Birth of the cool
Tomorrow is the day when Microsoft tries to get its mojo working. At the BUILD conference, Windows 8 will be revealed to an audience of eager developers, including yours truly. But although this is a developer conference, the technical details aren’t quite as important as usual. What really matters is the rebirth (and probably detoxification) of the whole Windows brand. At the moment, Windows just isn’t perceived as “cool” in the same way as certain other brands, it’s just something you use because you have to (either because it’s for work or because you have a limited budget).
I suspect the main point of this conference is to make “Windows” not refer to a PC operating system, but instead to cover a whole range of Microsoft services and devices working in synergy. So as a Windows user, you’ll be using your Windows Phone with Windows Live services, keeping your data in the Windows Live cloud, then accessing the same stuff from your Windows tablet, laptop and PC plus your XBox and Surface. You’ll be using Kinect and voice control to access TV, videos and music on your devices without hunting for the remote, and because it all synchronises together so seamlessly you’ll not need to worry about which device you’re using to access which service or where the data’s coming from, because it’s all Windows and it all just works.
Well, that’ll be nice, won’t it? Of course, vision and execution are two different things. After all, Microsoft already has the technology to do all of the above, it’s the synergy that’s missing. So what we’re looking for this week is evidence that in that Microsoft really are pulling everything together, and from a developer point of view that we’re going to be given the tools to build applications and services that will work in the new paradigm.
I’ll be blogging selected highlights throughout the week, but what I’ll be particularly looking out for is:
- Designers, Designers, Designers! This is where HTML5 comes in, of course. Designers just don’t use Expression Blend or Visual Studio, so traditional Windows apps are very rarely a thing of beauty. But if you can use HTML as the basis of your UI then all of a sudden that changes everything. I’ll be looking to see how the HTML and XAML models have been merged or bridged so that we can write .NET apps and still get a properly designed UI.
- The consumer cloud. Developers already have Azure, but we also need an API for the Windows Live cloud services, in particular SkyDrive. For example, a Windows Phone Mango app I just wrote has a facility for uploading images, audio and video. But why should I have to use my own Azure storage account for this when I know that the user has oodles of SkyDrive storage and probably would rather have the uploaded media available in their own account anyway? If developers get proper access to Windows Live, the sky’s the limit in terms of what services we can build.
- Entertainment services. I’ve always been a big fan of Media Centre. I use it for TV, video and music in my living room and I love it. And of course because it’s a PC I can watch iPlayer and other streaming media on the TV as well. But what I really want is a Surface 2 hanging on the wall, doing the same things but with Kinect, voice and multi-touch control. And I also want to be able to access the same media from my phone and tablet (and XBox of course) without having to even think about synchronisation.
- The next version of Windows Phone. With Mango about to roll out, the Windows Phone is definitely a match for the competition. But what’s in the next release to make it a must-have? I’m still hoping for an Xbox Phone with proper game controls, but we’ll see.
- Hardware. Will Microsoft be working with the hardware manufacturers to make it easy for consumers to choose devices without having to worry about what all the technical specs mean?
Check back to the blog for updates and I’ll let you know what we find out!