Monthly Archives: March 2008

Look for Ribbon in a Windows 7 application near you

Ribbon user interfaceThe people who are drafting the new user interface guidelines for Windows 7 plan to build the Ribbon, Jewel and “other new UI concepts” natively into the Windows platform.

Ultimately, they want software developers to avoid the prehistoric Win32 UI framework from no other than Windows 95. Instead, use this new lightweight and high performance markup-based UI framework to build “rich, graphics and animated user interfaces”. The Ribbon and Jewel (button in the top left corner) will be a part of this new framework. It sounds very much like WPF, except native.

The Microsoft job posting writes,

Come lead the effort to update the Windows 7 platform with the latest advancements in User Interface design. Bring the Ribbon, Jewel, and other new UI concepts to the Windows platform and work with internal partners and ISVs to update their applications to utilize these hot new UI technologies.

Our mission is to enable the next generation of user interface development on the Windows platform. We will be determining the new Windows user interface guidelines and building a platform that supports it. We’ll eliminate much of the drudgery of Win32 UI development and enable rich, graphical, animated user interface by using markup based UI and a small, high performance, native code runtime.

The UI Platform Team is looking for a senior technical leader to help drive the design and implementation of the new UI framework. Come join our startup team and help us grow it into a powerhouse focused on delivering solutions that developers will love. We offer an environment where you can channel your creativity towards software innovation, work with world-class software professionals and hone your professional skills to grow your career.

Integrating the Ribbon UI into your own applications today is already very possible. Thanks to a royalty-free license and widely available UI controls, the process is quite straightforward. The initial concern was that every developer under the sun would put in a Ribbon because they could, but for the moment it looks as if developers have held back the urge.

By integrating the Ribbon into the Windows platform might provide more consistency compared to the many subtlety-different third-party implementations of Ribbons, but besides that I can’t imagine any other benefits. However, I am intrigued by what they mean by “other new UI concepts”. Perhaps the touch features that will “blow you away”.

Why Windows Me deserves more respect

Windows MeI have a confession to make, I used Windows Millennium Edition and I liked it. That doesn’t stop me making fun of it however.

At a time where there was still a separation between consumer and enterprise operating systems, Windows Me was at the top of its class.

What a lot of people forget or don’t even recognize to begin with is that Windows Me is actually a rather innovative and forward-looking operating system. Instead, almost everyone focuses on its reliability problems which can be largely attributed to the flaky and inherently unstable Win9x kernel.

With the help of Wikipedia, here’s a short list of the most notable features that were introduced or improved in Windows Me. See how many of these have provided some benefit to you in the past. For me, many of these are fundamental to my Windows experience.

  • Windows Movie Maker (new) – allows basic editing of home videos. (However to this date, still highly unstable.)
  • System Restore (new) -allows the restore of system files, drivers and the registry to a previous known state to recover from a system failure. Might not work all the time, but a huge leap from the format and install approach to troubleshooting.
  • System File Protection (improved) – monitors and restores undesired changes to important Windows system files. Might be a hassle for advanced users, but gives some protection over malicious damage of system files.
  • New TCP/IP Stack (improved) – adds ability to sense whether adapters are connected to a network, improved performance and reliability and home networking features.
  • Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) (new) – adds the ability for the computer to request ports autonomously to the router. (An inherent security problem, but simplifies home networking in many scenarios.)
  • Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) (new) – a standardized framework for imaging devices (cameras, webcams, scanners) to communicate with Windows. Before this, device vendors had to write a custom solution on their own leading to many compatibility problems.
  • Automatic Updates (new) – allows for download and installations of Windows Updates directly in Windows. Before, users had to manually check the website.
  • Inbuilt ZIP support (improved) – allows the creation and extraction of ZIP folders natively in Windows.
  • Image preview (new) – inbuilt picture viewer for many of the popular photo and image formats.
  • Bundled games (improved) – Pinball and Spider Solitaire. Nuff said.
  • USB Mass Storage generic driver (new) – the first consumer Windows OS to support any USB mass storage device without third-party drivers. Before, you had to install a custom driver from a floppy to use any USB drive.

Could you imagine the security problems if Windows XP didn’t ship with Automatic Updates? Or if WIA was never introduced – how difficult it was to install a scanner in Windows 98? What about having to download a third-party utility to view a JPG? Or not having to plug in a USB drive and just have it work.

In spite of this and more, people continue to draw comparisons between Windows Vista and Windows Me as if it were as hip as writing Microsoft with a dollar sign in the late 90s.

I don’t think this is fair at all. If anything, it means Vista has a bunch of new and improved features that we won’t realize the full potential of till a couple more Windows releases down the road. But that doesn’t mean it’s destined to a be a ‘failure’.

What’s more, Windows 98 Second Edition was released on May 5, 1999 and Windows XP on October 25, 2001. Between the two, Windows Me was released on September 14, 2000, giving it the shortest Windows lifespan of only 406 days. Taking into account consumer purchasing life-cycles and other factors, what’s left is only a couple of days of fame. Any product preceded and superseded that quickly would have suffered the same fate.

Earth Hour 2008: March 29 8pm-9pm

Earth Hour 2008 is happening on Saturday, March 29 from 8pm to 9pm. It is an event to raise awareness about conserving electricity. To participate, individuals, business and cities all around the world are invited to switch off non-essential lighting and electronic equipment for an hour at this specific time and date.

The idea was first adopted in Sydney last year and resulted in a pretty spectacular event with the lights shutting out on several landmarks including the Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as Sydney Opera House. This year, it’s become a global event.

So far, another 24 cities from around the world have also signed up to turn the lights out on their respective landmarks including notably the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge. That should be a rather spectacular sight.

There was some controversy however about the impact this event has if any on energy consumption. In Sydney, there was a reported energy usage decrease of about 10% however skeptics estimate a realistic savings of only about 6%. That’s the equivalent only removing a handful of cars off the roads per year. In their defense, I believe the importance of the event is in the other 364 days (365 for a leap year). At worst, it won’t have an effect so it doesn’t hurt to try.

So register your name and support, put a dot on the map. On March 29, switch off some lights and just have some fun in the dark. Share some photos of your event on Flickr (after 9pm of course).

Microsoft: Future of personal health (video)

The concept video produced by Microsoft Office Labs that was shown at a MIX08 session last week has found its way to the interwebs. Unfortunately it is a rip from the official MIX08 session webcast so the quality to begin with is not that great, and YouTube doesn’t do it much justice either. Having said all that, you can still get a pretty good idea of what Microsoft foresees as the future of personal health management with some advances in natural interface interactions.

The scene with the pill bottle and a colored ring surrounding it on the table to show which pills to take is my favorite.

Office “Scout” Search Commands makes IEBlog cameo

Search Commands

Everybody’s favorite Microsoft internal-use-only-no-you-can’t-have Office 2007 powertoy, “Search Commands” (codename “Scout”), made an unexpected appearance on the IEBlog today hiding in a list of installed applications.

Jane Maliouta, program manager for IE8 deployment, was outlining the process to uninstall IE8 when she posted a screenshot of her “Add or remove programs” dialog presumably taken from her work computer. One of the applications installed was “Search Commands from Microsoft Office Labs”.

Office Search CommandsFor those who are not familiar with Search Commands, it is an add-in for Office 2007 which adds the ability to quickly find and use Office commands straight from the Ribbon in a find-as-you-type process.

For example, you could type “pictur” and it will return a list of the 9 most relevant commands in Word that contain the word “pictur” such as “Copy picture” or “Insert picture from file”. From there, each command is numbered from 1 to 9 for quick access via the keyboard.

As you would imagine, this functionality would be very popular with power users and even help bridge the gap between traditional Office users and the new Ribbon interface.

Currently it is only available to Microsoft employees because it was developed not by the Office product team, instead, a research and incubation team. When asked about if and when it would become public, the Office VP responded with “the Ribbon user interface is intuitive enough the way it is, and that adding another search tool on top of it would be superfluous and potentially confusing“. Apparently the overwhelmingly positive response internally since 2006 begs to differ.

Speaking at the MIX08 conference last week, Jensen Harris of the Office design team also made a subtle reference to Search Commands when answering an audience question and said to keep an eye out for it on Microsoft.com “soon”.

New full-length WALL•E trailer released

Pixar has finally released the full-length trailer for its highly anticipated upcoming animated film, WALL•E. Suffice to say it doesn’t disappoint. It’s cute, funny and damn right gorgeous to look at.

If you haven’t heard of WALL•E before, it’s the story of a robot, the only robot, left on Earth who’s sole task is to clean up the mess left by humans – now living on spaceship and presumably other planets. One day, another robot returns to Earth to check on how things are going. Soon, they become friends and WALL•E hitches a ride to space.

[flv:walle.flv 640 272]

If you’re not satisfied, then check out the 1080p version at Apple.com.