Opening New Windows - The New Indian Express

Opening New Windows

Published: 13th April 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 11th April 2014 02:11 PM

Developers. Developers. Developers… Sixteen times. That is how many times a very pumped-up Steve Ballmer is shown chanting the word ‘developers’ at a Microsoft developers conference a decade or so ago. Dubbed the ‘Ballmer monkey dance’, that was probably the way the then larger-than-life CEO of Microsoft has chosen to show his love for developers. Even if they don’t go around jumping like monkeys that are put on a diet of crystal meth, every big tech company worth its salt tries to show how much it loves the people who develop applications for their phones and computers.

For the first time in its history, Microsoft is giving its crown jewels, Windows, away. For free.

Google has the I/O, Apple has the WWDC, and Microsoft has ‘Build Windows’. While the I/O and the WWDC are scheduled for June, the Build conference came early and it was one of the most important events for Microsoft in a long time. The company’s newly minted CEO has been in the chair for around two months, and the tech world waited with bated breath to see the new directions in which he was going to take the company even if conducting the Build so soon after his appointment means those new paths have been in development for a while now. Nevertheless Microsoft did not disappoint.

Start

Windows 8 was Microsoft’s attempt to make a unified operating system that can run on both tablets and personal computers alike. The ploy backfired so spectacularly that some suspect the debacle as one of the biggest reasons behind the departure of Steve Ballmer. Finally Microsoft is ready to make Windows 8 a little palatable and the biggest change in the newer Windows 8.1 is the re-introduction of the much-beloved ‘Start’ Menu. Its absence was one of the most derided features of Windows 8. Along with the usual list of desktop programs, the new Start Menu will also feature a second pane on the right showing Live Tiles of your apps. There are also some minor updates to Windows 8.1 which make it more friendly to those who would rather use a mouse and a keyboard than a touchscreen. Users now have the option of booting to the desktop by default and can have Metro-style apps pinned to that desktop. Those full screen Metro-style apps now have a Title Bar on the top with an X on the upper right corner using which you can close the said app. You also have dedicated power and search buttons and a lot more features that are designed to make Windows 8.1 a little more user-friendly.

The 8.99999 free

Windows is Microsoft’s crown jewels. And for the first time in its history, the company is giving them away. For free. In a move that turns their business model on its head, Microsoft announced that Windows would be free for phones and for any devices with a screen smaller than nine inches. It means for the first time ever, there will be a really cheap alternative for Android. With everyone from Nokia and Samsung to Micromax and Karbonn making very affordable devices running Windows, it will mean more choice for the customers. And more competition will drive the prices further down helping with the commoditisation of smartphones. Microsoft also announced that Windows will be free for the ‘Internet of Things’ devices and will be coming to robots and wearables soon.

Halo Cortana

iPhone has Siri. Android has Google Now. Now Windows Phone gets Cortana. Named after the popular artificial intelligence from the Halo games franchise, Cortana brings together the features of Siri and Google Now to give Windows Phone users the first taste of a mobile voice-controlled personal assistant. Like Siri, it lets you compose and reply text messages, send emails, take notes, set reminders and search the web using the Bing search engine. Using a feature called Notebook, you can input a lot of information about yourself and using that information, and the information it gathers about you over time, Cortana keeps you updated about the things you are interested in just like Google Now. Unlike Siri and Now, you can even type in your queries for Cortana if you find yourselves in situations where you can’t use voice. While it is still in Beta and as a result a little rustic, Microsoft promises that it will get better over time, will acquire a ‘personality’ and in time will get an always-listening mode. Windows Phone 8.1, which will ship with Cortana, gets a ton of other updates. The biggest you will notice is the Android-esque drop-down Action center for notifications and quick buttons. The keyboard gets a major update with ‘Shape Writing’ which works much like the Swype keyboard for Android and lets you type by swiping from letter to letter. Microsoft is boasting that this feature makes it the fastest keyboard on a mobile device. With other features like ‘Wi-Fi Sense’ and a customisable lock screen, Windows Phone 8.1 will be a delight on newer phones like Lumia 930.

Developers, developers, developers

Microsoft has announced that it will make life easy for app developers. By making it possible to write one app that will work on any Windows platform with little to no extra work, Microsoft has given the developers the ability to write universal Windows apps. By overwhelming them with a ton of new tools to make it easier to develop applications, Microsoft is holding that Windows users will benefit from more quality applications.

It is easier to get excited about Microsoft’s new plans and the newer paths that Satya Nadella is reportedly taking the company in. But the fact is, we have been here before. Windows 8 and then Windows Phone 8 were already supposed to have changed the company’s fortunes. But it never came to pass because often there is a huge chasm between plans, and execution of plans. This time things could work out differently just because there is a new captain at the helm. They better work out different. For the company’s sake. And for us user’s sake.

Matham is a tech geek.

Twitter @AdarshMatham

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