I think they've done that.