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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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Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2013 | 1:09:58 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
The fact MS is going bankrupt in the effort to impose Metro does not mean it is the future. It only means MS will face smaller and smaller interest from end users, that means keep running current non 8 machines and start switching most of the tast to non Windows machines. That is happening right now.

The fact MS is going bankrupt in the effort to impose Metro does not mean it is innovative: it is a Zune like abomination barely on par with Windows 2.0 as for usability, and its sole purpose is giving better placement to Bing adware.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2013 | 1:04:45 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Nailing the coffin of desktop PC would mean nailing the door for 90% of the user base and developers, that will face the choice between who back-stabbed them and competitors of that bast***.
The only tiny advantage of the ***ard would be legacy desktop compatibility, but the more Redmond marketing call it legacy the less palatable is the advantage.
What I see here is a clear hint for developers: let Win32 software root and keep selling it to the 90% of the market ignoring 8, and start developing for iOS and Andorid for new projects.
Or, you can work for WinRT competing with Win32 products that runs on 30 times more machines including W8 ones AND competing with iOS and Android that already have a wider audience and attracts more investors.
Whoever ruled MS business plan with Windows 8 has NO CLUE how IT market goes on.
stretcherbearer
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stretcherbearer,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2013 | 5:17:58 AM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Thanks For the tip! actually, I was on the phone web today and talked with an HP tech, via a link on the Cakewalk website, which also posted a link to ADK Pro that you're talking about. Definitely some interest there, still weighing the budget component type thing, but thankfully realized I had a lot more to work with than previously thought, so looking toward the future hardware wise and stuff, I think I might be set, but Again thanks a Million for the Idea, I'm gonna go back and take a little more in depth look. Cheers!
Mark532010
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Mark532010,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 6:28:25 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
While I am not as rabidly anti-metro as most of the posters, I will say that the current system is really difficult to use. That everything is so radically different in the two environments causes a lot of confusion.
My wife looks at my win8 pc and says "ugh, it looks so confusing" and while I believe that I could clean it up and configure it to the point where it was ok for her, the amount of work is more than its worth. I could download metro-apps of all the things she uses (email, facebook, netflix, etc.) but the first time she hits something she can no longer do in Metro (i.e. check dvd queue in netflix, connect to her pop3 mail acct, etc.) she will be frustrated and have to switch to desktop view where everything is different.

I understand that being older than 15 and not caring about sharing every trivial moment of our lives to twitter and facebook, we are no longer Microsofts primary concern, but the amount of work involved in getting her used to Metro is far more than it is worth. It will be interesting to see if Blue remedies some of that but I doubt it, since the OS now relies on apps for most of everything, we are at the mercy of the app developers and so far I have yet to see a Metro version of anything that has all the features of a desktop version - I understand creating a "most of the functions" version to hit the 90% but it seems like every time there is something not included that we use.
tigger2
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tigger2,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 5:37:38 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
As a SMB owner I have not heard one reason why I should switch to Windows 8. MSFT must own a lot of Apple stock, because it looks like MSFT wants my next set of machine purchases to run either some form of Linux or Apple O/S.
Tronist
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Tronist,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 5:03:19 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
If you're in the market for a new music computer, check out ADK Pro Audio. They build music PCs with Windows 7 (not 8) and the components they use are far superior to what Apple uses. You can even get them with your choice of DAW pre-loaded for free; just enter your registration info to activate. Oh yeah...they offer free lifetime phone support.
fjackson385
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fjackson385,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2013 | 6:57:35 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
No more Windows for me. And I have zero interest in relying on a touchscreen for anything except opening an icon. I recently used a touchscreen for copy/paste and later for opening a small text size link and it was not a happy task. A touchscreen ought to be a supplimental input device to a laptop sized keyboard and touchpad. A "transformer" style laptop with a full keyboard/mouse/touchpad is the way forward for me.

I use Mint Linux 14 KDE and have mapped the keyboard for all the apps I use frequently and I think those are faster/easier than raising my hand/arm to tap the screen. I've been primarily a Linux user for years and fallback to Windows for the few specific apps I can't use in Linux - namely Solidworks, AutoCAD, and CNC software.
dfoulger
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dfoulger,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2013 | 5:07:03 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
First, the desktop PC is far from dead. Tablets and laptops have their place, and I use both, but I use more desktop PC's than tablets or laptops and they tend to be more powerful (in terms of storage, processor, and memory), are more readily upgraded, and hence have longer useful lifetimes than the alternatives. While my use of multiples probably puts in a different class than many other users, there are still tens of millions of people who are multi-system users, and most of those multi-system users have at least one desktop in the mix.

Second, Microsoft is slowly making itself irrelevant. This new "modern desktop" probably ranks as the stupidest thing they've ever done, but it's not the first time they've tossed users out of the boat by making a radical change to their UI. I don't care if I never use the "modern desktop" on a serious basis. Microsoft says it is a leap forward. I say it's a step back to Windows 1 and the idiocy of tiling (and yes, I used that for a little while, but preferred the DOS command line. My 80 year old mother can barely manage the current Windows 7 user interface, in large part because it is so different than the XP user interface. It will be far easier to migrate her to a Mac, which will at least a be recognizable UI, or a Chromebook, which is really little more than a browser (all she uses now anyway) than it would be to upgrade her to the "modern desktop".

Consider it the first rule of computing: don't mess with the User Interface, especially if it works. Linux will be an easier to understand upgrade than Windows 8 for most users. Apple will be an easier to understand upgrade than Windows 8. And since MS has created the "modern desktop" to work on both tablets and desktops/laptops, it should be noted that iOS and Android are easier upgrades than Windows 8.

This isn't the death of the desktop PC, but it could well be the death of MIcrosoft as a provider of credible operating systems for desktops and laptops. They simply don't get it ... at all.

When they drop support for XP (the last usable version of Windows in my view), the systems will migrate to Linux. I'm done with Microsoft until they demonstrate that the most important word in PC is "personal".
SMP
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SMP,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2013 | 2:36:49 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
It is looking more and more like Chromebooks and Macbooks are going to be the future. Apple, can we have a cheaper Macbook please?
SMP
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SMP,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2013 | 2:34:48 PM
re: Windows Blue: What We Know
Microsoft is a monopoly - they think they can get away with it.
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