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Windows 8 Preview Elevates Touch and HTML 5 and JavaScript

In a press release from Redmond today, we get a little preview of what is to come with Windows 8 and it is HTML 5 and JavaScript.

I have mixed emotions about all of this. Some may say that it’s like putting lipstick on a pig, but in fact I don’t think Windows 7 is a pig at all. It beats any other desktop OS, bar none, and no, I don’t want to hear it from the Mac crowd (see my previous post). For me, it feels like putting an enhanced Windows Phone 7 wrapper on the desktop OS. This is great news for the upcoming Windows 8 tablet user and market. For me, for now, it feels like my phone UI is getting in the way of my desktop UI. I’ll probably get used to it later, but for now it just feels strange.

In any case, the press release and the little demo video seems to answer three primary and critical questions. Here are my first impressions and a few key frames from the video to tease you into watching it.

What is a Windows 8 App?
Based on this press release and quick demo, we can assume that a “Windows 8 App” is a touch enabled HTML 5 and JavaScript application running locally on the IE 10 engine. This seems to directly integrate IE technology into the OS. I wonder if Eric Holder will care. I assume that if I can still make another browser my default, we’ll all be safe from the clutches of the U.S. Justice Department.

The touch enabled Start Desktop

What is Windows 8?
Aside from assumed improvements in the kernel, driver infrastructure, etc., we learn from this demo that the primary target UI is the touch interface with cool split thumb-friendly touch keypads for all platforms. Of course support for the 20th century input devices formerly known as the keyboard and mouse continues to be available. Behind the new touch enabled "Start screen" with smart app tiles, the old "Start button and menu" and desktop interface can be found underneath the covers. So you can have your touch-cake and eat your mouse and keyboard driven app-cake too. Smart.

Dragging the next desktop pane into view. Note the distinctly non-Windows 8 Word icon.

What Should a Developer Know About Windows 8?
In addition to your bag of tricks you currently maintain, you'll need to add HTML 5 and JavaScript if you don't already have them. And if you are not already learning HTML 5 and getting past the 'alert' statement/method in JavaScript, you are standing on the dock and the boat is hoisting anchor. Get with it. Buy some books. Watch some tutorials. And start writing your own "Hello Touch World" Windows 8 App now.

Tweet in your Windows 8 App while balancing the budget in your mundane Excel spreadsheet.

It will be fun to watch this latest incarnation absorb some of the best of its competitive predecessors. It will be more fun to read about their indignation. It will be less fun if Microsoft prematurely releases and we have a Vista-like PR disaster regardless of the basic goodness due to a few unpolished bits. Either way, I’m heading back to my HTML 5 and JavaScript study group.

User Experience Principles for Developers

Let’s face it. Most of us code slingers have no innate understanding of what makes a great user experience (UX) design. We spend so many hours in front of multiple user interfaces that navigating and using software becomes virtually intuitive, instinctual. But we are not “normal” users.

I’ve just finished reading and mean to re-read Whitney Hess’s “25 Guiding Principles for UX Designers” on Inside Tech. It’s a great piece with some very good references. I recommend you read the entire article multiple times. Here are some of my favorites (my number is not the same as Whitney’s):

1. Understand the underlying problem before attempting to solve it.
How often do we just begin coding and throwing a user interface together without having spent much, if any, time with the target audience to understand their needs, challenges, skill level and approach to solving the problem currently?

2. Make things simple.
How often do we try to put every feature we can pack into a single view thinking to make the software powerful and reduce round trips to the server or some other resource?

3. Provide context.
How often do we place controls or information in a user interface that we consider convenient but in reality is out of context and will confuse a user who does not understand what is going on “under the covers” so to speak?

4. Be consistent.
How often do we design one page in a certain way only to bounce the user to another page in a web application that uses a different design paradigm, making the user spend some time just to figure out where the OK or Cancel button or link is now?

You can read about these and the 21 principles at Whitney’s article (see link above). I also recommend the following resources, a selection from those Whitney recommends:

UX Principles and Design Guides

If you have some favorite principles of your own, please share them here.