New Windows releases bring with them a bevy of new features, use cases and controversy. Indeed I can think back to every new Windows release dating back to Windows 95 and there was always something that set off a furor, whether it was UI changes or compatibility issues. For us technical folk though a new version of Windows brings with it opportunity, to experiment with the latest tech and dream about where we’ll take it. For the last month I’ve been using Windows 10 on my home machines and, honestly, whilst it feels much like its Windows 8.1 predecessor I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing.
Visually Windows 10 is a big departure from its 8 and 8.1 predecessors as, for any non-tablet device, the full screen metro app tray is gone, replaced with a more familiar start menu. The full screen option is still there however, hiding in the notifications area under the guise of Tablet Mode, and for transformer or tablet style devices this will be the default option. The flat aesthetic has been taken even further again with all the iconography being reworked, ironing out almost any 3D element. You’re also not allowed to change the login screen’s laser window background without the aid of a resource hacker, likely due to the extreme amount of effort that went into creating the image.
For most, especially those who didn’t jump in the Windows 8 bandwagon, the navigation of the start menu will familiar although I must admit after the years I’ve spent with its predecessor it’s taken some getting used to. Whilst the charms menu might have disappeared the essence of it appears throughout Windows 10, mostly in the form of settings panels like Network Settings. For the most part they do make the routine tasks easier, like selecting a wifi network, however once things get complicated (like if you have say 2 wireless adapters) then you’re going to have to root around a little bit to find what you’re looking for. It is a slightly better system than what Windows 8 had, however.
To give myself the full Windows 10 experience I installed it on 2 different machines in 2 different ways. The first was a clean install on the laptop you see above (my trusty ASUS Zenbook UX32V) and that went along without a hitch. For those familiar with the Windows 8 style installer there’s not much to write home about here as it’s near identical to the previous installers. The second install was an upgrade on my main machine as, funnily enough, I had it on good word that the upgrade process was actually quite useable. As it turns out it is as pretty much everything came across without a hitch. The only hiccup came from my audio drivers not working correctly (seemed to default to digital out and wouldn’t let me change it) however a reinstall of the latest drivers fixed everything.
In terms of features there’s really not much in the way of things I’d consider “must haves” however that’s likely because I’ve been using many of those features since Windows 8 was first released. There are some interesting little additions however like the games features that allow you to stream, record and capture screenshots for all DirectX games (something which Windows will remind you about when you start them up). Microsoft Edge is also astonishingly fast and quite useable however since it’s so new the lack of extensions for it have precluded me from using it extensively. Interestingly Internet Explorer still makes an appearance in Windows 10, obviously for those corporate applications that continue to require it.
Under the hood there’s a bevy of changes (which I won’t bore you with here) however the most interesting thing about them is the way Windows 10 is structured for improvements going forward. You see Windows 10 is currently slated to be the last major release of Windows ever but this doesn’t mean that it will remain stagnant. Instead new features will be released incrementally on a much more frequent basis. Indeed the roadmaps I’ve seen show that there are several major releases planned in the not too distant future and indeed if you want a peek at the them all you need to do is sign up for the Windows Insider program. Such a strategy could reap a lot of benefits, especially for organisations seeking to avoid the heartache of Windows version upgrades in the future.
All in all Windows 10 is pretty much what I expected it to be. It has the best parts of Windows 7 and 8 and mashed together into a cohesive whole that should appease the majority of Windows users. Sure there are some things that some won’t like, the privacy settings being chief among them, however they’re at least solvable issues rather than showstoppers like Vista’s compatibility or 8’s metro interface. Whether Microsoft’s strategy of no more major versions ever is tenable or not is something we’ll have to see over the coming years but at the very least they’ve got a strong base with which to build from.
6 months ago saw the announcement of Microsoft’s attempt to remain relevant in the smartphone space: Windows Phone 7. At the time I poked fun at it the fact that it was basically Microsoft’s interpretation of what the iPhone would’ve looked like if they made it but realised that the platform had potential. If there’s one thing Microsoft is good at its throwing money at a problem until they eventually get it right, like with the Xbox (are they even making money on the consoles yet?) and Windows Phone 7 seemed to be one of those kinds of problems. One thing that it did have going for it was the fact that a Windows developer like me could code for the device without reskilling too much and that’s where the real power is.
As much fun as it is to learn a new platform it’s still a giant barrier to building an application on a new platform. I haven’t done any development on any mobile clients yet purely because the two major ones I want to target use a language that I’m not familiar with. Sure there are cross platform libraries that might help to ease the learning curve but unfortunately they’ve been hamstrung by Apple’s restrictions and aren’t fully compatible with my IDE of choice, Visual Studio. So for any enterprising developer looking to build a mobile application there’s always an initial hump to get over in order to be an effective developer on the platform. That or you shell out some dollars to get someone else to do it for you, but not everyone can afford that.
If you were just to look at the number of developers working on any platform, whether it was mobile/desktop/web/whatever, the largest group would arguably be those working on Windows. With the number of desktops, laptops and other devices running some form of Windows exceeding 80% of the total computers worldwide the number of developers working on that platform far outnumbers that of any other. Microsoft knows this and whilst anti-trust legislation will prevent them from using their current monopoly on the desktop to leverage into the mobile space that won’t stop them from making it damn attractive for developers to gravitate to the Windows Phone 7 platform.
Now I’ve been a developer for a while, about 6 years as an amateur and maybe half that as being paid to do it as part and parcel of my usual system admin responsibilities. In that time I’ve used my share of environments, languages and platforms and out of the lot the one that I keep coming back to is Visual Studio. Whilst some might hate me for this next comment Microsoft’s tools just make coding things so damned easy to the point where there’s nothing I don’t think I’m a tutorial away from being able to do myself. Microsoft knows this and the past few months have seen them trying to lure their developers over to the mobile space with things like free development environments only seeking to charge you once you’re sign up for their marketplace.
They just don’t stop there either. Microsoft made headlines about a month ago when they gave each and every one of their employees a new WP7 phone. It was however a veiled gift as it came with the instructions that not only should they evangelize them amongst their friends but also develop apps for them in their spare time. With Microsoft having 89,000 employees this is no small number of handsets and whilst not all of them are developers (I’d hazard a guess at 30~40%) there’s still enough of them there to have their numbers brushing up against both the iPhone and Android platforms. That doesn’t even include potential developers outside Microsoft who might just start developing for WP7 if it takes off merely because it would be easy to do so. Realistically if Microsoft can harness the power of their developer base in the same way Apple did with theirs they could really pull themselves around in the mobile space, maybe even turning it into a 3 horse race.
The question is of course whether or not the teaming masses of Windows developers will find any point in developing for the mobile space. It can be argued that many desktop applications, where the vast majority of Windows application developers reside, can’t be transitioned onto a mobile platform in any useful way. Realistically if any developer was looking to tackle the mobile market they would have done so already and consequently have substantial investment in their platform of choice. Still the ease at which WP7 applications can be developed using existing skills and knowledge means that the platform might just become dominate because it brings developers to the mobile space that would have never considered it before. Since it can be argued that Windows Mobile is arguably the same thing as WP7 (just not as sexy) it’s going to take a bit more wooing from Microsoft to draw those reluctant developers over and in the lead up to the first WP7 phone hitting the markets will show them doing just that.
Personally I’m still excited about it. I’ve tried to develop simple applications for Windows Mobile before and it was always a royal pain in the ass. The new Windows Presentation Framework based interface for WP7 means that developing code for them will be that much easier. Additionally the integration with existing code bases will mean that the kinds of functionality that would usually have to be developed for the specific platform can now be leveraged with minor modifications, something that I know will at least have developers playing around with WP7.
And that is what has the potential to make WP7 the dominant player in the mobile space.