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Scott's Column
How To Fix Windows 8 (and Microsoft Surface), Vinyl Comeback

December 1, 2012
By Scott Lewis

This month was going to be focused on Windows 8, and what I think needs to be done to fix it. Yes, I think it is broken out of the box. But I also think it does not need much to get it right.

Then something else happened, and I want to cover it before the Christmas holiday... Vinyl. I am rediscovering Vinyl Albums. This started with my son, so it is not just for nostalgic purposes.

Current Topics:

How To Fix Windows 8

I am a fan of Microsoft. Not a Fanboy, and not an anti-Apple person either. I own an iPhone 5 and an iPad 3. I also have a PC running Windows 7 and a server running Windows Server 2003.

When the iPad first came out I wanted it to be able to run some regular apps (designed for a desktop computer). Particularly I wanted to run Photoshop on an iPad. I felt that with a mouse and keyboard a tablet would be great at lite photo editing tasks. I am talking about simple editing here. The kind of stuff you would do in a few minutes before emailing a few vacation photos to someone. The heavy stuff would still be done on a computer (laptop or desktop). For me the goal was to use a tablet in place of a laptop on vacation.

What does this have to do with Windows 8. It is broken! Wow... it just came out and it is broken already. How? There is too much overlap between the Metro and the Desktop interface.

Note: Microsoft dropped the ball by dropping the Metro name for the "tile" interface. I will still use it in this article until someone comes up with something that sticks. In this article we will be talking about the Metro (tile) interface as it is on Windows Phone and tablets, and the Desktop interface which is basically like the Windows 7 desktop/laptop view.

Windows RT (for all intents and purposes) is a stripped down OS (operating system) to run on low powered tablets (just like iOS does on the iPad). Windows RT uses the Metro interface that comes from the Windows Phone OS (sound familiar).

That is all well and good. But Windows 8 (not RT) can run on more robust hardware (tablet/laptop/desktop) and has both the Desktop interface in addition to the Metro interface. Since Microsoft wants all tablets, hybrids, laptops & desktops to run the same OS, Windows 8 can run on all of them.

And here is were it is broken. The Metro interface is excellent for touch devices like phones and tablets and for devices with limited screen resolution like phones and tablets. But the Metro interface does not work on a desktop, and will have issues on a laptop (even a laptop with a touch screen).

Consider this... I am sitting at my desk writing this column on my main machine. If it were running Windows 8 and I go to run a Metro interface application, that application runs full screen (as all Metro apps do... just like iPad apps do). I have a 30 inch screen on my desk with a resolution of 2560 x 1600. That is a lot of screen to run a weather app, or a contacts app. This problem would exist on any high resolution laptop as well.

But this is only half the story. Metro does not work on a large resolution device, and does not work with a tradition mouse and keyboard (at least it does not work well).

The next problem is with touch devices... tablets in particular. Microsoft does not stay in the Metro interface when you are on a tablet. There is a Desktop interface for handling files, and the Office Applications that run on Windows RT (not the full Windows) still runs on a Desktop interface. Even some of the settings for the tablet are in the traditional Control Panel on the Desktop interface. This will do nothing but confuse people... as well as add to the expectation that you should be able to run any standard Windows application on a Windows RT device (you can only run applications on Windows RT that ere specifically design for it and obtained through the Windows Store).

So... it's easy to complain about what's wrong. What can we do to fix it.

First... Windows 8 needs to be able to tell if it is running on a device that has a touch screen. It is not enough that you can use a touch pad to use the touch interface. A touch pad can work with gestures and such, but it lacks the ability to reach out directly and touch an app, or the tile of an app. You would still have to move your finger around on the touchpad to get some kind of visual indicator (cursor/pointer/highlight/whatever) that you would be "touching" what you wanted to touch.

Once we determine you are running on a strictly touch device (tablet/phone) you get the Metro interface be default. If you are running a Windows RT device you get the Metro interface only! If you have the full Windows 8 you can switch to the Desktop interface, and you know that you are doing it and hopefully why... so more power to you.

If you are running without a touch screen (desktop/laptop) you get the traditional Windows Desktop screen by default with the Start Button everyone is so used to. Like the tablets... you have the option to go to the Metro interface if you want to.

Here is the big fix for desktops/laptops: You can put Metro tile apps on the regular desktop. This would be similar to "widgets" of old Windows Vista days. So a Metro based weather app could be placed on the Desktop with the option of a few tile sizes.

What tile sizes. That is a good question. Since there will be multiple resolutions of devices we want to standardize on their resolutions. Apple does this. You have two resolutions for iPads (2048 x 1536 and 1024 x 768) and you have three resolutions for iPhones/iPod Touches (1136 x 640, 940 x 640 and 480 x 320). Since we are talking tablets... Microsoft should program for two or three resolutions for devices that get the Metro interface be default. Let's start with 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080. Manufacturers of tablets can build their devices in either of these resolutions.

When you run a Metro interface app on the Desktop interface, it will default to the lower of these two... so it takes up the least Desktop real estate initially. You can have the option to run them at the larger size if you want. Also on the Desktop interface you can over lap these... just like traditional Desktop applications.

If Microsoft chooses to allow Windows Phone apps to run on laptop/desktops... they too would run at the resolutions that Microsoft supports for phones.

By doing it this way it actually makes it a little easier on the app developer. You're thinking I am crazy now. Not really, follow this thought. iPad developers must develop their apps to run at two possible resolutions (see above). iPhone developers must build apps to run at three resolutions (see above). Developers know what to expect when sizing buttons, and such on screen, for the target resolutions.

So I could run a Metro based Poker Game app on my desktop at 1366 x 768 in a windows on my 2560 x 1600 resolution desktop. And I could run multiple Metro apps this way.

If you are running on a hybrid device. By hybrid (for this article) I will say a device that includes both a touch screen and a traditional physical interface (keyboard with a mouse or touchpad). We would assume that when the keyboard/mouse/track pad/whatever were disabled (flipped behind as in the case of the Microsoft Type Cover) that it would go to the Metro interface. If the keyboard was active they would get the desktop interface.

Of course, we could provide a simple configuration screen for this. Just like the power sections on laptops. On a laptop you can set the screen brightness to be different when on battery power or when plugged in. In Windows 8 (the full version with both interfaces) you can set it to default to Desktop interface when the keyboard is present and the Metro interface when it is not. These are defaults... just like the power settings on your laptop. A Windows key should easily toggle you back and forth between the two interfaces (or a gesture when the keyboard is disabled).

There... we have fixed Windows 8. How hard would this be to implement. Being a programmer myself... not hard. Granted, it is not something that could be whipped up in a couple of days. But almost all the code exists already. You just need to polish the two interfaces for better cross use... when that is appropriate.

Just remember... it is never appropriate to show a Desktop interface on a Windows RT device. This means re-writing the Metro version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to run in the Metro interface and not go to the Desktop interface. This should not be too hard either, but a little more time consuming.

I think this could easily be put into Windows 8 Service Pack 1.

What are your thought?

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Vinyl Comeback

My son expressed an interest in vinyl. He has a couple of friends that have vinyl albums and turntables. Actually... I think their Dad's have them. I have also been reading a lot by Steve Guttenberg, CNet's Audiophiliac.

Steve recommended a desktop sound system for under $70. It includes a Lepai LP-2020A+ amplifier and Dayton Audio B652 bookshelf speakers. Why not? I ordered these for my son's birthday in December. Not only that... I ordered 2 sets. One for myself. The worst case is I paid less than $75 (with a cable and shipping) for something that still has to sound better than playing music through my home theater system.

I have been thinking about getting back into vinyl myself. And having ordered the speakers and amps I went over to my Ex-wife's house and got my old 200 disc CD changer and my old box of albums. I counted 42 albums, though 10 where comedy albums with 8 of those being Bill Cosby. That really doesn't count. A couple were my ex-wife's such as the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and the soundtrack to Rocky. But that is not important. I took a picture of the albums laid out on my kitchen table and sent it to my best friend in New York. He turned around (no pun intended) and sent me a turntable overnight... so I could enjoy the vinyl over the Thanksgiving weekend (Thanks, Chip).

The weekend before this I took my son to a record store downtown and I picked up Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and my son got a double album by The Smiths.

I am going to get the same turntable that my friend got me (thanks again, Chip) for my son for Christmas. I am going to give him the speakers and amp for his birthday in early December. Since I have not given him his yet, I cannot play with mine. So you will have to wait until next month before I can tell you how good it sounds. I currently have the turntable and my CD changer hooked up to my home theater system in the living room. I am going to move the turntable to my bedroom when I set it up with the amp and speakers. This is so that when my son or I want to enjoy vinyl at my apartment, others can still watch TV.

I also took a quick trip to a nearby Half Prices Books bookstore and they had a decent selection of classic rock used albums. I bought 4... all for less than the $20 I paid for Dark Side of the Moon.

Next month I will tell you how it all sounds.

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Conclusion

Tomorrow I am off to Austin to visit a Microsoft Store and see the Surface first hand. I am also going to go to one or two record stores. I want to see if their select and prices justify taking the trip up there now and then.

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