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Sounds like Microsoft won't be evoking any fond memory of blue screens of death

News continues to trickle out about the upcoming version of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows operating system.  Set to land later this year, builds of the new OS, code-named "Blue" have trickled out to select partners -- which in turn has led to leaks.

The latest news to emerge comes courtesy of Roman L. (handle:AngleWZR), a developer who has been analyzing the leaked builds.  He notes on his Twitter that the latest leaked build -- build 9375 -- has a text string in the lower right-hand corner labeling it "Windows 8.1".
Windows Blue 8.1

Paul Thurrott, a top Windows writer/blogger, affirmed this designation stating that "Windows 8.1" will indeed be the launch name for the new OS.  He posts to Twitter:
One other minor piece of Windows 8.1/Blue related news courtesy of Mr. Thurrott's WinSuperSite : apparently Microsoft has tweaked the Search Charm in its latest builds.  Where Windows 8 made you pick between "Apps, Settings, or Files" , the new search does away with that, allowing you to start typing immediately.  Instead of pre-selecting the category, it simply clumps the results by category.

Windows Blue Search
[Image Source: WinSuperSite]

ZDNet Windows blogger Mary Jo Foley says that Windows 8.1 should hit RTM in August.  A beta is rumored to be slotted for Microsoft's June BUILD conference.

Sources: Twitter [AngelWZR], [Thurrott], WinSuperSite, ZDNet

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The Folly of the Start Screen
By karimtemple on 4/4/2013 9:46:19 AM , Rating: 2
Let's see if I can explain this properly.

The problem people have with the Start Screen often seems difficult for them to explain because the situation is unconscious and actually a little complicated. The Start Screen has a lot going for it, but its hangups are just too much for most people to swallow.


It starts before the Start Screen itself, with input and input methodology. Something I think about a lot is the future of input and how we can finally evolve beyond the keyboard and mouse. The short answer is: we can't. KB/M is stupidly efficient, and the only reason we use touch on handhelds is because keyboards and mice are so huge (aside: this is why I think the Surface Pro/touch cover is so amazing). Touch still sucks butts compared to KB/M. Voice control is even stupider, and really kind of corny. Probably better than gesticulation, though. The keyboard and mouse are so insanely efficient that there are really only two options for moving on:

1) Evolving the keyboard and mouse. I personally think this to be training everyone (especially children) on how to use some kind of new handheld bar designed to be a single-handed shorthand device (similar to a stenography machine). It'd have "air mouse" tech for pointing and gestures. This would be perfect for glasses-based computing (Google Glass etc). It would require a LOT of training lol, and some pretty ingenious design.

2) The final frontier of interface: Non-invasive BCI (brain-computer interface). There's nothing past this. Cameras imitate the eye and you put your eye to them to use them; microphones imitate the mouth and you put your mouth to them to use them; computers imitate the brain, but there are technological barriers still to putting your brain to them to use them. We put our brains to them right now by proxy with our hands and mouths (and eyes, shortly), but these are all just stopgap measures on the way to non-invasive BCI.

All of this is to illustrate the problem with the input methodology of the Start Screen -- it's designed for touch. This is awesome if your target is a touch device, except Microsoft targeted everything with this including desktops and laptops. So now we're seeing laptops come out with touch screens, which is about as useful and smart as a cellphone with a keyboard and mouse hanging off of it.

The goal should've been to make Aero Glass portable and touch-effective. Even the 'fragmentation' of separate desktop/laptop and touch interfaces would've been better than this. The point of Windows 8 was achieved as soon as MS unified the code bases of 8/RT/Phone. They didn't need a unified interface at all.

The interface works on the Xbox; anyone who has one can tell you that. It makes the PS3 look like a cellphone from 2002. But the Xbox doesn't have [read: normally use] a mouse, it just has a keypad. And the interface is well-organized by default into categories based on a strong agenda, made possible by the fact that it has focused purposes because it's a console.


Then you have the design. It's stupid. It comes from a good place -- the Metro UI design philosophy (also called Modern UI), the result of probably about 20 years of what I personally consider to be some of the best work Microsoft has done -- but it goes off into a bad direction with the Start Screen. The Start Screen also actually breaks one of the core philosophies of Metro UI, which is text-based navigation. It just uses blocks. My favorite Metro-based product is Windows Media Center (Vista/7/8). To this day it's the cleanest, smoothest, most effective 10-foot UI. It even works extremely well with either mouse or keypad (remote) controls. It follows the Metro UI philosophy. It's attractive.

It's apparent that someone realized that digital skeuomorphs are bad form for advanced user interfaces, but the problem is they took that epiphany and went completely nuts with it, cannibalizing Aero Glass (which really just needed an update) and crushing everything into squares and solid colors. At least on the Xbox, there's stuff everywhere and the blocks all have stuff going on in them. The Xbox even utilizes the text-based navigation philosophy (you press up to access the text navigation which takes you between categories).

Aesthetics are widely regarded as unique to each person, but what any professional in that area can tell you is that they're based on some pretty solid and universal themes. Every human has a human brain, after all. But this? It's just flat in shape and in color and has no real organizational structure by default (on the initial screen). Stacks of solid-colored blocks, arranged in the picture version of a "wall of text" with no paragraphing (by default), hardly follow any of those themes. At the very least, the Start Button provided a clear and functional structure.

It might help to force the user to design an organizational agenda at the OOBE, I dunno, but you'd still have the problem of everything just looking really flat and silly. What should've happened is they should've taken whatever they thought they were accomplishing with the Start Screen and found a way to apply those philosophies to Aero Glass. The "glass" in Aero Glass is the only skeuomorphism in it, having none of the drawbacks of heavy skeuomorphism, and is a lot more attractive than anything Microsoft has done with Windows before or since. Considering the power aesthetics have on the unconscious mind, a re-engineered Aero Glass is really one of the best bets Microsoft has for re-establishing Windows as a must-buy product going forward.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken
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