A peek at things to come Posted by: Billy Hollis
on Saturday, April 14, 2007
If you happen to have Windows Vista installed on your PC*, here's a cool site to look at. It was created by the British Library, and it gives you the opportunity to turn the pages of some of the greatest books in history, virtually speaking of course.
For example, you can flip through one of Leonardo's notebooks or Jane Austen's journal, by flipping the pages with a mouse. You can zoom in to examine the pages in more detail and do various other neat things.
This is an example of the kind of interactivity we'll see when we move beyond HTML into next generation UI technologies. HTML has already been forced to do things it was never designed to do, via bolt-on technologies of various sorts. The British Library site, on the other hand, uses no HTML at all, except for the link on other pages such as this one to get to the site. The page extension is "xbap", which is a special extension supported under Vista to do web-based software with the same technologies that are used for some of the fancy visual effects in Vista. (For developer types, that technology is called Windows Presentation Foundation, or WPF for short. It's actually not restricted to Vista - it's part of the .NET Framework 3.0, which is installed with Vista.)
I've talked about HTML and WPF before in relation to some whining by European technocrats about it, so you can get some details here.
On a related note, I've been using Vista about two months, and it's growing on me. It still has some rough edges. If you open enough browser pages, about thirty or forty on my machine, then Internet Explorer 7 will start acting goofy. Shutting down IE usually restores its sanity, but I've had to reboot a couple of times. And I think the Windows Defender (anti-spyware) user interface is one of the worst designed UIs I've ever seen. But overall, I'm glad I made the switch.
It takes a while to get used to the new ways of navigating the file system, but I confess I like the new ways better now. I still have to go back to XP occasionally on other machines, and when I do I miss some of the things Vista will do.
I don't suggest most non-geek types try to upgrade XP to Vista. There are a number of pitfalls there, most relating to device drivers that might not be available or up to snuff. But I don't see any reason to hesitate to get Vista on a new PC.
* - You can also see the British Library site on XP if you have loaded the .NET Framework 3.0. However, you'd better have some decent video hardware, or you won't like the experience much.
Love Vista. Then again, being one of M$’s (tongue firmly in cheek there) little pets, I got it at a great price (i.e. Free) They make good money off of me anyway.
If you’ve not gotten into the nuts and bolts, there’s a lot under the hood that’s really nice. The Reliability Indicator is fantastic for seeing just WTF caused your system to crawl to a halt. Plus, the reporting features are much better.
I’m nostril-deep in WPF now and the close ties to .Net are going to make this a shoe-in to replace Flash as there are more developers who know VB / C# / Python etc than Action Script.
In what way, other than cosmetics and bling, is Vista better than XP? Are there bene’s for developers that regular end-users don’t see? I can’t recall a single review I’ve read which shows Vista’s benefits exceed XP in a significant (read: non-cosmetic) way. I’m extremely reluctant to go to Vista, even on a new PC.
In what way, other than cosmetics and bling, is Vista better than XP? Are there bene’s for developers that regular end-users don’t see?
Vista is more usable for inexperienced users, and has additional features to protect. But you’re right - for developers, the differences are minor.
There are some APIs in Vista for things like searching that XP does not have. But at this point, they’re still COM libraries with no .NET wrappers. So they’re hard to program and not very many developers are even aware that they exist. And clueless computer journalists are never likely to investigate things like that.
My advice is just wait until it’s time to get another computer, which rolls around every three years or so for all of us, and don’t hesitate to get Vista at that time. No need to hurry. But, as Robb pointed out, it is nice. It definitely grows on you.
I think that Vista is the end of the line for Windows — well, almost; they probably have one more major release in addition to the many minor releases and bug fixes — in its current form. It took a long time for MS to get Vista out the door, and even then only by dropping most of the feature improvements they had been promising. In the end, there is a lot of eye candy and very little else for users to get a grip on. For Microsoft, the problem is that eye candy sells to home users, but not so much to enterprise IT shops. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t that enterprise IT shops are the key to Windows’ profitability.
I am assuming that Microsoft cannot feasibly refine and slim the Windows APIs, eliminate the redundancy, cruft and legacy code that causes so many problems even building Windows (at one point, MS had to throw out some 6 months of code, reportedly, in order to get a buildable version of Vista), and improve the reliability of the code. I think that if they could have done that, and still maintained backwards compatibility, they would already have done so. If they cannot, then they are in much the same place that Windows was at the time of ME: decreasing returns for increasing costs will in short order overwhelm any ability to recoup losses from frequent turnover of corporate PCs. Their only option at that point would be to redo their OS platform from the ground up, getting rid of large amounts of legacy code that no longer serves any purpose. This would tick off a large number of customers who run old software, but keep wanting to upgrade the hardware, but frankly that’s a small drop in the bucket for Microsoft in comparison to their overall market. But this time, a lot of what will go away is in the interface, rather than just in the underlying OS, so the groaning will likely be considerably more audible.
Microsoft pulled off one major platform switch with Windows 2000 (based on NT, not DOS), so there is some possibility that they can do it again. Moreover, Microsoft owns VirtualPC, which is fantastic emulation software, which would allow them, at least potentially, to keep older software working even if they fundamentally redefine the OS from the ground up. If they don’t or can’t pull off a reasonably seamless platform switch, Windows will reach a technical (and soon after a business) terminus.
Meanwhile, I’ll just be watching from the sidelines, since I only use Windows when a client requires it, and then it’s Win2K running in emulation, or they’re providing me a supported system. Among other things, it keeps me from the "rolls around every three years or so for all of us" cycle of needing to replace my systems as they slowly go senile and die. (My main system is a 3 year old Mac laptop in no proximity to replacement. I have one running, useful Mac that is 7 years old and running the current OS. I have a two year old Linux server that replaced a four year old Linux server (that would still be running except that my son shorted the motherboard) that itself replaced a six year old Linux server. Frankly, it always amazes me that Windows users replace their machines every three years: that’s a heck of an investment in new hardware for most users’ needs (surfing the web, doing email, etc).
Frankly, it always amazes me that Windows users replace their machines every three years: that’s a heck of an investment in new hardware for most users’ needs (surfing the web, doing email, etc).
My comments were in response to a developer, not a typical Windows user. It’s pretty typical for developers to change machines every three years or so because newer development technologies require hardware with more horsepower. Users can probably go with most machines a lot longer - six or eight years, typically - before advancement in Internet browsing technologies force them to need something with more power.
So I was not referring to the "aging" of Windows. That can certainly happen if someone installs a lot of software over time and doesn’t know much about how to keep a system clean. But it’s never been a problem for me. I still have a six year old machine that used to be my main machine, and is now relegated to file server, scanner attachment, etc. It’s fine, except that it doesn’t have enough memory, disk space, and horsepower to run the stuff I need now.
In general, I agree about your platform shifting comments. The original Windows API (designed in 1984!) has been taken about as far as it can go. The Windows 2000 retrofit gave it another ten years of life, but I too think it’s time to rethink the operating system from the ground up.
Perhaps virtualizing via VirtualPC will be the key to keeping backwards compatibility as the OS moves forward. But don’t forget that in the Microsoft world, lot’s of code is moving to the .NET platform. Microsoft could presumably implement a .NET virtual machine on any OS they created, and that would get a big chunk of existing software to run on it immediately.
Of course, there are companies like Google who think we’re all eventually just going to run everything off of their servers, and so anything that reach the Internet is good enough. But I don’t think the world is quite that simple.