Windows 8 means the era of overlapping windows is on the way out

Why is Windows 8 so bonkers? Imagine a parallel universe where the mouse was never invented and you have your answer.

Palo Alto

Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers (WIMP) is one of the oldest acronyms in computing (though predated by RTFM, which to some extent it was meant to make irrelevant). And it has guided operating system design since the first machine to use it – The Xerox Alto – came into being. It was this machine that Jobs and Apple apocryphally ripped off to create the Lisa and ultimately the Macintosh.

(We know this history, so I’m not going to labour it. However, the story is more subtle than that and features less larceny; here’s a good piece on the topic. Let us speak no more of it.)

What is clear is that the idea of pushing a mouse around on a desk and manipulating windows, hitting icons, and selecting from menus works. The market has pretty conclusively validated the principles of WIMP.

But you know what other idea that the market has successfully validated? The iPad proves that we don’t need WIMP anymore.

Fingers

When you only have fingers to work with, lots of the WIMP proposition doesn’t make sense. Moving windows around is fussy and difficult, not necessarily because of real estate, but because the “hit targets” that you’re dealing with are so small. With a mouse you can be really confident of hitting the “minimise” button. By contrast a finger is so big that smushing the general area of the minimise button might hit what the screen thinks is the “target”, or not. The solution then, as the iPad did, was to just get rid of overlapping windows.

If we look at Windows 8, Metro-style apps run full screen. There are no overlapping windows. There’s limited support for popup windows (eg, click on a button on the app bar and you might get a small window), but you rarely see dialogs. This, then, is where we can start to see the deprecation of WIMP in Windows: Windows 8 Metro-style has no windows.

Next up: icons. There are icons on the iPad, I accept, but a different interpretation is that icons really become “files”. This blog references Steve Jobs talking about deprecating the file system in iOS. Again, looking at market validation, people and businesses buy iPads even though iOS doesn’t have a user-visible file system. In every version of Windows since v1 there’s been a file system front and centre. In Windows 8 Metro-style, the file system is buried.

Menus? Gone. On the iPad some applications use toolbars to access things like menus, but there’s nothing like the ubiquitous menu bar in OS X. Likewise Windows 8 Metro-style apps don’t have a pull-down menuing system like Old Windows. What you have instead is the app bar, which is a reinvention of the toolbar, not the menubar.

Pointers? Well, obviously gone. But a subtle point here relates to why you can plug a keyboard into an iPad, but not a mouse. The expectation is that you will touch it, even if you’re sitting down at a desk to work.

So, if you’re one of those people who still doesn’t “get” the reimagining of Windows 8, just imagine that the guys in Palo Alto got it wrong, that every OS designer since then got it wrong, and that we’re only just starting to get it right now.

Why deprecating WIMP works

Well, we’re not quite getting it right, because ditching WIMP on PCs doesn’t work. And now you think I’m contradicting myself…

Defining a “post-PC device” is not an easy task. The way I think about it is that post-PC devices are the first class of computing devices that we use that are not about work. Up until this point we’ve always co-opted devices designed for use in work and bastardised them so that we can do non-work things on them such as posting Facebook updates or hilarious meme images on Tumblr.

Although manufacturers tweak devices to make them more palatable for domestic sale, the design of an HP desktop has a lot in common with an HP server sitting in a rack in a data centre somewhere. Think about things like the disk, the amount of empty space in it, connector standards, even the power buttons. True story: a friend of friend of mine use to have a Jaguar XJ220. That had the same door lock as a Ford Mondeo.

The one thing that we’ve dragged into our non-work computing life from the commercial PC market is the keyboard. For me, post-PC devices do not have keyboards. If you want to get semiotic on it, keyboards are a symbol of work. This is why most people are perfectly happy to take an iPad to bed but not a laptop. Or perhaps more precisely, it explains why spouses normally object less when their partners bring an iPad to bed than if they pull the same move with a laptop.

It’s also why a Surface doesn’t have a (proper) keyboard. The Surface’s quasi-keyboard exists solely to sell Office licenses and for no other reason.

Given the current capability in our supply chain, if you want to build a computing device without a keyboard it happens to look like a tablet. Not all tablets are post-PC devices though. The Nexus 7, launched last week, is a simple and basic media player, just like the Kindle Fire that it’s paying tribute to.

While we’re on the subject of the Nexus 7, can we please kill off this idea that post-PC devices are about consumption as opposed to creation? They’re not. A well-timed tweet during the X Factor final is just as creative as a sentence in a doctoral thesis. And who’s to say the next Banksy isn’t out there ready to smear social satire all over Tumblr via his iPad?

Windows 8 is a split operating system – one that you can take to bed, and one that you can take to work. One on which you can put together a killer report for the board, and one where you can tweet while watching Hot Shots back in your dystopian Relaxation Pod.

Using a non-work OS at work

There are two ways to use a computer at work – you can either spent all day staring at it and hacking away, or you can do something else but happen to need a computer available to you from time to time. A lot of people who have jobs where they’re always in meetings or travelling, where most of the work they do is face-to-face, now find that they can just ditch a normal computer and use an iPad.

And it’s this part that Microsoft doesn’t like. In the enterprise, the value proposition of Windows gets nibbled by people who can get on just fine with a web browser, iPad email and Evernote. In the consumer space, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that unless you’re a student or a hobbyist, you don’t need a PC. Look forward 10 years and I believe virtually every home will have post-PC tablets for each family member – and zero PCs.

So the side of Windows 8 that’s based on Metro-style and doesn’t use WIMP fits perfectly into that future vision. You can use it in the boardroom for checking football results-slash-taking notes, and you can use it at home for all of the social networking-type tasks that you fancy. Where Windows 8 feels a bit wrong is if you use a computer all day, every day.

I don’t want to labour this point – I wrote a not particularly gentle article back in March about how the mismatch of Metro-style and Old Windows in Windows 8 doesn’t work.

I do want to revisit this though based on my experiences using Windows 8 over the past three months, and my thought is this: “What else could Microsoft have possibly done?” They can’t not get rid of WIMP, but they can’t keep WIMP either. Hence the tension between these two sides of the operating system. There’s no neat A-B route that takes Windows 7 over to a world where Windows isn’t required, at least not one where things don’t get even more confusing than they are now.

Conclusion

WIMP is dead. Long live touch.

If you’re confused about Windows 8, there’s one simple thing you can do. Remember that this is an operating system designed for a world where overlapping windows, menus, and pointers will become a niche activity in our world. Windows 8 becomes much less barking mad if you do that.

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Capcom’s former Street Fighter expert Seth Killian joins Sony Santa Monica Studio

Sony Computer Entertainment has made another key acquisition today: fighting game expert, Street Fighter master, and former Capcom employee Seth Killian, who is now a member of the PlayStation family at the company’s Santa Monica Studio.

Killian will still be in the business of creating fighting games, as one of his first projects will be PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, Sony and SuperBot Entertainment’s crossover brawler.

His role as lead designer at Sony Santa Monica Studio’s external development group will extend to more than fighting games, however. In addition to leading development on the God of War series, Sony’s Santa Monica Studio also works with smaller teams like thatgamecompany, Eat Sleep Play, and Q-Games to bring their titles to PlayStation systems.

Killian tells Polygon he’ll be working with multiple external teams, not just SuperBot.

“I’m happy that I get to start with a fighting game, but yes, my assignments already include other types of games as well,” Killian said via e-mail. “The External group works with Sony’s outside studios, like the cool kids from thatgamecompany (Flower, Journey), Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan), and of course SuperBot Entertainment (PlayStation All-Stars) just to name a few. For my projects, I’ll be collaborating with the teams on the design and creative side, in planning and execution.”

Killian announced he was leaving Capcom in mid-June, having worked with the development teams responsible for Street Fighter 4, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter X Tekken. Killian explained in an e-mail interview what brought him to Sony’s Santa Monica Studio after six years at Capcom.

“Sony Santa Monica has a great group of talent (including senior management made up mostly of women, which is unusual and awesome), and they work on some of the most interesting projects in gaming, with a range that runs from AAA to smaller, more personal games,” Killian said. “I think they’re the most progressive studio of their size anywhere in the world, which gives me a chance to work directly with a lot of my industry heroes.

“The studio is also infested with smart combat designers that speak my language and make me feel like less of a weirdo, so that was pretty exciting.”

All-stars

The opportunity to work with “the fighting game brain trust” developing PlayStation All-Stars, Killian says, was another reason he was attracted to the Santa Monica-based developer.

“I am intensely interested in balance,” Killian said, “but to do it right means taking time to try and understand not just a few characters, but the whole ecosystem of All-Stars, which takes some time. That said, the target is definitely to make it withstand and even shine under serious competitive pressure. It’s a fun game that you can just mash around in with friends, but the SuperBot team includes a lot of stone-cold fighting game killers who want to build something they enjoy too, and you only have to look around the office to find them all playing for fun and smiling.”

Killian says his duties won’t see him working directly on another Sony Santa Monica Studio project, God of War: Ascension, despite its competitive multiplayer fighting angle.

“I will be playing as much of the multiplayer as I can manage,” Killian said, “and whether I end up stealing from them, or maybe they’ll find an idea from me, either way my hope is that all the games become as strong as they can be.”

A longtime fighting game fan and evangelist, Killian joined Capcom in 2006 to consult and collaborate on the development of Street Fighter 4, the beginning of a revival of the then-struggling fighting game genre.

“My job at Capcom started weird and got progressively weirder,” Killian explained. “I was always supported with input into the games, but I realized at one point that of all the job titles I accrued over the years (when I left I was ‘Strategic Director, Community, Online, and Special Combat Advisor’), none of them even existed before they were given to me – they were making it up as they were going along, just like I was.

“Everybody was happy with what I was doing, but they also recognized that it didn’t fit into the organizational structure at all. Towards the end, I was working on the fighting games as well as titles outside the fighting genre, but also still working on explicitly community side things.”

Killian’s new gig at Santa Monica Studio will see him focus mainly on development, not marketing.

“At Sony, the lead game designer role is very much a full time job unto itself,” he says. “I’m not formally responsible for community outreach any longer (PlayStation and Santa Monica both have great teams for that), but fans have always been centrally important in my thinking and approach to pretty much everything, so those distinctions aren’t very important to me. I’ll talk to whoever is willing to listen, and listen to whoever has something worthwhile to tell me, whether they are other designers, smart fans, or tough critics.”

“That’s a dangerous time for the genre, because it risks collapsing under its own weight”

His departure from Capcom, Killian says, does not necessarily signal his departure from the fighting game community, a group of dedicated fans that he considers his “extended family.” After six years of focusing on Capcom’s suite of fighting games, sequels and iterations delivered worryingly too frequent for some, Killian remains upbeat about the future of the genre.

“I think it’s a very interesting time [for fighting games],” Killian says. “The market is crowded – not because there [are] so many fighters relative to other games, but because most fighters tend to require such a large time investment from their players. If the games are very hard to learn, but also need that time investment to shine, they have to compete with each other or even cannibalize their own player bases from previous installments. That fragments the player base across titles, and the fewer players playing any particular game mean that your skills (that investment) are less admired or valuable. That’s a dangerous time for the genre, because it risks collapsing under its own weight – if you’re the best at something nobody really plays, why bother?”

All-Stars is a real wild-card in my opinion, which is part of why I wanted to work on it,” Killian continues. “It ignores a lot of conventional thinking about fighters, both in terms of how you win (no lifebars, only supers kill, regular moves build super meter) and in terms of execution. There are some tricky styles of play, but none of the moves are hard to do at all (button, or button + direction), so you can get the basic elements very quickly and dive into strategy much faster than you could in a traditional fighter.

“Taking what people think of as a ‘fun’ or ‘party’ genre and sticking a bunch of extremely technical and smart players on the project has this amazing result – a game on very serious underpinnings with a zany fan-service wrapper. It ends up being something total noobs can have fun with while also rewarding smart players and clever mind reading. The noob won’t beat the good player, but the weirdest thing about All-Stars is that I have fun even when I’m getting owned. Usually when I get creamed in a fighter, I get kind of depressed, or feel helpless, or maybe even angry.

“In All-Stars, for some reason, I’m left smiling and curious, with the urge to play just *one* more game. Maybe it’s just PaRappa, but I think they’re really on to something.”

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan Sworn In To Office In Hawaii

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan took the oath of office on Monday in Honolulu.

Sullivan had a previously scheduled family vacation to Hawaii. The city calls for a mayor to be sworn in on July 1 or as soon thereafter as practical. He doesn’t return to Alaska until July 16.

He arranged to have a live video link established between Anchorage City Hall and a lawyer’s office in Honolulu.

An Anchorage judge administered the oath, and Sullivan repeated it in Hawaii. Once that was completed, he donned a lei and then signed forms that were notarized by the Honolulu attorney.

Sullivan signed off the broadcast by saying, “Aloha.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

City officials defended a planned long-distance swearing in Monday of Anchorage’s mayor, who is vacationing in Hawaii.

A live video link will be set up between Alaska’s largest city and an attorney’s office in Honolulu as Dan Sullivan takes the oath of office for his second term as mayor. A judge in Anchorage will administer the oath in the afternoon proceeding.

Sullivan’s spokeswoman Lindsey Whitt said the swearing-in ceremony coincided with a planned family vacation to Hawaii, where Sullivan’s wife has family. Whitt said she doesn’t know why the family trip was scheduled as it was, given the apparent conflict, only that the vacation window was tight.

 

“I’m not privy to the personal details of their family trip,” she said.

Whitt said the Anchorage city attorney found that the long-distance oath is in line with the law.

The Honolulu attorney will notarize Sullivan’s signature. But to “cover bases,” Sullivan will sign the oath again when he returns to Alaska, Whitt said.

The video swearing in gives the appearance to some that Sullivan is not taking the proceeding seriously, while supporters may not care one way or another Windows 7 key, said Carl Shepro, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Shepro, a longtime observer of Alaska politics, said some might see the far-away proceeding as taking voters for granted.

“I guess it’s not in good taste,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s illegal – I doubt that it is – but it isn’t something most other mayors or other officials would do.”

Anchorage Assembly member Chris Birch said he had no problem with the manner chosen. He said teleconferencing is a long-established practice in business and government in the modern world.

“I think it’s great,” he said.

This Week in Tablets: Google’s Android tablet is the Nexus 7

Sometimes, technology journalists report with passion, and some just report.

The latter was the case in the US this past Wednesday at Google’s I/O 2012 conference in downtown San Francisco when the company announced its mildly anticipated tablet, the Nexus 7.

You could hear the collective yawn from blocks away. Nothing particularly shiny or new here. A high-end, 7in tablet with a 1,280 x 800 pixel IPS panel. 1GB of system memory. Android 4.1 Jellybean. And so on.

The most striking feature was Nvidia’s GeForce ultra-low power 12-core graphics processor, which sounds great until you try to get your head around how it will be utilised. Then it sounds, well, okay-ish.

Ultimately, these are speeds and feeds, not passion points. CNN summed up Google’s announcement quite succinctly: “Google’s Nexus 7 tablet is iPad-like in its high-end hardware, Kindle-like in its size and price, but still Google-like (lacking) in its content offerings.

To be fair to Google, no one expected or even hoped for anything more. This is the low-end tablet market we’re talking about. It’s like Internet search. It’s not sexy, but low-end Android tablets are as essential to the ecosystem as the iPad.

For now, no one other operating system exists in this range. This is fairly consistent with Google’s fairly populist themes. I know one thing for sure: We’re not reaching 200 million tablet devices in consumers’ and businesses’ hands without Android.

Was the Nexus 7 even the point in the first place?

While neither many-core graphics processors nor blimps nor skydivers nor connected media devices could shine up the Nexus 7, Google did pull off the nerviest live demo I’ve ever seen, and I think the company did in fact accomplish its primary goal.

That goal was not generating oohs and aaahs for the Nexus 7. In dropping the Google Glass project onto the stage – a product that won’t even exist until 2014 – the company showed technology evangelists something we had literally never seen before, thereby reinforcing the company’s position as an innovator.

 

At the very least, Google clearly has the jump on just about every other company on the planet in the virtual goggles category.

(I admit that I originally wrote the above sentence with 100 per cent irony. I now admit that every time I re-read the above sentence, and then think about how many years of science fiction I’ve embraced with phones/phasers, tablets, and embedded heads-up displays, the less ridiculous it sounds. Take this as you will.)

It’s nice to have a monolithic search engine business to fall back on, that’s for sure. This is a good thing because, while I still believe Android tablets will sell in massive numbers, the Nexus 7 will not. Google will be fortunate if it sells 10 times the 6,000 tablets Google gave away to developers at I/O.

In the meantime, considerable scrutiny and speculation is swirling around Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which may be announced this month in the US, bickering with Google notwithstanding.

This week’s loser: Research in Motion

There’s really no way around it. RIM’s double-hit announcement that its crucial BlackBerry 10 release would be delayed until 2013, and that up to 5,000 layoffs might be pending will certainly spell the end of the company as we currently know it.

The runner-up for this week’s loser was Adobe, which announced that it is abandoning Flash on the Android platform starting August 15. It’s hard to believe, but it feels like Adobe’s flagship mobile tech is rapidly heading the way of Shockwave.

This week’s winner: Asus

The company was tapped to build out Google’s Nexus 7 tablet. A huge honour, and consistent with Asus’ previous reputation of building fine white-label products for electronics manufacturers. It’s nice to see the company get some recognition.

On the horizon

Microsoft has a lot more questions to answer on the Surface tablet front, such as:

  • How much will it cost?
  • How much will it cost Microsoft to manufacture?
  • Will third-parties still release Windows 8 tablets of their own?
  • What’s the pricing model of Office on Win8 tablets?

I’m expecting that, starting this coming week, we’ll begin to see answers. In the meantime, one final thought on the Surface tablet and the continued concerns that Microsoft will pay for abandoning its partners: What other OS are PC manufacturers going to install onto their systems?

With speculation running wild that HP decided to kill its Windows RT tablet because of Microsoft’s Surface announcement, it’s hard to imagine the short-term impact of Microsoft going solo on Win8 tablets being anything but good. Let’s face it: The company is going to sell double the Windows 8 tablets that all the PC manufacturers in the world could possibly have sold, combined, in 2012.

Microsoft manager hints that there may be more to Windows Phone 7.8 than the start screen

WPCentral reports that Senior Product Manager and Windows Phone team member Larry Lieberman has been cagey about what Windows Phone 7.8 contains, and has suggested that there may be more to it than simply the WP8 start screen.

In a talk at the  TechEd 2012 on Windows Phone App and Game development he was asked:

Will Windows Phone 7.8 get new features as well that you can access as a developer?

and responded:

Maybe. We haven’t announced it yet.  All we’ve announced is the new Start screen at this point. Sorry, nothing new to announce. You’re asking me stuff I can’t answer.

The presentation is available on Channel 9 and the comment occurs towards the end of the presentation.

WPCentral suggests that Microsoft have not fully decided what features to bring to Windows Phone 7.8 yet, and one wonders if the  31,500 votes on their user voice site asking for more features are weighing on their mind.