My Wish List for Windows “Blue”

May 17, 2013

Many rumors are flying around at this time about the upcoming release of Windows 8.1 (code named “Blue”, which represents a wave of product updates, including Windows Phone and others). I thought I‘d state my hopes for this release, not just in terms of user features, but also from a developer’s perspective. As a developer, I spend most of my time on my trusty laptop, not some tablet based device. Naturally, the desktop world is my friend.

  1. The Windows 8 Start screen is close to perfect for tablet devices, but for the desktop – it’s practically useless. With many programs installed, it’s difficult to find anything in there. I use the excellent search facility of Windows 8 – just press the Windows key and start typing (although I wish all the search results would show  – not separated to Apps, Settings and Files). This brings me to the first request – the Start button. Yes, it’s been rehashed quite a bit, but the organization of folders and shortcuts is invaluable and should be back at least on non-tablet devices, but preferably in Windows 8 Pro versions as well, as these devices are often used for development. And no, third party tools and extensions are not an acceptable solution.
  2. Allow running Windows Store apps in a Window, not just full screen – this is also a popular request – and why not? In a tablet world this may be too much – but the desktop? Let me run what I want in whatever size I see fit. There’s really no reason not to allow this. If not that, at least allow more than one app to run concurrently in full screen in different monitors. A pretty typical development setting includes 2 or 3 monitors – I wish we had the freedom to use these as we see fit.
  3. On the actual development front we have WinRT, which is a new platform based on the familiar COM foundation that has various “projections” to languages, such as C++, C# and JavaScript. However, this is only available (at least on the UI side) to Store apps. But why should that be? In the .NET world, there is WPF – arguably the most powerful UI platform on Windows. C++ developers had to use old libraries such as MFC to do their UI – but this model is still limited to the HWND-based Win32 behavior and restrictions. WPF gets rid of HWNDs, which is a major part of its power and flexibility. Now similar power exists for C++ developers but only under WinRT. Why should that be? Let’s have the power of no HWNDs in native code, too. All the required platform components are already there – Direct2D (which is really how XAML is rendered in WinRT), Direct Composition, the Windows Imaging Component (WIC), the Windows Animation Manager, Windows Media Foundation and more – it’s just a matter of allowing XAML usage in desktop apps, not just Store apps.
    I’ve had customers that have been using MFC for years and exposed to WPF ask me more than once – why is there no WPF-like library in native code? Indeed, why? I remember in the beta days of WPF (then called “Avalon”), I searched the MSDN docs relentlessly, trying to find the native library that Avalon wraps. I was eventually astonished to find that there is none. WPF is a managed only library. But now, after all the WinRT work as been done, what’s stopping it from migrating to the desktop apps world? Nothing, in my humble opinion, and I wish that would happen. With the new C++11 features, a powerful native UI framework is sorely missing.
  4. WinRT is based on ideas starting from WPF, but it’s a lot less powerful. It’s about as powerful as Silverlight 3. Yes, 3; not even 4, not to mention 5. I understand there was a lot of work involved in getting WinRT out there, so not all features could be implemented. I hope more features appear in Windows 8.1, comparable at least to Silverlight 5. I don’t expect the entire WPF library to be implemented, and in fact, some things are better off not being there, but I think it should get close. It’s frustrating working with WPF and then going over to WinRT only to find a lot of things missing.
  5. Open up Windows Phone some more – Windows Phone 8 is certainly more “open” that Windows Phone 7.x. But it’s still pretty closed. One argument for that is the assurance that apps could not exploit the user’s information or device for malicious purposes. Sure, there is that risk. But that what capabilities are for. There is a capability for location awareness, for instance, so the user must consent to the app being installed on his phone (from the Store) based on the app’s advertised capabilities and requirements. I say – add more capabilities, but allow more freedom for phone usage.
  6. While we’re on the phone’s subject – let’s have a window or an app that summarizes the things that have changed while the phone was unattended. Missed calls, messages, tweets, Voip calls, whatever – all in one easy to find list – not scattered around among the various apps as it is today.
    There are other small features I can think of regarding the phone, but this one stands out; I won’t discuss the rest here.

There are more things I wish for the Windows OS – but I think that’s enough for the upcoming release. We’ll have to wait and see how much of it (if any) comes true.

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