Windows 8 Review: A developer’s perspective

Windows 8 is finally been released to the public and Microsoft is evolving their flagship OS for the Post-PC era. For developers in the Microsoft camp, this is an exciting (or terrifying) time depending on who you talk to. The introduction of Metr…I mean, Modern UI Apps via the Windows App Store could prove to be a very lucrative place to release applications. My Windows 8 review will be a little different than most, focusing on topics more related towards a developer.

I first installed Windows 8 back when it was released as the Developer Preview. And let me tell you I was shocked when I first booted up the OS. I was confused, surprised, and a little infuriated that Microsoft had the gall to go in this direction after the relatively successful Windows 7 release.

“What the hell is this? Where the hell is the Control Panel?”

“Charm Bar?!?!?! Are you kidding me Microsoft?”

These were all thoughts running through my head while trying to make sense of the new layouts, shortcuts, and applications we’ve all grown to know over the decades of using Windows.

The Start Screen

This is a love it or hate it feature in Windows 8. I’m starting to warm up to it, however I feel that until developers create an app ecosystem to take advantage of the Start Screen, driving consumers to it rather than away, it will continue to be a annoyance for most users. There is one thing that REALLY bugs me about how Microsoft implemented the Start Screen. Why do I have to boot to the Start Screen in Pro?

If there is one feature that is missing that would make everyone’s experience on Windows 8 Pro more enjoyable, it would be the ability to choose between booting to the Start Screen or my desktop. Please Microsoft, for the love of God, let me boot to my desktop. There should be an option to forgo booting to the new Start Screen for us dedicated power users that need multi-window capability. I can see why the did it, as they want users to experience the new UI and use the new App Store. My rebuttle would be that is why you built Windows RT, for the user experience, for the consumer.

Windows 8 Pro vs RT

Which leads me to this subject. Windows RT vs Pro. This is the biggest criticism I have of Windows 8. Most consumers are going to be mightily confused when they try to understand the difference between Windows 8 Pro and RT. In my opinion, Microsoft NEEDS to do away with the ‘desktop mode’ in Windows RT. If they are serious about their new Modern UI and taking on the IPad, they have to make their user experience fluid on the Surface and any OEM devices using Windows 8 RT.

App Store

Windows 8 comes with an initial suite of Modern UI Apps created specifically to show off the new UI. Unfortunately, most feel rather lackluster in features and design. Take for example Microsoft’s Mail application, which is missing a unified Inbox for multiple accounts and just doesn’t have all the features you would expect from a desktop side email application.

Unfortunately, the third party applications are just not there in terms of quality. Will we see the same quality of applications we see on Apple’s App Store? I would assume so, Windows has too big of a user base to simply ignore.

Is Windows moving to a closed platform?

Many developers will argue Windows 8 is dangerous move by Microsoft. With the introduction of the App Store, they are wanting to move developers away from the open ecosystem of developing applications and into the walled garden approach that has been so successful for Apple. While this is certainly a valid concern, there is really nothing that inhibits developers and companies from releasing their software just as they had in Windows 7.

This is why I truly believe the app store was developed as a complimentary service for delivering applications in the Windows ecosystem. It allows developers a great platform for exposure to a much larger market than they previously had. Prior to this the only way to get the word out was a traditional online marketing campaign.

This is a simple case of ‘the market will decide and Microsoft will have to listen’. If the App Store does not gain momentum and companies stick with their traditional approach of developing desktop applications, then Microsoft will be forced to respect that market. Forcing developers and companies to move to Modern UI apps would be absolute suicide for Microsoft.

Game Developers

I’m sure if you’re reading this blog you’ve heard the stance of the great Gabe Newell stating Windows 8 is a ‘catastrophe’. I think Gabe has done some wonderful things at Valve with Steam, Valve’s digital distribution platform for games. I still can’t help but think his stance is driven more because this could be a threat to Steam’s bottom line. I don’t imagine Windows 8 App Store would be a platform that gamers would flock to and buy AAA titles. Nor do I see many game developers leaving Valve’s mature platform for a newly budded system that seems targeted for mostly casual gamers at best.

Is it worth the upgrade?

This really depends on what type of user you are. Obviously since I develop software using Microsoft technologies I would upgrade early. In my opinion, the speed improvements (which are NOT getting enough attention due to the flame war over the UI) have a noticeable impact on my day to day activities. And for me, that alone is worth the upgrade.

Conclusion

I really want to like Windows 8, I really do. The speed improvements over Windows 7 are substantial, and I really like the potential the Windows App Store has for developers like me that want to get their apps out in the market. Still, I can’t help but feel that Microsoft missed the boat ever so slightly with Windows 8. From the RT & Pro version confusion, to the interesting, yet confusing Start Screen. If an advanced user like myself is easily confused when trying to find exactly where everything has moved to, you can rest assured most regular users will have the same problems. And that, is not what you want when releasing a flagship OS that is the future of Microsoft.

Rating: 7/10