PC, phone and web: How Microsoft plans to build the next generation of user experiences

Channel 9 man watching PDC onlineI’m supposed to be taking a week off work, but the announcements coming out of Microsoft’s PDC have the potential to make a huge impact on the way that we experience our IT. So, it’s day 2 of PDC and I’ve spent the afternoon and evening watching the keynote and blogging about new developments in Windows…

Yesterday I wrote about Ray Ozzie’s PDC keynote during which the Windows Azure services platform was announced. Today, he was back on stage – this time with a team of Microsoft executives talking about the client platform, operating system and application innovations that provide the front end user experience in Microsoft’s vision of the future of personal computing. And, throughout the presentation, there was one phrase that kept on coming back:

PC, phone and web.

Over the years, PCs have changed a lot but the fundamental features have been flexibility, resilience and adaptability to changing needs. Now the PC is adapting again for the web-centred era.

Right now, the ‘net and a PC are still two worlds – we’ve barely scratched the surface of how to take the most value of the web and the personal computer combined.

PC, phone, and web.

Ozzie spoke of the most fundamental PC advantage being the fact that the operating system and applications are right next to the hardware – allowing the user experience to take advantage of multiple, high resolution, screens, voice, touch, drag and drop (to combine applications), storage (for confidentiallity, mobility, and speed of access) so that users may richly create, consume, interact with, and edit information. The PC is a personal information management device.

The power of the web is its global reach – using the ‘net we can communicate with anyone, anywhere and the Internet is “every company’s front door” – a common meeting place. The unique value of the web is the ability to assemble the world’s people, organisation, services and devices – so that we can communicate, transact and share.

Like PCs, phone software is close to the hardware and it has full access to the capabilities of each device – but with the unique advantage is that it’s always with the user – and it knows where they are (location) and at what time – providing spontaneity for capture and delivery of information.

Microsoft’s vision includes applications that spans devices in a seamless experience – harnessing the power of all three access methods.

PC, phone and web.

“We need these platforms to work together and yet we also want access to the full power and capabilities of each”

[Ray Ozzie, Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation]

I won’t cover all of the detail of the 2-and-a-half hour presentation here, but the following highlights cover the main points from the keynote.

Steven Sinofsky, Senior Vice President for Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group spoke about how Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 share the same kernel but today’s focus is on the client product:

  • Sinofsky brought Julie Larson-Green, Corporate Vice President, Windows Experience on stage to show off the new features in Windows 7. Windows 7 is worth a blog post (or few) of its own, but the highlights were:
    • User interface enhancements, including new taskbar functionality and access to the ribbon interface for developer.
    • Jump lists (menus on right click) from multiple locations in the user interface.
    • Libraries which allow for searching across multiple computers).
    • Touch capabilities – for all applications through mouse driver translation, but enhanced for touch-aware applications with gestures and a touch-screen keyboard.
    • DirectX – harnessing the power of modern graphics hardware and providing an API for access, not just to games but also to 2D graphics, animation and fine text.
    • And, of course, the fundamentals – security, reliability, compatibility and performance.
  • Windows Update, music metadata, online help are all service-based. Windows 7 makes use of Microsoft’s services platform with Internet Explorer 8 to access the web. Using technologies such as those provided by Windows Live Essentials (an optional download with support for Windows Live or third party services via standard protocols), Microsoft plans to expand the PC experience to the Internet with software plus services.

PC, phone and web.

“We certainly got a lot of feedback about Windows Vista at RTM!”

[Steven Sinofsky, Senior Vice President, Microsoft Corporation]

  • Sinofsky spoke of the key lessons from the Windows Vista experience, outlining key lessons learned as:
    • Readiness of ecosystem – vendor support, etc. Vista changed a lot of things and Windows 7 uses the same kernel as Windows Vista and Server 2008 so there are no ecosystem changes.
    • Standards support – e.g. the need for Internet Explorer to fully support web standards and support for OpenXML documents in Windows applets.
    • Compatibilty – Vista may be more secure but UAC has not been without its challenges.
    • Scenarios – end to end experience – working with partners, hardware and software to provide scenarios for technology to add value.
  • Today, Microsoft is releasing a pre-beta milestone build of Windows 7, milestone 3, which is not yet feature complete.
  • In early 2009, a feature complete beta will ship (to a broader audience) but it will still not be ready to benchmark. It will incorporate a feedback tool which will package the context of what is happening along with feedback alongside the opt-in customer experience improvement program which provides additional, anonymous, telemetry to Microsoft.
  • There will also be a release candidate before final product release and, officially, Microsoft has no information yet about availability but Sinofsky did say that 3 years from the general availability of Windows Vista will be around about the right time.

Next up was Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft’s .NET Developer Division who explained that:

  • Windows 7 will support .NET or Win32 client development with new tools including new APIs, updated foundation class library and Visual Studio 2010.
  • Microsoft .NET Framework (.NET FX) 3.5 SP1 is built in to Windows 7, including many performance enhancements and improved 3D graphics.
  • A new Windows Presentation Framework (WPF) toolkit for the .NET FX 3.5 SP1 was released today for all versions of Windows.
  • .NET FX 4 will be the next version of the framework with WPF improvements and improved fundamentals, including the ability to load multiple common language runtime versions inside the same application.
  • Visual Studio 2010 is built on WPF – more than just graphics but improvements to the development environment too and an early CTP will be released to PDC attendees this week.
    In a demonstration, Tesco and Conchango demonstrated a WPF client application for tesco.com aiming to save us money (every little helps) but to spend more of it with Tesco! This application features a Tesco at home gadget with a to do list, delivery and special offer information and providing access to a “corkboard”. The corkboard is the hub of familiy life, with meal planning, calendar integration, the ability to add ingredients to the basket, recipes (including adjusting quantities) and, calorie counts. In addition, the application includes a 3D product wall to find an item among 30,000 products, look at the detail and organise products into lists, and the demonstration culminated with Conchango’s Paul Dawson scanning a product barcode to add it to the shopping list.
  • Windows 7 also includes Internet Explorer 8 and ASP.NET improvements for web developers. In addition, Microsoft claims that Silverlight is now on 1 in 4 machines connected to the Internet, allowing for .NET applications to run inside the browser.
  • Microsoft also announced the Silverlight toolkit with additional controls on features from WPF for Silverlight 2 as a free of charge toolkit and Visual Studio 2010 will include a Silverlight designer.

David Treadwell, Corporate Vice President, Live Platform Services spoke about how the Live Services component within Windows Azure creates a bridge to connect applications, across devices:

PC, phone and web.

  • The core services are focused around identity (e.g. Live ID as an openID provider), directory (e.g. the Microsoft services connector and federation gateway), communications and presence (e.g. the ability to enhance websites with IM functionality) and search and geospacial capabilities.
  • These services may be easily integrated using standards based protocols – not just on a Microsoft .NET platform but invoke from any application stack.
  • Microsoft has 460 million Live Services users who account for 11% of total Internet minutes and the supporting infrastructure includes 100,000s of servers worldwide.
  • We still have islands of computing resources and Live Mesh bridges these islands with a core synchronisation concept but Mesh is just the tip of the iceberg and is now a key component of Live Services to allow apps and websites to connect users, devices, applications and to provide data synchronisation.
  • The Live Service Framework provides access to Live Services, including a Live operating environment and programming model.
  • Ori Amiga, Group Program Manager – demonstrated using Live Framework to extend an application to find data on multiple devices, with contact integration for sharing. Changes to the object and its metadata were synchronised and reflected on another machie without any user action and a mobile device was used to added data to the mesh, which sychronised with other devices and with shared contacts.
  • Anthony Rhodes, Head of Online Media for BBC iPlayer (which, at its peak, accounts for 10% of the UK’s entire Internet bandwidth) spoke of how iPlayer is moving from an Internet catchup (broadcast 1.0) service to a model where the Internet replaces television (broadcast 2.0) using Live Mesh with a local Silverlight application. Inventing a new word (“meshified”), Rhodes explained how users can share content between one another and across devices (e.g. watch a program on the way to work, resuming playing from where it left off on the computer).

In the final segment, before Ray Ozzie returned to the stage, Takeshi Numoto, General Manager for the Office Client spoke of how Microsoft Office should be about working the way that users want to:

  • Numoto announced Office web applications for Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint as part of Office 14 and introduced the Office Live Workspace, built on Live Services to allow collaboration on documents.
  • In a demonstration, a document was edited without locks or read only access – each version of the document was synchronised and included presence for collaborators to reach out using e-mail, instant messaging or a phone call. Office web applications work in Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari and are enhanced with Silverlight. Changes are reflected in each collaborator’s view but data may also be published to websites (e.g. a Windows Live Spaces blog) using REST APIs so that as the data changes, so does the published document, extending office documents onto the web.
  • Office Web apps are just a part of Office 14 and more details will be released as Office 14 is developed.
  • Numoto summarised his segment by highlighting that the future of productivity is diversity in the way that people work – bringing people and data together in a great collaboration experience which spans…

PC, phone and web.

  • In effect, software plus services extends Office into connected productivity. In a direct reference to Google Apps, Microsoft’s aspirations are about more than just docs and speadsheets in a browser accessed over the web but combine to create an integrated solution which provides more value – with creation on the PC, sharing and collaboration on the web and placing information within arms reach on the phone. Seamless connected productivity – an Office across platform boundaries – an office without walls.

PC, phone and web.

Windows vs. Walls
Software plus services is about combining the best of Windows and the best of the web. Windows and Windows Live together in a seamless experience – a Windows without walls. All of this is real – but, as Ray Ozzie explained, it’s also nascent – this is really just the beginning of Microsoft’s future computing platform and, based on what Microsoft spoke of in yesterday and today’s PDC keynotes, the company is investing heaviliy in and innovating on the Windows platform. Google may have been one to watch lately but it would be foolish to write off Windows just yet – Microsoft’s brave new world is enormous.

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