About two weeks later than expected, here's a first peek at the first chapter we've worked on for Windows 8.1 Book. But there's a reason this is a bit behind schedule, and I'd like to discuss some ideas we have for changing the structure of this book as well.
After writing the 450+ page Paul Thurrott's Windows Phone 8, I figured I had this stuff down. But in a planned move to an even more aggressively task-based structure for this book, I ran into problems. The theory was that people already knew how to use Windows, so I could cut back even further on the explanations and just explain how to get things done. But in writing the book that way, it was clear this wouldn't work.
Without getting too far into the weeds on this one, it kind of boils down to the fact that Windows 8.1 simply gives you too many ways to do the same thing. And it's not just Metro vs. desktop, many times there are multiple ways to do the same thing in either environment. Documenting all of that in laborious detail is both pointless and unrewarding, for us and the readers. And clearly some change, some decision, had to be made.
Here's one simple example from the Photos chapter that's currently in progress.
Let's say you want to browse for photos that are found in SkyDrive or on your local PC, two places that in Windows 8.1 are essentially commingled. Obviously, you could use File Explorer in the desktop. You could use the SkyDrive app, which now offers the ability to browse both SkyDrive and your entire PC. Or you could use the Photos app, which is wired to let you browse both SkyDrive and your Pictures library.
And that's just what's available on a stock Windows 8.1 install, with not a single additional app installed. We're of the opinion that many people would be better served by a third party app, like Windows Photo Gallery. Of course that only works with x86 versions of Windows 8.1 (i.e. not Windows RT), so this little tip only applies to some readers. And others may prefer other solutions.
Pretty soon, the list of ways in which you can browse—just browse, mind you, not view, edit, import, share, back up, or whatever else—has expanded into some untenable place. In writing just this one part of the original version of the chapter, I used up—wasted, really—10 pages in Word, including screenshots. This just wouldn't do.
I had a nervous Skype conversation with Rafael almost two weeks about this. And happening as it did right in the middle of all the drama around Steve Ballmer's exit from Microsoft and Microsoft's planned purchase of Nokia, let's just say I was also a little distracted. So it took a while to get back on track.
We're making this up as we go along, because we have to, and because we think that in spitting out the first two or three chapters we will settle on a style that makes sense. But I think it's going to look something like this.
We have to describe the built-in tools. Oddly, this will immediately turn some people off. After all, few will be interested in the lackluster Photos app, in this case, and will want to use other tools instead. We get that. But we can't ignore something that is part of Windows, especially something that works across both Metro and the desktop.
We have to assume you know how Windows worked before Windows 8. No one reading Windows 8.1 Book is coming to Windows 8.1 without prior Windows experience. So the new stuff, so to speak, is going to consist of the Metro environment, which is still new to most, and the improvements that have happened on the desktop side. We are making the assumption that you need to understand what's new and what's changed.
We assume you're reading this because you trust us and want our advice. We're not going to blindly recommend something like the Photos app just because it's built into Windows. We'll make our opinions known and advise you to use tools that make more sense when possible and then explain why that's so.
Metro first, then desktop. We know this will bother some as well, but think it's time to follow through on a theme we initially adopted—then quickly dropped—for our previous book, Windows 8 Secrets. Microsoft is transitioning to a mobile computing future here and we're going along for the ride. Again, fear not: We are not, and will not, abandon the desktop. But in the sense that Windows 8.x is "touch first," well, so is this book.
Explain why and then how. In speaking with Rafael about the structural issues I saw in the first pass of this chapter, it's clear that we can't just ignore some background explanations. We'll keep it short, but sometimes you just need to step back and describe the big picture. So we'll do that, and then get busy with tasks that users will want/need to accomplish.
We're also thinking about structuring this book differently than traditional books since, well, it's not a traditional book. So we're going to experiment for a bit. Do we even need chapter numbers? Does it make sense to incorporate short videos? Does it makes sense to more but shorter chapter/top-level topics? This thing is going to evolve. Expect changes.
So on that note, I don't yet have an update on the Table of Contents. This is something the two of us need to hammer out some more. But I did want to at least get out an early first peek at the first chapter that's being written. It may not seem very different from the structure of any given chapter in Paul Thurrott's Windows Phone 8 at first glance. But as this thing comes together, the differences will become more obvious.
With regards to this first chapter, it's incomplete. The bits highlighted in yellow still need to be written and the whole thing needs to be edited. The bits highlighted in green represent links to content in other chapters that aren't available yet. If you followed along with Paul Thurrott's Windows Phone 8, you know the drill.
Feedback, as always, is appreciated. We're particularly interested in ensuring that we're not missing any photo-related tasks. In the structure/order of content. Whatever. :) Thanks.
Download Photos 0.1 (21 page PDF, 1.26 MB)