Thinking Windows 9

It’s March 23rd today and we now only have a bit more than 10 days for Build 2014, in which Microsoft will be unveiling some “vision” for Windows 9. As has been mentioned before, that will imply some further fusion between the Modern environment and the traditional desktop. Many have taken the opportunity to shout to the winds about the predictable return of the Start menu to fuel their hatred of the Start screen and by all accounts, a merger of both environments into a more cohesive whole does seem like the most likely path for the company to follow.

Now, the problem with people commenting on this line of thought is that they are expecting something along the lines of this:

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Yeah, OK. A) It’s never going to happen because B) that would look horribly disconnected from the flatter aesthetic that Microsoft has taken – with the rest of the world following very clearly. Now that we’ve established that, we can accept that Modern (formerly “Metro“) is the UI framework that will be used in the future. When you think about it, the fatal flaw of Windows 8.0 was that it was a beta product. Yes, millions bought it, yet it was an unfinished mess of an OS to ship that happened because something, anything needed to head out to market. In hindsight, it may have been much better to wait it out 1 year until 8.1 and release that as the .0 version: negative reactions would have most definitely been more subdued as the OS would have been more polished and respectful of touch and keyboard-mouse first users. 8.1 did much needed good to this new Modern environment but because of this focus it kept ignoring traditional desktop users, hence why 8.x adoption is still low around Vista-era levels. Now all hopes are clinging on 9.0 to retell the tale of 7.0′s success while fueling the uncomfortable coincidental reality that validates a figurative good-release/bad-release/good-release cadence within Microsoft.

Now, how does a further synergized desktop/Modern world look? For starters, it shows launched apps combined whether they are win32 or WinRT and it allows for the taskbar to bleed into the Modern world as a vestige of times past. When I first saw this I thought it was the most hideous thing ever done. Alas, this is still the case, yet once I used 8.1 Update 1 I came to realize the taskbar is only there when I mouse to the lower end of the screen. Even then, if I’m in a Modern app, priority is given to whatever menu that app may have, and only upon further going down does the taskbar show up (and immediately disappear when the mouse is taken away from it). Now, seeing this in action, this change is much less obtrusive than I originally envisioned. Yes, it does occlude whatever Modern app tools may lie below the taskbar, but if I’m making the effort to get to the taskbar I’m not looking at those Modern controls, thus, no usability is hindered. This is a positive direction to fuse desktop and Modern and I expect 9.0 to bring further cohesion to the Frankenstein that 8.x is.

With that out of the way, let’s get back to that start menu. It’s happening, mainly because old people keep complaining about it not being there and how hard it is to get used to all these new changes. Never mind they are able to pick up an iPad, which has nothing to do with OS X, and understand immediately how to use it, proving that they are adaptable creatures. No, the problem here is that they see a product called Windows and have certain expectations from it, which when changed into a Modern environment, throws them back into a field of negativity. But I digress. Without getting into why the Start screen is clearly a superior way to organize/find/initiate apps, let’s have a look at how I expect things to go in 9.0. As a reference, my current Start screen:

It is quite easy to imagine how a Start menu would work in the desktop while still respecting the UI design principles stipulated in the Modern framework. Use the same flat aesthetic, keep the Start menu tiles live just like in the Start screen and make this menu just as capable of personalization as the Start screen: you have a winner. Lighter users that use less apps could have a very unobtrusive Start menu that gives them all the app links they need while not occluding anything from view:

In my case, I would expect my Start menu to look along these lines:

Of course, the Start menu should be extendable to whatever one has picked in the Start screen, and the dimensions should not be limited to a certain specific screen space like pre-8.0 Start menus: remember, 9.x should be as focused on touch as it is on keyboard-mouse, so we can’t expect users to touch on tiny arrows to go up and down, or move through lists that frankly make no organizational sense in 2014. There is no reason why this menu can’t grow throughout the screen as more tiles are added while not occluding any tile from view:

This seems like an evolution that would satisfy heavy desktop users’ main complaint: they hate the Start screen because it launches them into a fullscreen experience that breaks their flow. This design would allow these people to access all the apps they have without ever leaving the desktop and losing whatever they’re doing from view. Of course, this assumes that by 9.0 we’ll be able to launch Modern apps in windows inside the desktop, which seems like the best compromise, otherwise, launching a fullscreen app basically negates the benefit from having a Start menu that doesn’t occlude anything else. While thinking of this design I was tempted to add a search box to the menu and decided it does not need one, since search would work just like it does in pre-8.x versions and the Start screen: hit the Windows key and start typing. However, there’s many people who again need to be educated and in a transition towards a Modern world will need visual cues, so adding a search box just like the one that was added to the Windows Store wouldn’t be the end of the world:

Even better, if wanted, this Start menu could still be organized in groups resembling the Start screen organization, though I would assume it wouldn’t be designed to show as many tiles as the Start screen otherwise it would occupy much of the desktop space and thus defeat the purpose of having a Start menu:

mockupStartMenuGroups

There, quite unobtrusive yet still helpful for those who require visual cues. The one last “problem” we would have to fix is when we get the Start menu and when we get the Start screen. This, again, is easily fixed: If a user clicks or touches the Start button with a mouse or finger, launch the Start menu. If a user clicks or touches the Windows logo on the charms bar or uses the hardware button on a tablet, launch the Start screen. 2 identities, desktop and Modern, accessible in similar ways yet always consistent with what’s expected from the user: desktop traits are linked to desktop use and thus the Start menu while Modern traits are linked to the Modern use and thus to the Start screen. Easy peasy!

So, those are some of my thoughts when thinking about Windows 9. This, however, is nowhere near enough: it’s just the main vocal point that will be argued to exasperation in blogs and forums during the next year. I expect Microsoft to converge far, far more by Windows 9 and bringing x86/ARM/WP8 systems together is not enough. There needs to be one store. It has to be possible to buy one app once and use it in any desktop/laptop/tablet/phone signed into the same Microsoft account. Desktop and Modern need to fuse much further; from two completely independent entities into a more cohesive unit that operates as a whole but has two moods if you will, a productive mood (think desktop) and a consumption mood (think Modern) that still act, react, look and feel like one. Desktop and Modern need to be melded into one whole environment for different uses and achieving precisely this goal is what will mark 9.0′s success.

At least, Microsoft is not boring anymore – it’s easily the most exciting company right now as they figure out who they are and who they want to be. Now let’s wait and see what “vision” Microsoft reveals on Build.

My phone history – updated

Well, it happened again.

As happy as I am with my Lumia 620, the truth is that my mom’s Samsung Focus WP7 is now about 4 years old and she is completely outdated. While she likes the phone, WP7 development has been virtually abandoned as WP8 is completely based on actual Windows 8 and not Windows CE (which is not really Windows at all) like WP7 was. So, in preparation for her next birthday, I’ll be giving her my like-new 620 so she can leave the past behind and come back to present modernity. Of course, most likely she’ll half-joke half-complain that I’m giving her a used phone that I no longer want (which is untrue) while not realizing this will be the most expensive and high quality phone she has ever owned, but oh well… such is my destiny and I’m used to it. At least she will stop complaining that Whatsapp/Skype and other apps don’t work properly (obvious, since they haven’t received updates on WP7 since the beginning of time…).

Anyway, I was waiting for MWC2014 in Barcelona this end of February to see what WP8.1 devices Nokia/Microsoft release, most likely quadcores with 2gb RAM. I was on the fence about what I would upgrade to, the new devices or just last year’s 920 since it has that fantastic Pureview camera. If I were limited to be with one carrier, I’d get the 1020 with its 41mp camera and not look back, but since I travel back and forth to Europe, I need to be able to swap microSIM cards, which means I need unlocked devices. Which are WAY more expensive than locked ones. Since what’ll be announced at MWC won’t be 64-bit SOCs – those won’t be coming until the fall – I figured it wouldn’t really matter what I decided to buy. Coincidentally, as I was doing this process in my head, WPCentral released this article about 920s being available on eBay, unlocked, for a miserly $200. I couldn’t order one fast enough, this is a crazy good deal. Last year’s phone, sure, but also last year’s flagship phone, which means it’ll still be supported pretty much for the next year or maybe two. Even when it gets to the cutoff for future OS updates, its camera will still laugh at 95% of what the market offers. So there you go, 920 is on its way towards me from California, refurbished (so basically new, while technically not exactly “new”, yet legally has to be sold at as-used price). Queue the obligatory update to my phone history for the annals of history:
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This 920 should last me at least 2 years, great phone, flagship specs, best-in-class camera (let’s face it, that was my main draw, photography), support for at least 1/2 years. Other than discovering an unknown love for all things matte, this situation also made me think that I/people in general buy phones at a much faster rate than before. My 1st phone lasted 3 years, 2nd phone another 3, same with the 3rd phone… had the 4th for 1 year, 5th for 1/2 year, 6th for 1/2 year… though the last 2 don’t really count as I hated the Android OS and the 620 will be handed to my mom, those are exceptions (if mom didn’t need a new phone I’d happily keep using the 620). I don’t think we can blame this on consumerism as some do, although it’s certainly a factor in this accelerating trend.

I’d say the main factor is that technology is getting much better much faster. My Alcatel, the brick that vanquished my fears of being mugged at night because it essentially constituted a weapon, lasted so long because screens didn’t get any better for a while. Sure, the Nokia 3310 was a welcome upgrade but the increase in resolution wasn’t THAT big a deal, the main thing with that one was the lighter package. The 6500 was even smaller and had a color screen, but note how that more noticeable change took about 10 years to occur. From then on, technology has improved at a much faster pace. The Samsung Focus had a brilliant AMOLED screen but lacked in resolution. 2 years later the Nexus 4 had a great HD screen. 1 year later the Lumia 620 was the upgrade to WP8 that I wanted since the unlocked 920 was crazy expensive. I’m positive the WP8.1 devices in MWC2014 will absolutely trump and laugh at my 920, but the trick here is that the 920 is already beefy enough to withstand an upgrade to WP9 if that happens next year. Yet, as you see, everything is getting so much better so much faster, which is welcome news, but we need to try to calm down with the purchasing rate/pace. If the 920 supports WP9 as I fully expect it to (other 512MB RAM Lumias I’m much more doubtful about…) and it doesn’t die (meaning I drop and break it), I expect to be using this device for a long, long time, 2 years minimum, 3 years probable, 4 years unlikely but possible (by then we might have flexible 2K resolution AMOLED IGZO panels and, as Steve Jobs used to say, you don’t even know how much you really want them yet).

To conclude, here’s a couple shots of my new best buddy to help me traverse the treacherous waters of life:

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HAL #42 – Asparagus stir fry, guacamole and garlic pita bread!

Yesterday there was yet another event in our department. As usual, the food provided was too much – or people just keep not eating enough -  and there was all sorts of leftovers. I was teaching a class at the time so I did not attend, yet the organizers were kind enough to save a bunch of food for me since they know I hate wasting food. Luckily, the Tupperware where I brought my salad for lunch was now empty, so I was able to bring food home. A LOT of it. That made last night’s dinner – no picture, sorry – but the best part was that as I was leaving, I heard our administrative running towards me saying “WAIT! YOU FORGOT THE PITA BREAD! THERE’S SO MUCH OF IT! TAKE IT HOME!”.

:)

These people really know me. So I took the pita bread, and like last time… it’ll last for an eternity. SO MUCH. I made pita toasts for breakfast this morning and for HAL today I threw some pita in the mix too. Thus, today I prepared a delicious stir fry of asparagus, garlic and sunflower seeds, accompanied by some guacamole/chips and homemade garlic pita bread, oven roasted.

Ridiculously yummy food!

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HAL #41 – Toasted pita bread with Canary Isles sauces

Last night we had a very interesting presentation by writer Diamela Eltit in our department. One of my favorite parts of these gatherings – other than the intellectual aspect – is the reception that usually ensues, of course. I am human after all, and I had spent about 10h working at university by the time the speaker finished. Food was necessary. After the event, again as is starting to be a trend, there was so much food left, not because the department ordered too much, but because people didn’t eat in any meaningful amounts yet again. So, as is practically ritual, organizers and helpers divided the leftovers to take home as no healthy food should be thrown away, ever. I got a plate of chicken that I ate for dinner (I wasn’t about to start cooking at 11pm) and what seemed like a bottomless bag of pita bread.

Seriously. I have so much pita at home right now. Did anybody even touch the pita? SO. MUCH. In my home. Which makes life even better. So, busy as I am revising all my written thesis chapters time and time again, on this cloudy and gloomy day, I thought I’d put some color out in the universe. I recalled I still had some of the sauces my awesome Bryan brought from Canary Isles (mojo picón, mojo verde, almogrote & miel) and so I proceeded to use them on previously toasted pita, reserving a couple of the pieces for homemade garlic bread.

The result: HAL perfection. See for yourself below. If that doesn’t look like a happy, nutritious, colorful, healthy awesome lunch, I don’t know what does. I’m tempted to print it in a large canvas and hang it on the wall.

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HAL #40 – Tilapia burger

My previous salmon burger was so good I decided to make this a trend and start making fish burgers more often. Hence, the inception of today’s lunch: a fantastic tilapia burger made with minced fish, onion, pepper, garlic (I seriously love garlic) and some flax seed. I fried it just enough to cook it inside and with  a few pickles on top plus fried asparagus on the side (again with flax seed and maldon salt), lunch was ready.

AH-mazing.

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