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3/30/2013
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Windows Blue: What We Know

Will Windows Blue, Windows 8's successor, be a nail in the coffin of traditional PCs? Here are 5 key facts that have emerged.

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
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NCAA basketball players aren't the only ones who've been sprinting for the last week; Microsoft gossips have been running the fast break too. Between a copy of Windows Blue, the much-rumored Windows 8 update, leaking to the Internet and Redmond finally acknowledging that the project exists, Microsoft-related speculation has spiked.

As the world's biggest software company, Microsoft makes a lot of news--but even by Redmond's standards, Windows Blue involves big stakes: the future of computing as a whole.

Consider just this change from the last week: one day, Windows 8's more optimistic critics were hoping that Windows Blue might throw a bone to legacy users, perhaps by allowing them to boot straight to the desktop; the next day, those users were digesting not only the reality that Live Tiles are Microsoft's UI of the future but also the disquieting possibility that the desktop interface might be killed off altogether.

[ Touch interfaces haven't charmed everyone yet. See "Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?" ]

Despite the leak, it's too early to indulge "death of the traditional PC" histrionics just yet. Even so, Windows Blue is shaping up to be the next big step in what Microsoft has termed its "new normal": a continuous development cycle in which new features are delivered not through the monolithic updates of the past but via ongoing refinements. Will this philosophy affect the way you use your PC? Here are five facts to consider.

1. Get used to the Modern UI, like it or not.

Though the company hasn't said so this bluntly, Microsoft is determined to force all Windows 8 users -- even those who don't care about touch screens -- to get used to the Modern UI. The fact that Windows Blue does not yet allow users to boot directly to the desktop all but confirms this fact; Microsoft's decision to funnel desktop users though the Live Tiles Start screen might have been unpopular, but it also appears to be an unwavering part of the plan.

Indeed, Windows Blue's visible enhancements are limited almost entirely to the Modern interface. Most of the changes, such as the ability to more granularly personalize the homepage, are evolutionary, but some, such as a function that syncs browser tabs across devices, suggest the broad strokes of a fluid ecosystem. Cohesive multi-device experiences were a big theme at the Windows Phone 8 launch, and with Windows Blue, which is expected to unify all Windows platforms, Microsoft appears to be further developing this goal.

Even so, none of the tweaks is so jaw-droppingly awesome that iPad users will be tossing their hardware in the streets. If you like Windows 8, Windows Blue should offer a meaningfully more polished and usable evolution of the same concept. If you don't like Windows 8, Microsoft seems to believe that it's only a matter of time (and updates).

That said, the desktop UI isn't entirely ignored by Blue. Much to the chagrin of some users, though, the leaked build doesn't enhance the traditional interface so much as relieve it of longtime possibilities. Current Windows 8 users have to use the desktop to access the Control Panel, for example, but in Windows Blue, these tools have been implemented on the Modern side. The widely held interpretation is that Microsoft wants the Modern UI to be a standalone environment -- that is, a fully functional OS in its own right, without the desktop's support.

2. The desktop isn't necessarily dead.

Because Microsoft is doing its best to make the desktop UI optional, many have speculated that the familiar Explorer interface will soon be phased out. Given Blue's development trajectory, this possibility, once seen as unlikely, has never been harder to ignore.

Still, even if Redmond eventually makes Live Tiles mandatory, the company is years of transitional work away from nixing the desktop. With so many customers so invested in the old x86 world, millions of pieces of software will need to be ported for Modern use. That kind of effort will take time, so don't write up the desktop's obituary just yet.

What's more, it remains to be seen if all desktop processes can even be translated to a touch-centric world. Sure, some legacy apps might be simple ports that run in the Metro environment but look and behave like their Explorer antecedents. This possibility could certainly speed things up. But even if Microsoft is moving away from the desktop, the ultimate transition isn't coming with Windows Blue, and it probably won't be a part of whatever color-coded update comes after that.

Though it's unlikely, Microsoft could even surprise everyone by implementing desktop improvements before Blue finally launches. Redmond has suggested it will elaborate on its Windows strategy at its upcoming BUILD 2013 conference, which will be June 26-28 in San Francisco.

3. Microsoft Office will also receive a Blue-like upgrade.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley recently reported that Microsoft Office will be undergoing a Blue-like transformation of its own, codenamed Gemini. According to her tipsters, Gemini describes a series of updates to be delivered over the next two years. The first wave is expected to coincide with Windows Blue and could bring Modern-optimized versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. OneNote and Lync are the only members of the Office stable that have already been given the Live Tile treatment.

In a sense, Modern-styled Office apps reinforce the notion that the desktop UI's days are numbered. Office is the legacy app to end all legacy apps, after all.

Then again, Kurt DelBene, president of Microsoft's Office division, suggested that Modern Office apps will complement, rather than supplant, the existing versions--a strong indication that the desktop UI's imminent demise has been exaggerated. Indeed, DelBene said a Modern-optimized Word or Excel must give the user value not already available in the desktop version, implying that Microsoft is less interested in replicating the current Office experience in the Live Tiles UI than in exploring new ways to implement touch and voice into the document-creation process.

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Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
4/4/2013 | 7:28:10 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
I love all these comments. If Microsoft listened to us, we'd still be using the same GUI as Windows 3.1... or DOS.

Yeah, I loved knowing exactly where my files were and making the prompt show which directory I was in so I didn't get lost after a cd command.

I don't need any of them new-fangled "windows". I only use one program at a time anyway. And that's a PROGRAM, you whippersnappers, not an application or an app, and it was written by a PROGRAMMER, not a software engineer.

And what's with all these colors? I only need green (or amber!) on black. No need for WYSIWYG either. I can get a point across in monospaced characters without bold or italics.

In fact, I'd much rather go back to that ASR-33 with its continuous roll of paper. Who needs lower case anyway? If I need lower case, I'll use my typewriter.

Insert a few smileys here. Oh, wait, we didn't have those "emoticons" either.

Seriously, though (and I hope you enjoyed that walk down memory lane), I agree that changing a GUI is risky and disruptive, particularly if there's no clear benefit for doing so. I dred teaching my spouse and parents how to use any new GUI after it took years for them to get comfortable with the current one. But at the same time, we don't make any progress by standing still. Don't we all work in a field that moves faster than most?
flubaluba
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flubaluba,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 6:56:52 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Having used metro style desktop on a phone with windows phone 8 i am surprised anyone would want to use the desktop as much, yes file manager is going to be needed that is what we use to control where our files go and how we want to setup our systems to our liking, but Metro is just so amazing, it is way better than the desktop in my opinion, and is actually easy to use, simple to create more tiles and link them to programs, simple to keep all the old stuff working actually.
I think people are generally scared that they are going to lose file manager , which they are not, they are just losing the old desktop layout for a new layout that makes things easier to use.
As i have said previously i can do almost anything on my windows 8 metro interface that i was doing on windows 7, yes on the metro interface, it is just s new way of doing things, once people realize this and stop with the nonsense of Microsoft locking down the system maybe more people will rush to try it out.
flubaluba
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flubaluba,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 6:48:53 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Just got a 4" huawei W1 and this is the future, seriously simple to setup and to use, i actually feel like it is almost too simple compared to android , it feels like i am missing steps when i want to do something, but i am not i am just not having to go through so many steps to do things.
I don't know why people even bother talking about android and the fight for marketshare, windows8 phone has already won the battle in my opinion and i am sure in the opinion of most who try it.
TreeInMyCube
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TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 5:02:33 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
As I write this, it is still possible to buy Windows 7 systems from Dell and HP. It would be interesting to see whether Win7 sales are tailing off, or holding steady. My guess is that while techies like me (and the other commenters) may consider moving to Linux or getting a Chromebook, a lot of folks (like my parents) will just hang onto the Win7 system they have for a good while longer. Those folks who waited too long to give up their XP system (recession anyone?) will face an interesting choice.
Computer Repair Whiteplains NY
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Computer Repair Whiteplains NY,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 3:33:04 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
It seems that Windows Blue will contain the improvements about the Metro UI that were source of criticism among users.
mkorkowski
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mkorkowski,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 12:42:27 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Look, I suppose many of us may adopt Windows 8 if there is nothing else but don't ever tell me like it or not, Microsoft. Who the hell are you? This is not just a tablet world. I understand new and updated UI for touch devices but the desktop isn't dead, and no we are all NOT going to go out and buy touchscreens. I'm not giving up my dual 24" monitors. So Microsoft YOU give me what I want or I'll go away. How about that?
proberts551
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proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
4/2/2013 | 5:20:05 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
"Get used to the Modern UI, like it or not."
OK Redmond, you have spoken...Good..Here is my answer, and I bet millions of home users will answer you as well. Microsoft is not the only OS in town. M.S. Better watch out for cloud computing, and terminal based solutions as well. After using Microsoft product since DOS 3.1, have made a career with Microsoft product since, I am bailing out. I will be installing Fedora, and will be finished with Microsoft product until it is once again consumer frendly, and based on what we as the home user wants, not some hair brained idea an over paid executive wants to shove down my mouse! No, you cannot do that, sorry, I am finished with you! I will also see what Apple has to offer before I jump to Linux. I will be forced to deal with your messy UI eventually at work, but they are also avoiding it like the Plague.
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
4/2/2013 | 5:06:23 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Get over it. Don't hate, adapt. It isn't that much different when you understand how it works. Put in a few hours or less, and you will find Win 8 works like you want it too in almost every case. Many things take less time and effort, so overall Win 8 is an improvement. Microsoft is not going to do what you want them to do, any more than Apple or Google will also. Being stubborn or closed minded will not help your company to move on with the rest of the industry.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
4/2/2013 | 3:17:59 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
You mean like Apple? To be fair though, you are going the Linux route.
trock835
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trock835,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2013 | 3:17:00 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
The arrogance of Microsoft continuing to shove Metro down our throats is becoming intolerable. It really puts us in a quandary as to how we proceed as an IT department. Our users hate, our management hates it, and I personally hate it. We don't dislike it we HATE it! Get it, Microsoft?

Using a third party product to simulate the Windows 7 interface isn't a solution. It introduces another set of variables that we need to validate with our applications and we would be betting our enterprise on a small company's product that probably won't be around in two years.
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