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17

Dec

Windows 8: the experience so far, the road ahead

A Q&A with Lee Herd, Practice Lead, Enterprise Applications

 

Windows 8

 

 

For the as-yet uninitiated, tell me about the first-time user experience of Windows 8.

First contact with Windows 8 can be a bit of an alien interaction – in fact, that’s a good metaphor. In the beginning it’s all quite alien. From my own experience and also through watching others adopt it, there’s definitely a learning curve. The safety and comfort of the start menu has disappeared and has been replaced with the start page which presents its own suite of nuances. Additionally, the use of hot corners can be challenging to begin with as there’s no real prompt for these; you tend to discover them when you accidentally mouse over them. It all takes a bit of  getting used to, but I think that once people start to master these first new things it becomes more familiar and once you’ve been exposed to all the intricacies and have tackled the learning curve, from there it becomes a really good experience. Of course you can still live in the desktop if you want and have that familiar Windows 7 experience that most people are already comfortable with.

 

What about the touch-based aspect of Windows 8 – does this majorly affect the experience for those of us using Windows 8 on our [non-touch] desktops?

Windows 8 is an operating system that has been written for tablet and gestural navigation, but I still feel it works just as well as a desktop operating system especially once you get to grips with the shortcut keys that help you navigate through many of the new features quickly and effectively.

 

What sort of use of Windows 8 are you seeing so far?

We’re working with a couple of customers – in New Zealand and the States – who are engaging us for some really interesting proof of concept work developing apps that will change the face of their in-store and in-the-field customer interactions. We’d love to say more – but all in good time!

Within Intergen itself, a lot of our Intergen developers use Windows 8 as their main operating system, partly because the latest Visual Studio project templates are only available in Windows 8. We could have opted to go virtual, but decided to go straight to a real environment so we weren’t dealing with any false positives. And then of course we have all the proud new owners of Surfaces.

 

As far as development is concerned, what’s different about Windows 8?

The great thing about developing with Windows 8 – especially when it comes to marketplace-style apps – is that there are fantastic Visual Studio project templates on offer, which means you can have something not far off working order straight out of the gates; you can go from nothing to a basic app in less than half a day of development time.

For our annual Dynamics Day this year, we built our interactive schedule using Windows 8. This took a couple of days of one of our developer’s time because we customised it quite significantly, but if we’d just used the templates straight out of the box we’d have had it up and running in a matter of hours.

Another good thing is that there is a lot of practical guidance available, and the Modern User Interface gives a useful structure to work within and follow, such that some of the effort and thought that typically goes into how something is going to look and feel is taken away. Of course, you’re always going to add some level of customisation to your app, but the fact that the Modern UI helps to take care of this is an enabler for productivity, helping you get to where you’re going faster.

Already we’ve seen a lot of our developers creating marketplace apps in their own time. With Windows 8 they now have the ability to deliver a focused piece of functionality that would otherwise exist in an intranet or in a spreadsheet somewhere. From a development point of view it’s definitely more usable and accessible. I think the fact that you can produce focused, rich applications that deliver a narrow range of functionality well will be the thing that sets Windows 8 apart: now you can target smaller aspects of your business and do each app really well, rather than cluttering an app with a wide variety of features that not all user’s will need. Gaining access to these applications via the marketplace makes them easy to install and start using and I see this as key to Windows 8’s success.

 

How has this change in focus – from feature-heavy larger-scale apps to simple task-oriented apps – come about, do you think?

It really follows on from the paradigm created by the mobile phone marketplace, where we saw the advent of apps that deliver a small set of functionality and do it really well. But this isn’t to say that we won’t see multiple applications coming together to form larger apps using the structured Windows 8 pattern. Windows 8 applications work well with the wider Operating System ecosystem in terms of the ability to share information across multiple apps, Office, email and devices (for example printers), creating an environment where it’s really easy to create natural and intuitive ways for apps to work together.

 

From what you’ve seen so far, what sort of enterprise-level adoption have you seen?

The challenge at the moment is that most Windows 8 apps focus on delivering content, and we need to move from that and get more organisations to take the plunge in the enterprise space. A lot of people tend to take the wait-and-see approach, and so far we’ve seen small, exploratory moves in this area but have yet to see organisations really embrace it on a large scale. This will come, though, once people gain confidence with the technology itself and how it can be used; I think next year we’ll start to see a much bigger move towards apps being built for line-of-business purposes.

 

Taking the developer hat off and putting the customer hat on, what’s Windows 8’s big promise? Or, in other words, what’s most appealing about it from a business user’s perspective?

I think one of the things people are looking for is the ability to be more mobile in the way they do business, using richer applications on devices that allow them to be more productive and do things in a more timely fashion, wherever they are, working online or offline. This isn’t a new thing, but Windows 8 offers a way to make this a reality a lot more quickly than before. A number of the barriers or annoyances that we’ve had to put up with in the past because there was no other way of doing things have been removed, and we can now push the boundaries a lot further. At the end of the day, Windows 8 allows an organisation’s frontline staff to do their jobs outside the office and not have to compromise on the richness of functionality. Plus they can share the apps on their devices with their customers without being embarrassed about them seeing an archaic or ugly programme: Windows 8 apps are good looking (I’ve yet to see one that isn’t).

 

It’s obviously early days now, but where do you see Windows 8 taking things for organisations further down the track? What’s going to be different?

It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but in the longer term I see Windows 8 helping to facilitate change in terms of the way an organisation communicates and presents information. Windows 8 apps help to synch information that’s more relevant, allowing people to access this information through dashboards and different views (the use of semantic zoom is a good example)  and personalise it, as well as bookmark their way into apps (not just websites). It will give the end user a much more personal view on business information, ultimately breaking down barriers and helping people to perform their roles to the best of their ability.

 

If an organisation is looking at developing a Windows 8 app, where would you recommend it starts?

Obviously every organisation has its own unique needs, and Windows 8 apps may or may not meet these, but as a starting point I would recommend that an organisation looks at the Windows 8 marketplace to see what’s there and what’s similar to what they require. There’s a tonne of Windows 8 content out there to be used. And then of course people can always talk to us about Windows 8, as well as our user experience design people.

 

Finally, what’s the best thing about Windows 8 to you?

I’d have to say it’s the focus on the user’s personal experience. In the development of any software understanding your users is paramount. Users aren’t all the same, and they consume information in different ways. Windows 8 allows people to customise their views and have multiple entry points into apps. Using the Windows 8 ecosystem information can be fully shared and exploited, using whatever devices a person may have. It all starts and ends with the user, and this is where I think Windows 8 adds the greatest value.

Within Intergen we can see the success of Windows 8 already simply by looking at the number of services being built by our people – both for our clients and in their spare time – and the amount of discussion that’s happening around these.

Posted by: Katy Sweetman, Marketing Director, Empired Group | 17 December 2012

Tags: Windows 7, Visual Studio, Dynamics Day, Windows 8, Enterprise Applications, Modern User Interface


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