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Q&A: Stephen Chapman Talks About Windows 8

In the April issue of Visual Studio Magazine, Stephen Chapman, an investigative blogger who writes for ZDNet and authors the Microsoft enthusiast blog Microsoft Kitchen, wrote a VS Insider column about what developers could expects from Windows 8. We asked him his thoughts about yesterday's first public demo of the new operating system.

Michael Desmond: What are your thoughts on what Microsoft showed at the D9 Conference yesterday? Has Windows 8 met, exceeded or lagged expectations?
Stephen Chapman: I feel Windows 8 has exceeded my expectations insofar as what they demonstrated, but ultimately left a lot to be desired. They showed off the new UI, which looks to hold a lot of potential, but we heard very little about plans to enhance/modify the usability of the traditional desktop view.

I have no doubt that the new UI will not go over well with a certain demographic (business users, hesitant users, and users of netbook-like devices that the new UI will not run on), so for those individuals who will be looking for enhancements/changes to the desktop as it exists in Windows 7, I'm waiting to see what Microsoft's plans are. Undoubtedly, they have saved the deep dives for the upcoming BUILD conference.

MD: In the April issue of VSM, you speculated on what Windows 8 might bring for developers. Now that Microsoft is talking publicly, how do you think your predictions bore out?
SC: I think the majority of my speculations align well with what Microsoft has publicly showcased. Past its usability factors, the new app framework is clearly the focal point of the new UI. It screams -- as Steve Ballmer so eloquently put it -- "developers, developers, developers." Instead of XAML/Silverlight, it looks as though they're basing their apps primarily on HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS. This creates a very interesting opportunity for Web devs to jump right on in to Windows development.

MD: What was most surprising or unexpected about what Microsoft revealed yesterday?
SC: The new UI as a whole surprised me. I had no idea how they were going to carry over tile functionality to the desktop and I'm still a bit turned off by the idea of using it with a mouse/keyboard. I think the new UI is a clear signal that Microsoft is ready to start doing away with the keyboard/mouse paradigm for a certain user base; especially since they give users a choice between the two -- even insofar as allowing users to use them both simultaneously.

MD: Were there any disappointments?
SC: Only insofar as things they didn't touch on, but the D9 demonstration was supposed to be a fun and exciting showcase and I think they succeeded in achieving that. I think hardcore keyboard/mouse users or users with no touch-enabled screens will feel the majority of the showcase was a disappointment since there was really nothing new for them to see or look forward to. Clearly, Microsoft has a lot to unveil yet with Windows 8... or so we hope, at least.

MD: Julie Larson Green in a Web article on the Microsoft Web site noted that “Windows 8 apps can use a broad set of new libraries and controls, designed for fluid interaction and seamless connectivity.” Any thoughts on the potential impact of some of the interactions Microsoft hopes to enable with this?
SC: So, this all sounds interesting to me and I'm really looking forward to future examples of apps not only working in and of themselves, but also enhancing other apps. Theoretically, it sounds like a developer could create their own app to add some additional functionality to another app, much in the manner of a plug-in. The scenarios seem endless, so I'm interested to see just how much integration Microsoft allows between applications, as well as how they plan on allowing app devs to restrict/limit access to their apps.

Something else I wonder is how easy it will be for malware writers to modify app code -- especially if app devs aren't aware of certain libraries they should utilize to protect their apps. That may be over-thinking things a bit, but piracy and malware are always topics of consideration with Windows.

MD: Sounds like the live tile interface is going drive both touch and conventional UI. What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s decision to commit to the tile paradigm for the desktop OS?
SC: At first, I was reluctant and a bit weirded out by it. I couldn't stop thinking "MCE," but that went away quickly. Ultimately, I think the new UI is a very smart move for them and it only makes sense, provided the seamless integration they're reaching for between platforms (ARM, x86, x64 et al). Combined with the Windows Store that is to happen, this UI should make applications much cheaper and easier for people to purchase, much prettier and more easily usable, and potentially more lucrative for developers as they can make one single application that runs on any Windows 8-based device that will run the new UI! I think the new UI creates a vast amount of opportunities for everyone here.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/02/2011

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