Why I’m So Damn Excited About Microsoft and What Makes Microsoft SO Cool.

With the recent news of MS losing money for the first time ever, people assume that Microsoft is tanking, that it’s starting its slow descent to hell right beside RIM. I’m sure investors are getting scared, the stocks are dropping but you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about Microsoft and what it’s doing. There are so many things that I’m looking forward to as far MS goes this year and I’ll definitely be dropping money their way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a MS diehard fanboy that gushes over anything that Microsoft comes out with, no at all. I’m a huge linux advocate, I love open source, I use Chrome instead of Internet Explorer, I’ve worked with Macs, I do have a certain respect for Apple, and I think having stuff cross-platform is important as hell. As a background for my Microsoft/Windows experience, I’ve been on it since W95 and on a previous DOS iteration. I’ve always had a “PC” laptop or a desktop. I’m a gamer and a developer. There you go. Anyways, let’s move on.

What microsoft is doing now is pretty interesting. They’re revamping their identity, their priorities, their base designs, and their entire philosophy. And they actually have a TON of great products out there, and will have more. Here’s what I’m talking about.

Microsoft Metro UI

I’m not talking about just Windows 8 base UI, I’m talking about the whole concept and how they’re applying it to everywhere from phones to tablets, to Xbox and so on. What makes it so intersting is that you longer have a notification bar, start button, app dock, or whatever else that is common to desktop UI. They basically erased the conventions that even (yes) Apple follows (to some extent). You have a pseudo phone interface, pseudo tablet interface, that will work on any-sized device, probably even a watch or a big-ass TV. The idea is really awesome because it’s all there and it’s accessible, it’s very differently. Every application is distraction free and every time you get to your homescreen, you have something to look forward to and everything right there. That was the appeal of Windows Phone 7. You open your phone and you have FB notifications, Twitter, Weather etc. right there without tacky widgets.

Non-Imitative Design

This one is harder to explain but basically, Microsoft got rid of imitations in their design. The word for it is “Skeumorphism”. No longer do you have a “glassy” UI, or plastic-like buttons, or leather-bound start menu or what have you. No brushed aluminum, no grunge, nothing. It’s just color, typography, and icons (those are a bit of a Skeumorphist element but they are necessary). For some reason, this exact thing makes using the computer more enjoyable and think about it, the distraction-free, non-glossy environment is what’s trending so much right now:

  • Distraction Free editors (such as FocusWriter, modified OpenOffice etc.) is what we want
  • Minimalist websites and apps
  • Information-driven applications

Microsoft prides itself on this evolutionary step toward better UI.

Microsoft Office 2013

Have you SEEN the Consumer Preview yet?? Well, look above, that’s my installation. You’ll notice a few things. First, I write crappy sci-fi ;) Second, the UI! No more glossy ribbons. Office was often criticized for its overblown UI, its fancy things and many a writer has migrated toward FocusWriter, WriteMonkey, Ommwriter, and other editors due to the distracting UI. Here are the most important features that make me giddy about all this:

  • clean interface; however, I hope MS will do some polishing because that node-icon stuff up top is horrendous
  • the “Minimalist Editor” mode. In the top right, right next to the minimize and maximize buttons is a little screen-looking thing. This will eliminate all distractions and just place your writing in front of you.
  • New “File” menu to die for. You get much more information. The UI is very metro-esque (makes sense) and you have the ability to open and save files DIRECTLY to your skydrive. This is like Google Docs on steroids. Think about it. You have the full-throttle power of MS Office, the huge expansive suite that has had a decade and a half to perfect itself, and now you have a service that connects you to the internet, seamlessly, without plugins or extras. You can OPEN and SAVE to skydrive.
  • Version management. This is like Git for word. Seriously. It synchronizes different versions, warns you about discrepancies and you always have access to an earlier version of the document.
  • Online and App integration. Want to edit your document on your laptop that’s Word-less? Go online, use the Word application, and edit the file directly from there. w00t!
  • Ability to login

Let’s talk about that last one in the next section.

Google-esque login to everywhere

Google login is awesome. Yep. Because you can login with it anywhere and integrate ALL of your services together. You got all of the Windows Essentials that run on it, your hotmail (if you use it), but then you have:

  • SkyDrive
  • Bing search
  • MS Office products – sync with Skydrive, sync your SETTINGS, take it with you everywhere
  • Windows 8 – sync your settings, your preferences, take it everywhere, instant settings (just like Google with Android)
  • Windows Phone
  • MS Essentials – such as the messenger, I think Live Writer works with it, and so on. Also, live mesh

I’m thinking this will expand to where you’ll be able to connect your 360 account with your Live account (maybe you already can) and so on. It’s pretty awesome because just like Google allows sync between Chromes, you’ll have sync between computers. The thing is, a lot of PC users have multiple PCs, like me, and it’s very useful to just install Mesh and Skydrive or whatever else and have all your machines sync.

It’s like Google but on a desktop :)

Microsoft Surface

Okay, so the tablet looks like the most bad-ass one on the market (even my mom wants it). It’s like the ASUS Transformer Prime (I actually might opt-in for the prime) on steroids, on new MS steroids. The appeal of the Asus TP is the fact that it’s a powerful small tablet and can instantly convert to a bad-ass laptop. A lot of people have been telling about how much they love it and honestly, I love the concept too.

I love MS Surface. You got an awesome tablet, and you have a cover that (miraculously) becomes a keyboard! Okay, it’s not THAT revolutionary but it’s a really decent idea, it’s a great design and it ties in together with Metro. The tablet doesn’t compete with the iPad either, and it doesn’t try to hole out a new non-existent market. It aims itself at laptop users that don’t want to carry the weight of a laptop but do want some of that tablet functionality. It aims itself at heavy PC users. It’s a tablet for Windows. I know i’d use it more than the iPad especially with the live sync. With a keyboard on hand, I’ll even write on it and do whatever I need to. I wouldn’t really do that on an iPad.

To me, this feels like a comfortable mix between an Ultrabook and a tablet.

Other Software

Some stuff you probably don’t know about is the dev software out there that gets updates. Here are just a few other things to get excited about:

  • new Visual Studio 2012 – complete with the ability to code metro-style apps, browse code in your solution explorer, preview files in code editor, pin files that you use frequently, change your color scheme, search acoross the entire IDE, full HTML5 support, full ECMAScript 5 support (newest “javascript” version), javascript intellisense, asynchronous coding for VB, VC# and more.
  • new Windows Server 2012 - Metro UI on a server! Are you kidding me??! nope :), ability to install WITHOUT GUI, IP Address Management , new Hyper-V version, ReFS file system (coming to W8 as well), and more
  • new SQL server - just read this
  • Microsoft Dynamics (CRM) - another read
  • Outlook.com
  • and so much more

This is great news for ASP developers and since I work with ASP and C#, this is pretty cool.

Other Hardware

(in picture Windows Phone 7) I definitely forgot to mention some of these when initially discussing everything:

  • new Xbox
  • Windows Phone 8

Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT

And we come to the crowning glory that makes me so giddy about MS. W8. With Metro UI, with sync, with performance boosts. Let’s just have a run down of what W8 is bringing with it. I’ve been following the Windows blog posts on the W8 development so I know quite a bit about it:

  • Touchscreen optimization
  • Tablet-like UI
  • Super fast booting
  • “System Refresh”
  • Very amazing task manager
  • Dual UI – Metro and “Classic”, both of which look really amazing and very different from Windows 7
  • Javascript/HTML/CSS apps for Metro that allow tablet-like/smartphone-like UI patterns like sharing, and so on
  • Less ram usage – very streamlined
  • Windows Store – we have Google Play, we have iTunes, and now we have a Windows Store. What’s awesome about it is that I bet a ton of people will use it and it’s much more exciting than anything else I can think of :)
  • Split-screen – different snapping, multiple apps, and so on.
  • Better multi-monitor support
  • Better file explorer – supports ISO mounting, better UI and so on :)
  • Account integration
  • “Windows To Go” – strange feature but basically it allows you to store your W8 programs, settings, and files on a USB drive so you can use it anywhere
  • USB3 support
  • support for ARM chips (for RTM as far as I know)
  • server-like virtualization (Hyper-V)
  • and much more.

Not excited yet? Just wait till it comes out.

Internet Explorer 10

Ooooh, just opened a can of worms. Maybe not. Here’s what’s happening. MS realized how much of a shitty job they were doing with their browsers and stepped their game up for IE9 and for a while it held up pretty well until the rapid release cycles of Chrome and FF took off. MS has been working closely with W3C and has been a huge supporter of standards and the new IE10 looks amazing.

I’m excited about it ;)

Pricing

Everything expensive is now cheap and affordable. Windows 8 upgrade? No more $500 price tags, it’s $50 or so. They adopted the Apple model in that aspect even though Apple comes out with upgrades TOO often while MS comes out with something every 4 years.

The downside here is that Microsoft will probably lose a ton of money, and I feel bad for them because they do come out with a new OS ever 4 years and Apple comes out every year (with sometimes minor upgrades) so the model seems to be ass-backward. It works for consumers though.

Office has a subscription model and cheaper pricing for corporations. It’s pretty tight. Again, this is the largest source of revenue for Microsoft and they’re battling Google here. Hopefully, consumers will win out with the best product :)

Rebranding

Microsoft has undergone the most massive rebrand it has in the past 20 years. Seriously. From Windows ditching its eternal waving flag to actual “windows”, to Hotmail/Live ditching its hotmail/live (whatever it was) branding for outlook, to finally, the Microsoft logo itself:

If you check out the rest of Microsoft’s new products, you’ll see a similar, very intuitive, pattern of branding. It’s EXTREMELY coherent, simplistic, and beautiful. Enjoy! :)

 

Conclusion

So yeah, quite a lot to be excited about and I think MS really reinvented itself in the past few years and this year is when we’ll see the fruits of that reinvention from great UI, to better UX, to cheaper prices and an overall overhaul of business strategy on Microsoft’s part.

 Anything you’d like to add on?

Comments

  1. Paul Fullilove says:

    Good article with a positive spin for Microsoft. However,I’m not convinced that there will be wide spread adoption for Win 8. I’ve seen folks uninstall the Consumer Preview simply because of the Metro UI. Average consumers won’t look under the hood for “server-like virtualization (Hyper-V)”. I’m just saying.

  2. Pretty excited for what they have in store too. Some of the things you left out is just their integration plan for home, all the way from Xbox to Windows/Windows Phone. This goes both ways from Windows to the Xbox and from the Xbox to Windows. Xbox Glass being a great example of from the Xbox and back to Windows. Then the media center options. I now have a media center for considerably less than what it would cost me to build one with similar capabilities.

    I always tried to get people to understand that Apple’s release approach really is not all that cheaper. Being $30 per year. $30 * Four Years = $120 which is the cost of one Windows upgrade. So it’s not like they are really getting any bit of a deal. Completely agree with you on this.

    I am very excited for what Microsoft has done and where they are going. They took one HUGE step in the right direction for me. The only thing that stands in their way is the customers ignorance. This is coming from someone who has been a big linux advocate since Ubuntu was first released. Used to be a hardcore Android user since the G1 was released. I have since almost entirely switched to Windows again, and have switched to Windows Phone with no desire to switch back.

    • I don’t know why but yes, I skipped Windows Phone. I’m very excited about that too. What’s Xbox Glass? I’ve never heard of it. I sync my xbox with my pc a lot via the media center just to download movies or whatever. It’s a cool integration. I hope the next media center will be much better though (the W7 has a ton of bugs).

      On the comment, with Windows Phone, I’m seriously considering switching from Android to it. Idk why but I find the UI much more relaxing than iOS or Android.

  3. I have to agree with you. I had a full linux setup at 10.04, including servers, and DDWRT, and after windows 7, I was impressed to start the shift back.
    I’ve been using the consumer preview as my daily driver OS now for a month, and I gotta say, I really like it. After I got used to actually using the windows key, I started learning all the shortcuts – and now can zip through all of the ui’s lots faster than just mouse alone. Also, the ability to automatically “throw” apps to different parts of the screen, keeps me from having to constantly fiddle with window sizes.

    All in all, I’m more productive, and its easy to view, and access keyboard / keyboard & mouse / or just swipes (I’m assuming, don’t have a tablet yet).

    I should be converted to a full Windows server environment pretty soon, including a Hyper-V server for my work stuff too. It all “just works” saves me enough time to make it worth it to me. Its not perfect, but its pretty nice.

    • Yeah the windows snapping feature is pretty badass and it’s what makes me really look forward to the next iteration of that feature. There’s an awesome article on the difference between standard iPad UI and standard Metro UI app: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/hh868262.aspx. Check it out, it’s cool as hell. And some articles on the ‘net mention interesting stuff regarding the snapping feature.

      Btw, Ubuntu 12.04 has snapping ;) just not with the “super” key (I suppose you can just add a shortcut manually).

      With a magic mouse-like mouse, you could probably utilize the swipes and enhance the UI this way. I used it on a mac when I worked with it and it was useful because I had specific gesture bindings. It seems like the best next step. Integrating the mouse better with the system.

      Good luck with everything! :)

  4. Dark Shroud says:

    Yes you can connect your XBL account with your Windows Account, if you used a hotmail account to register with XBL it was automatic. Windows has also had an auto-sign in tool with Windows Live Essentials for a few years now that would auto log in to all of MS’s hosted services when you logged into Windows.

  5. Chris Cox says:

    Not sure why everyone compares Windows pricing to OSX: Windows is the flagship product of a software company. OSX is developed and sold at a loss by a hardware manufacturer to sell profitable hardware. They’re not even remotely the same thing.

    • yes and we’re aware of this right? Microsoft isn’t a hardware company when it comes to PC, that’s why it has partners like HP to work with it.

      However, consumers don’t see it this way nor do apple proponents. Here’s the thing about windows:

      1. you can buy a cheap W computer for $400 from HP with windows included
      2. you can buy a good computer for $1000 that rivals a $1K mac (in specs).
      3. but when you buy windows alone it’ll cost you $200 (or whatever else).
      4. an upgrade is $120 (which is a 4year upgrade, same as buying a new upgrade every year for OS X) but people only see that number, not $30 * 4 years, just $120 one year.
      5. no consumer will care if it’s the flagship products and they will (mistakenly) see that Windows is much more expensive. Though it’s really not -.-

      I hope that reply makes sense.

  6. highflyer124 says:

    There’s no such thing as Windows 8 RT. It’s just called Windows RT.

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