Moving Metro to the Desktop

One of the problems I noted frequently while writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is that there is a serious efficiency problem in switching between the Desktop and the Metro interface (or whatever Microsoft is calling it this week). In addition, each Metro app takes up the entire screen. That’s a serious misuse of desktop real estate when working with a larger monitor and I could understand most users getting frustrated with the entire situation. Fortunately, you can now move Metro to the Desktop using ModernMix, a $5.00 utility from Stardock.

Using this simple tool, you can display Metro apps in a Win32 frame. This makes it possible to display multiple Metro apps at once and obtain a significant productivity gain as well. It makes apps such as Skype usable again. After all, how many people are going to be willing to use Skype as a full screen app? Are you just going to sit there and stare at the screen waiting for someone to message you? You can read some additional comments about the unusable nature of the Metro version of Skype in the Channel 9 Coffeehouse. However, I’m not picking on Skype here—there are many Metro apps that simply don’t work well in full screen mode.

What’s more interesting is that using ModernMix makes it possible to shut down a Metro app simply by closing the window. Yes, there are other ways to shut down a Metro app, but this approach is simple. You don’t have to remember anything weird, you just close the window and the app is gone. Fortunately, you can download a free trial version of ModernMix to give it a try on your own system.

I’ve heard from a number of readers who have been looking for tools to help them run business applications better on Windows 8. There are rumors that Windows Blue is going to be an even larger departure from Windows of the past, so I suspect there will continue to be a strong market for third party tools. Let me know about your favorites at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Some Interesting Windows 8 Information

I constantly track information for my books because I like to keep readers informed about changes when I can. Even though Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference appeared in print not long ago, there have been some interesting developments about the operating system it supports. Of course, the least newsworthy development has been the relatively slow adoption of the new operating system. A number of industry pundits are saying that Windows 8 is another Vista, or possibly worse. Statistics have never impressed me very much. Windows 8 will either succeed or it won’t, but it really is too early to tell.

The most interesting piece of information is that people aren’t actually using the much touted Windows 8 touch interface. People are actually buying the least expensive laptops possible to run Windows 8—devices that lack any sort of touch capability. This bit of information has taken me by surprise because Windows 8 really does appear to need a touch interface to work correctly. That said, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference does include a considerable array of keyboard and mouse techniques because I had expected desktop users who upgraded to become completely lost without this information. It may turn out that the additional information helps a lot more than current desktop users based on what the press is saying.

It also appears that you may have an interesting time downgrading your Windows 8 installation to Windows 7, even though Microsoft tells you that you’re legally able to do so. The problem seems to be one of finding the copy of Windows 7 to use for the downgrade. The vendor who supplies the copy of Windows 8 with a system is supposed to provide the copy of Windows 7 to you, but the real world reality is that the vendor often doesn’t do so. The other problem is one of licensing. Microsoft constantly changes its licensing and uses terminology that even a lawyer can’t understand (much less us mere mortals). Trying to figure out whether you’re actually able to downgrade your copy of Windows 8 to Windows 7 can prove daunting. Microsoft has recently provided a clearer set of rules as part of a downloadable whitepaper that you can use to determine your rights.

I’d love to hear about your experiences using Windows 8. In addition, it would be useful to hear from people who have downgraded their copy to Windows 7 and why they made the change. Tell me about the Windows 8 coverage in my book and whether you need additional help with Windows 8 to make the book useful at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Windows 8 has truly turned into a surprising update; one that may require some additional posts to my blogs to provide good book support.

 

Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference Released!

Nothing feels quite so good as to see your latest book in print. Last week I received my copies of Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference in the mail. As always, I stopped what I was doing to peruse the content. Yes, I wrote it, but somehow it always looks more polished and authoritative in print than when I sent my manuscript to the publisher.

I’ve already made you aware of some of the wonderful features of this book in my Introducing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference post. Based on some of the input I’ve already received from various sources, I want to make sure you understand that one of my prime motivations in writing this book is to make the transition to Windows 8 as easy as possible for you. The new dual interface is almost certainly going to cause major problems in adopting Windows 8, but this book can help you get more out of Windows 8 than you would otherwise, and with significantly less effort on your part. For example, I highly recommend that people create a list of keyboard shortcuts to use when beginning with Windows 8 because using the keyboard makes things significantly easier. You’ll find a perfect start to your personal list on pages BP10 and BP12 (at the beginning of the book).

The feature I like most about this book is that it’s small. This is a quick reference, which means I devoted a lot of time toward making the book concise and targeted. You can find what you need quickly and you won’t feel as if you’re weight lifting when carrying this book around. The smaller size means this book will fit in places where most computer books won’t.

Now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear your comments about my new book and address any questions you might have about it in my blog. Addressing your needs is what my writing is all about. Feel free to contact me about the content of this book at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and I’ll do my best to address any reasonable questions/requests that you might have. Thank you for supporting my efforts to provide others with useful and relevant reference materials !

 

Metro’s Confusing Name Change

You have probably seen Metro mentioned a lot when it comes to Windows 8. The new Metro interface relies on a tile structure to provide access to live content. What you’ll see is something that looks like a smartphone interface, only larger. However, Microsoft has recently had to make a name change for the Metro interface, insisting that the Metro name was merely a placeholder or a code name all along (although, no one seems to remember Microsoft having mentioned the temporary nature of this nomenclature). You’ll see it listed as the Start screen interface now (or something similar). Fortunately, the change came early enough for me to make changes to my recently completed book, “Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference.”

For the purposes of my book (unless Microsoft changes its mind again) you’ll see the Metro interface as the Start screen interface. The term Metro apps is replaced with Windows 8 apps. Of course, the problem for me as an author is that there doesn’t appear to be an official Microsoft listing of terms that authors should use. All I know for sure is that the term Metro is now banned at Microsoft.

What does this mean for you as a reader? It means that you’re going to have to live with a confusing array of terminology for an interface that is already confusing everyone who uses it. Even if Microsoft provides a clear and precise set of terms tomorrow, it will take years to clean up the mess on the Internet. Authors who assumed that the term Metro was permanent have used that term consistently for everything from articles to white papers to books. When you perform searches for information on Windows 8 online, you’ll need to perform multiple searches in order to find everything you need.

So, what is this post all about? I wanted you to know precisely how I’m using terms in my book, even if you can’t obtain a specific set of terms from Microsoft. When you see Start screen, you know I’m talking about what has been the Metro interface up until now. When you see Windows 8 apps, you know that I’m talking about what has been Metro apps until now. Please let me know if you have any questions about this use of terminology at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Introducing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference

I’ve just completed my 90th book, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference. This isn’t an in depth book designed to teach you everything there is to know about Windows 8 and the new Metro interface—instead, it provides you with an overview of most features and detailed procedures for working with the features that people will use most often. While writing this book, I looked online through various newsgroups for issues people have been encountering, checked out all of the latest news stories, and ensured I kept up-to-date on stories directly from Microsoft in the Building Windows 8 blog. As a consequence, this book contains input from all of the sources you’d check out if you had the time to do so. In addition, my beta readers and editors have done a phenomenal job of providing just the right input (thanks to everyone involved).

So, why do you need this book? Anyone who is updating from a current version of Windows to Windows 8 is going to find the Metro interface extremely confusing. It doesn’t work like the old interface and you’ll even find that the Start menu is missing. Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is going to make it possible for you to become productive in an incredibly short time. I focused on the essentials in this book. The book’s arrangement makes it easy to find a specific item of interest quickly. The book content is arranged into the following parts:

 

  • The Big Picture: Windows 8
  • Part 1: Navigating the Metro Interface
  • Part 2: Navigating the Desktop Interface
  • Part 3: Using the Standard Applications
  • Part 4: Working with Gadgets
  • Part 5: Using Internet Explorer
  • Part 6: Configuring Your System
  • Part 7: Interacting with External Devices
  • Part 8: Accessing the Network
  • Part 9: Performing Administrative Tasks


As you can see, I’ve hit all of the highlights. Anyone who is already using an earlier version of Windows will want this book to get going quickly. Believe me, the Windows 8 interface is going to prove to be a major hurdle for adoption (something noted by almost every beta reader as well). If you’d rather be working than figuring out the interface, get a copy of my book!

I’ve assumed that there is going to be a strong interest in getting your current applications working in the Windows 8 environment, so there is only one chapter devoted to the Metro interface, along with mentions of it in other chapters. In fact, I even show you how to get around the lack of a Start menu (something I found particularly annoying while using Windows 8) using ViStart from Lee-Soft. Using ViStart definitely makes the Windows 8 environment friendlier to those of us who didn’t really want the Metro interface. You do find out how to work with Metro apps in this book, but it’s not a major topic because it will be a while before people start heavily investing in Metro apps (look for future posts in the Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference category for updates on using Metro apps).

Don’t worry, this book also discusses how to use touch to perform tasks and I even cover all of the keyboard shortcuts for those of you who prefer the keyboard over the mouse. In short, there is something in this book for everyone. Please let me know if you have any questions about my new book at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and I’ll do my best to answer them. In the meantime, happy reading!

 

Visual Studio 2012 Express Products Include Desktop Support

Visual Studio 2012 is still a work in progress, but many developers learn about the latest version of Visual Studio using the Express Edition because it’s a free download. You can use the Express Edition to learn a new language, get a basic idea of Visual Studio functionality, or simply to play around. The Express Edition is also lightweight, which makes it possible to use with an older machine that might not support one of the other editions. So, it was with regret that I read that the Express Edition was only going to support Metro applications. Obviously, a lot of other people regretted Microsoft’s decision because there has been quite an outcry about the lack of support for desktop and console applications in the Express Edition. Fortunately, Microsoft has heard developers and according to Mary Jo Foley, has added desktop support back in.

Microsoft is still trying to push its Metro agenda, however. The desktop and console application support come in a separate product named Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop. This product won’t ship at the same time as the other products—it’ll ship later. I wasn’t able to find out how much later, but there is going to be a delay. The product is mentioned at the bottom of the page on the Visual Studio Express 2012 products site, but when you click the link to download it, you’ll find it missing. The June 8th blog post doesn’t mention a delivery date either.

There are a lot of new features in Visual Studio 2012 and its associated .NET Framework 4.5. If you haven’t tried these features, an Express Edition product could be precisely what you need for experimentation. Of course, you can also obtain a beta version of Microsoft top of the line Visual Studio 2012 Ultimate for experimentation purposes for the time being as well, but it does have some hefty system requirements.

Have you had a chance to look at the new version of Visual Studio? Let me know your thoughts about it at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Windows 8 User Beta Readers Needed

I’m starting a new book project, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, which means that I’m looking for beta readers. I try to get as many beta readers as I can involved in the project to enure that everyone gets a quality product. As noted in my Errors in Writing post, even the best author is only as good as the help he gets from others.

This is a user level book. My target audience has experience working with Windows, but there isn’t any requirement to have used Windows 8 in the past. I’ll be focusing on the desktop experience, rather than the Metro interface, even though there will be some Metro topics included by necessity. You don’t have to be a geek in order to be a beta reader for this book. I’m looking for people at every experience level. In fact, the less skilled you are, the better, because you’ll ask the sorts of questions that other readers ask most often.

It’s important to remember that beta readers provide direct input on my books while I’m writing them. In short, you get to help shape the final form of my book. Every beta reader comment is carefully considered and I implement as many of your suggestions as possible. Your input is incredibly important at this phase and unlike many other reader suggestions, you’ll see the results in the final product, rather than as a post on my blog after the fact.

Don’t worry about me bugging you for input. You sign up, I send the manuscript your way, and then, if you choose to provide suggestions on a particular chapter, you send the suggestions back to me. During the author review process (when I answer the questions of all of my editors), I’ll incorporate your suggestions. If you have any desire to work with Windows 8 and would like to be a beta reader for this book, ask for details at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Visual Studio 11 Updates

Microsoft plans to release the next update for Windows 8 during the first week in June. Most developers are also looking forward to an update of Visual Studio 11 about the same time. Visual Studio 11 contains a number of modest, but important, feature updates. As a result, I’ve been reading everything I can find on these new features and doing a little testing myself. So far, I haven’t seen much mention of the new debugging features or the new/updated tools provided with the new release. These changes are important nonetheless.

Of course, the most important of these updates is the ability to create Metro applications. Visual Studio 11 provides a complete set of templates you can use to create Metro applications using a combination of HTML5 and JavaScript. From the confusing assortment of posts that I’ve read, I’m not really clear as to whether the main download site provides you with a copy of Visual Studio 11 that includes full support for developing Metro applications. It turns out that you need the SDK in order to build these applications. In order to play with Metro applications, I downloaded the Visual Studio 11 beta from the Metro-style applications site, which definitely includes the SDK. This download only installs on a Windows 8 system. The Metro-style applications site also includes a number of other helpful downloads.

The feature that seems to be garnering the most attention though is the appearance of the new IDE. Many developers find the new IDE incredibly depressing to use. According to a number of sources, the beta team has heard the pleas of testers and decided to do something about it. Essentially, the changes are limited to a difference in colors. The updated IDE will be lighter gray and use some brighter colors in the icons. Of course, having a tool that’s fun, or at least interesting, to use is a requirement. No one wants to work with a depressingly dark gray tool all day. Still, I have to wonder why this particular feature is receiving so much press.

Of the features I’ve tried so far, I’m finding the C++ language additions the most tempting. For example, the IDE now makes it a lot easier to see various C++ elements through the use of color coding. A feature called Reference Highlighting is also interesting because it makes it easy to move between instances of a keyword within a source code file with greater ease. There is also built-in support now for the C++ 11 specification version of the Standard Template Library (STL). If you want, you can even build Metro-style applications using C++. The IDE also makes it a whole lot easier to work with code snippets. These new additions do make the IDE faster and more efficient, but also add complexity. Readers of C++ All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies will be happy to know that I’ll continue using the GNU C++ compiler for the reasons stated in my Choosing the GNU C++ Compiler post.

Because I know I’ll eventually need to provide some level of Metro application support, I have been playing around with the Metro functionality. As part of my reading, I checked out the information on the Metro-Style Design Applications site. From a developer perspective, there are some pros and cons about these new requirements. For example, some developers see them as actually limiting application functionality and making applications less useful. I’m sure that what will happen is that developers will find new ways of adding functionality to applications that fit within the Microsoft guidelines and still offer a great application experience. Undoubtedly, Microsoft will also be tweaking those Metro design documents.

Have you done anything with Visual Studio 11? If so, let me know about the features you like best and which features you wish Microsoft would change. One of the most important questions for me is whether you see yourself using Visual Studio 11 for serious application development anytime soon. Knowing these answers will help me create better blog posts for you in the future. Contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Retiring Windows XP

A number of readers have written me recently to ask about Windows XP and its impending retirement. The same questions occurred when Microsoft decided to retire Windows 98 and many of the same conditions remain true. Whether you have a good personal reason to switch or not depends on what you’re doing with your computers. I imagine a lot of people are still running Windows XP because it continues to meet their needs. After all, one of the older versions of Office probably works fine for most home users (truth be told, I don’t use the vast majority of the new features in Office myself). Your games will continue to run, just as they always have. If the system is meeting your personal needs, there probably isn’t a good reason to upgrade it from a personal perspective.

That said, mainstream support for Windows XP ended April 14, 2009 and extended support will end on April 8, 2014. From a management perspective, Windows XP is becoming a liability in some situations. You’re already not getting any sort of bug updates for Windows XP.  When extended (paid) support ends, you won’t get any security fixes either. That could be a problem if your systems are attached to the Internet and someone finds a way to exploit the security problems in Windows XP (and believe me, they will). Let’s just say you want to have a newer OS in place before the support situation gets too bad if you’re planning to remain connected to the Internet.

Nothing says that you ever have to upgrade if you don’t want to. I still run a copy of Windows 98 for some older applications I have and love. That system has no connections to anything else—it’s a standalone system and there is no chance whatsoever of contamination from it. I don’t care about upgrades because I’m not running any new software on it. Basically, it’s a working museum piece. So, if you’re willing to use these older operating systems in a safe environment—go for it, but I wouldn’t recommend continuing to use Windows XP for much longer on a system connected to the Internet—time for an upgrade.

The other problem you’ll eventually encounter is hardware-related. I currently have three machine’s worth of spare parts for my Windows 98 museum piece. As long as I have spare parts, I can continue running that system and enjoying my old software on it, but there is going to come a time when the spares run out. At that point, using a new part in the old system doesn’t make sense. For one thing, the new part may not run at all because I won’t have drivers for it. In fact, the old motherboard may not even provide connectors for it. So, you may eventually have a need to upgrade your system simply because you no longer have working parts for the old one.

After I share my views on Windows XP, the next question that readers are asking is which operating system I recommend as an upgrade. My personal preference now is Windows 7 because it seems to be stable and offers improved security over Windows XP, without some of the issues presented by Windows Vista. I haven’t worked enough yet with Windows 8 to recommend it, but I feel that the new Metro Interface is likely to cause problems for people who have worked with Windows XP for a long time. The Windows 7 interface changes will be enough of a shock.

For me, the bottom line is that you’ll have to retire Windows XP eventually. Whether you retire it now or wait until later is up to you, but eventually you won’t have the hardware required to make the operating system perform well anymore. I ran into this problem at one point with Windows 3.1 and had to stop supporting any books that relied on that operating system. (As an interesting side note, I do maintain a DOS system and haven’t encountered any hardware so far that won’t run the ancient operating system.) I imagine that my Windows 98 museum piece will eventually fail too, never to rise again. If you truly enjoy using Windows XP, you shouldn’t let Microsoft dictate an upgrade to you. Then again, you have to consider the risks and eventual loss of ability to run the operating system. Let me know your thoughts about running museum piece systems at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Rise of the Touch Interface

I’ve been reading quite a lot about touch interfaces as of late. It seems as if vendors are determined to force everyone down the road to using touch interfaces whether the interface makes sense for every application or not. Because Windows 8 is placing such a strong emphasis on the Metro Interface, which focuses strongly on using a touch screen, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time thinking about how touch interfaces will affect computer usage in the future.

Let me begin by saying that from everything I’ve seen, touch interfaces probably work well for many consumer applications. For example, if you want to take some photos of the kids and then make some modifications to them before sending them to someone else, a touch interface probably does the job. However, my thoughts generally focus on business applications and the business environment where people are working in front of desktop systems most of the day. The focus of this post is on how the rise of the touch interface will work in the business environment.

The first consideration I made was size constraints. Touch interfaces work exceptionally well with smaller, handheld devices. There are some people who say that desktop computers are going the way of the dinosaur and that everyone will be using a tablet device at some point. I’m not persuaded that this changeover is going to take place. Although people may use a tablet and/or cellphone in addition to a desktop system at work, desktop computers are abundant and will probably remain so for a number of practical reasons.

 

  • The desktop computer screen is large enough to see well and to use for complex applications.
  • A desktop computer can use multiple screens.
  • It’s hard to run off with a desktop computer (in other words, steal it).
  • Desktop computers are easy to upgrade and maintain.
  • A desktop computer can contain more hardware than smaller platforms (such as add-ins for scientific or industrial work).
  • Multiple users can easily use a single desktop system.

I’ve read all of the arguments for using a cellphone or tablet to perform every business task and I just don’t buy them. Some tasks simply require a larger platform. (For example, I can’t imagine writing a book using a cellphone; the very idea is ridiculous). Unless someone comes out with a magic desktop platform killer, I doubt very much that the desktop computer is going to simply disappear. Even if such a platform should appear tomorrow, the installed base of desktop systems in immense. Replacing them is going to take time.

So, why the focus on desktop systems? The answer is simple. Desktop systems don’t work well with touch interfaces. Until you rid the world of the desktop, you’re going to need to support the keyboard and mouse interface. Some vendors just don’t understand this basic concept and think that users will somehow feel comfortable reaching over their keyboard (and whatever else is on their desk) to touch a monitor screen. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Let’s drop the desktop as an argument (partly because I can hear the hushed wind of many signs out there ). Even if you’re using a touch screen compatible device, there are going to be times when you want to type or you require more accuracy than a touch interface provides. Theoretically, this also means you’ll want to mouse about too. If the operating system isn’t friendly toward this sort of usage, the user is going to be less productive. More importantly, the user is going to become frustrated and use any other operating system that offers the flexibility that the user wants. For example, trying to draw anything detailed using a touch interface is nearly impossible (you really need a graphics tablet or a mouse to do that). Selecting things with fat fingers (such as the ones attached to my hands) is incredibly frustrating using a touch interface unless you’re talking about larger items (such as an entire icon).

The touch interface is here to stay. I can see how using a touch interface could speed certain tasks. Unfortunately, I can also see that using a touch interface exclusively will make certain tasks unnecessarily cumbersome and slow the user inordinately. As I work with various interface options, I see a touch interface as an addition to the current options, and not a replacement for them. What is your take on the touch interface? Have you used one? Have you used it to perform complex tasks without using any other sort of input device? I’d really appreciate getting your input on this topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.