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Windows 8, a family technologist viewpoint

Windows 8 Pro is a great upgrade, and I highly recommend it to anyone for family-use PCs. For a professional-use or power-user PCs, I also recommend it; I’ll cover some of that later.

First, what our kids are getting out of it:

  • Games and educational apps from Store: These are much easier to find than on the web, and at the moment, less dogged by advertising. The number of education & book apps has really picked up.
  • Having their own “place”: A simple PIN yields a different colors, tile arrangements, web frequent sites, apps, and avatar. Although we set up user accounts for them on Windows 7 too, there just wasn’t that much to it aside from the sandbox aspect, and it was really hard to set up.
  • Less (windows) is more: The kids are more adept on our 23″ desktop with 8 than Windows 7. With 7 I observed them struggling dealing with obscured windows and too-small user interface… adults have struggled with this too, but we’ve built up the mental model around dealing with windowing problems so it feels OK, and even right. Should it? In Windows 8 there are a lot more things you can do w/ just the Windows key and the mouse generally in the center of the screen or pulled to its edges. While Nielsen is spot on about many issues that come with being familiar with desktop window management and websites, the fundamental change from “Microsoft Windows” to “Microsoft Window1 will grow with kids and anyone who’s spent more time with an iPad than an old PC.

Here’s what I like, as both a dad and a pro user:

  • Internet Explorer 10′s full-screen app is really elegant, with less chrome than Chrome, and the same synchronization of recent & pinned sites, passwords, etc. The frequently used site tiles are also really useful; for some reason these just click for me while what browsers have previously done in menus from the address bar for this have not. Could it be that they’re above the address bar? What is it?
  • Family Safety help me keep an eye on which apps the kids are using (or things they might have questions about, as with my son’s recent search for “trolling motors”.)
  • The new OneNote is wonderful for sharing checklists & other ad-hoc information between my wife and I.
  • Integrated PDF viewer, ISO mounting, and virtualization, finally!
  • The opportunity for developers of “surface” apps. Although Google will make strong moves in agent platforms (as in apps for Google Glass) I think Microsoft has the best platform for screens & flat surfaces right now. If as a developer you need inspiration, watch Microsoft’s productivity future vision and consider how many of these experiences are now not so far off… it’s a matter of hardware  (a table as a screen, a plastic card as a screen) than having an application model’s too inflexible to extend to such hardware (the style of apps that work on Windows 8 would be quite elegant on these devices too.)

Here’s what I don’t like:

  • When apps launch from the desktop view into the full-screen view, it can be really disorienting. When coming from desktop, I’d like an easier way to get back there. When I’m already in a full-screen app and transition to another, I don’t mind it.

I’m looking forward to:

  • Xbox Music service improvements. I’d like to see a web app for when I’m using a Mac; Microsoft has mentioned they’re doing this. (Update: they did it, it’s http://music.xbox.com)
  • Internet Explorer 10 services extended to Windows Phone and Xbox. It’s odd that pinned/recent sites and usernames/passwords don’t sync across to these devices.

1 Perhaps Nielsen’s group is making a point about discoverability by calling it “Microsoft Window”, but you can dock the full-screen apps side-by-side for tasks that cross between them… this is a 2 window system with easy switching of either window.

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