Windows 8: Sinofsky @ D9 Transcribed, Part 2: The Demo

In part 2 of my transcript of Steven Sinofsky's D9 appearance earlier this month, I focus on the Windows 8 demonstration featuring Julie Larson-Green. Suffice to say there was plenty more info provided by both Larson-Green and Sinofsky that never escaped past the D9 censors. Until now.

Paul Thurrott

June 22, 2011

21 Min Read
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In Part 1 of this series of articles, I transcribed the relevant parts of Steven Sinofsky's D9 interview, stopping at about the 22:00 mark, or just before the Windows 8 demo ensued. In this second part, I'll focus on the actual demo, which includes a few new players, Microsoft's Julie Larson-Green and All Things D's Kara Swisher. The former is a Microsoft corporate vice president, and is responsible for the Windows user interface. The latter ... Well. You'll see.

After some introductory remarks, including a nice compliment for Larson-Green from All Things D's Walt Mossberg ("she's really impressive, I must say"), all four convene on the stage, which includes a prototype Windows 8 machine (or what Walt calls a "contraption" before making fun of it for being bigger than existing tablets. Sigh: And so it begins.)

Since there are four players here, I'll have to revert to a more typical format in which I clearly identify each person speaking. Quotes from the D9 folks are in italics like this. Actions are in [brackets like this].

Larson-Green: This is a dev(eloper) rig; we use it for testing the different digitizers and touch screens. [Pointing at the internals, seen inside the see-through case] These are the cards that run the screen and [motioning below the table] there's actually a desktop computer underneath here. Pay attention to the screen, it could be any kind of device, it could be a laptop, a tablet, or ....

Mossberg, interrupting: Is it a normal desktop computer?

Larson-Green: Yeah, it's just a normal ...

Mossberg, interrupting again: Or is it a big server?

Larson-Green: No, it's just a normal ... You can look at it [motions below table to apparently incredulous Walt]

Sinofsky: It's an off the shelf second-generation Core [based PC].

Larson-Green: Yeah.

Mossberg [apparently satisfied by this explanation]: OK.

Larson-Green: Before we start ... when we sat down in the summer of 09, we finished Windows 7 and started thinking about what we could do with Windows, what did we want to do next, what's our next release going to look like, we really took a step back and said, let's think about how to reimagine Windows to be more modern. Because a lot has happened since Windows 95, the last time we really changed the interface for Windows. So we took a step back, looked at all the changes that had been happening, how important it is for you to connect to your social networks, how the Internet has become such a central part of what you do on the computer, 3G, 4G, wireless computing, and we wanted to really reimagine exactly how you use Windows, be really fast and fluent and get you to the information and things you really care about.

Larson-Green: So, here it is. On the Lock screen, this is what happens when you come to Windows. That's my son on there. When you start, you have your own personalized screen. It gives you a little bit of information about what your computer has been doing while you've been away. And to get into Windows, you just swipe up from the bottom, go in to log in, and this is Windows. This is where you come after you start Windows. It's the new Start screen. So no longer do you go to a blank desktop. You come into where all your programs are, a series of Live Tiles that tell you all kinds of information about what's been going on since the last time you were in here. You can arrange...

Mossberg, interrupting: It looks a little bit like Windows Phone.

Larson-Green: It does. Definitely, Microsoft's developed its own design style, we worked with the (Windows) Phone team to learn the best of what they're doing...

Mossberg, interrupting: But this is full Windows, the user experience will remind people of Windows Phone...

Larson-Green: Absolutely. It's a family feel across Microsoft and we have a real close-knit design team that shares ideas...

Swisher, interrupting: Did you like what was happening on the Phone?

Larson-Green: Absolutely. We've also just reimagined it for the form factor, the larger screen, and be able to take advantage of more space, so the Live Tiles can tell you a little bit more detail. You can also do more rearranging, and organizing, and grouping...

Mossberg, interrupting: Can we get that (Start screen) back up on the screen?

Larson-Green: Yup. [Does so.] OK, so here I am, all my programs ... I just go ahead and click the weather (tile) here and it's going to take me right into an immersive, full screen, tailored application. This application is written with our new developer platform, which is based on HTML 5 and JavaScript.

[Mossberg interrupts with nonsensical statement about how cold it is. Sinofsky laughs politely.]

Larson-Green: People can write new applications for Windows using the things that they are doing already on the Internet. So I'm going to just swipe in from the right hand side and go back to the Start screen. And this is where you go to see the back and forth between your programs...

Mossberg, interrupting again: That thing on the right hand side, is that a universal way of getting back...

Larson-Green: That's a universal way of getting back. So, here, I'll show you...

Swisher, interrupting: There's no button?

Larson-Green: No, it's a swipe in from the side. So here we are. [She has launched a Stocks app.] The platform has been redesigned for touch, so all the things that you'd normally expect for developers to do to create touch experiences here, so I'm just going to swipe in again from the right, bring that back up, and go back...

[Mossberg and Swisher interrupt simultaneously. Mossberg wins.]

Mossberg: So no more Start button here [gestures at bottom left of screen], taskbar?

Larson-Green: This [the Start screen] is the replacement for the Start menu. Definitely.

Swisher: What else was on that thing on the side?

Larson-Green: On the side? Well, you'll have to come to our developer conference in September to find out more...

Swisher: Oh, well thank you. I can't wait.

Mossberg: What do you call that ... bar on the side?

Larson-Green: We haven't named it yet.

Swisher: Firestorm.

Larson-Green: We just call it the side...

Sinofsky (interrupting): Windows 8 Thing.

Larson-Green: Windows 8 Bar on the Side.

[Mossberg, sensing the hilarity, brings up the gang of four again. I'll just ignore that.]

Swisher: What else was there?

Larson-Green: Go back over it again? [After jokingly suggesting she won't reshow it, she brings up the side UI so they can see it again] I'm not going to sit there too long. [Laughs]

Swisher, Mossberg: So Search, Share, Start, Connect, Settings.

Sinofsky: We have a whole developer conference that's going to talk about...

Swisher: Alright.

Mossberg: Yeah, I know.

Swisher: These people [the D9 audience] aren't going to be there.

Mossberg: We like to do things the first time.

Larson-Green: So I'm going to go ahead and start some video [taps Video button, launches full-screen Videos--not "Video"--experience]. And start playing that [taps individual video thumbnail to launch video playback] and, our whole goal was really to make the system fast and fluid. So here I am, running different programs, and if I want to switch between them, I just swipe out from the left-hand side [of the screen, which she does repeatedly]. Switch quickly between them [running programs].

Swisher: Oh!

Larson-Green: If I want to do two things at once, I can Snap to either side. [She demonstrates a swipe from left but instead of letting it go, drags the program to the ride side of the screen.] I can continue switching while I watch my movie.

Swisher: What was that, Snap?

Larson-Green: Uh-huh. It builds on Windows 7 [Aero] Snap, where you can slide things over...

Mossberg, interrupting with his insider voice: That was one of Julie's things...

Larson-Green: Right, yeah. And so you can do two things at once very easily. And then I can just drag that [the Snapped app panel] off and go full screen and ... stop. So if you don't have a tailored application for what you're trying to do, you always have Internet Explorer to get to all the things you want to do on the Internet. [She launches IE 10, a full-screen app.] And we've redesigned Internet Explorer to be a touch-first experience. So here I am, scrolling The Wall Street Journal home page.

[Cue lame Mossberg joke about WSJ being the default home page in IE 10. Ignored.]

Sinofsky, after several interruptions: This is all of Internet Explorer 10.

Larson-Green: This is Internet Explorer 10. I'm going to swipe up from the bottom and get the user interface for ...

Swisher: Wait. You swipe from the side to get the thing...

Larson-Green: To get back to the front. Between applications [you swipe from] the left, and from the bottom to get the UI for the application....

Mossberg, interrupting during what can only be called the first and key explanation of the Windows 8 UI: So, one of the big deals in IE 9, or I guess, the big deal was the idea that you could put your, sort of, bookmarks in the task bar. That's gone, you're changing that.

Larson-Green: No. You can put them in the Start screen and in the taskbar, and I'll show that to you in a second.

Mossberg: Alright.

Larson-Green: So here I am swiping from the bottom, I can click in, get the on-screen keyboard, it has some familiar things that you're probably used to from using Windows. When I press the CTRL key, I get the CTRL-X, CTRL-C, CTRL-V kind of shortcuts, I get arrow keys, which is a super nice thing to be able to type and go in, and I also can switch my keyboard to different styles of keyboard, either a pen keyboard or the split screen keyboard.

Mossberg, interrupting: Interesting...

Larson-Green: So when you're using a slate or tablet-like device, it makes it very easy for you to thumb type like you would on [a] phone, and walk around and be mobile while you're typing. So I'm going to go ahead and type...

Mossberg, interrupting: Julie, is like about a ten inch screen here?

Larson-Green: This is a 10.6 inch screen, it's 720p, 1366 x 768 (which are not actually the same thing, but whatever). It's a very bright, high quality test machine, perfect for HD video, a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Mossberg: So you have a split keyboard, I'm not sure I've ever seen one like that ... [He drifts off mumbling to himself, like he's falling asleep. But since Mossberg knows very little about Microsoft products, I'll at least tell the reader that Microsoft first implemented a split screen keyboard like this in 2005 with the first version of its Tablet PC-based Ultra-Mobile PC software.]

Larson-Green: So I showed you new style applications, I showed you web pages, you're probably wondering, what about other Windows applications ... that I need to use? All of the things you can use on Windows, or that you want to use, all of the things you love to use, are here in the Start screen. So here I have Office: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. and I go ahead and click to Excel and ... I have the desktop. So just like you'd expect, everything ...

Swisher, interrupting: There it is again. It's back.

Larson-Green: So if I go to Word...

Swisher, interrupting again: I like the other, pretty one.

Mossberg: Yeah, it's like ... now, we're in regular Windows.

Larson-Green: Regular Windows.

Sinofsky: Well, we're in Windows all the time...

Mossberg, interrupting: Yes, Steven, I know.

Sinofsky: ...and this is the Windows you see in Windows 7.

Mossberg: I see, OK.

Swisher: Yeah, but you made it pretty. [She's referring to the Start screen.]

Larson-Green: So here's all ...

Mossberg, interrupting again: So why didn't the Office ... Seriously. If you're really going to this bold new, color-outside-the-lines design, and it's part of your whole design ethos and design family, why didn't the Office team write ... rewrite Office for that kind of approach?

[Mossberg doesn't seem to understand that this is a demo of backwards compatibility, not of the next version of Office.]

Larson-Green, with a classic incredulous look on her face: Well. They may do something ... in the future. But, um, we don't think people should have to give up everything they know and love...

Mossberg, interrupting the answer to the ridiculous question he just asked: OK.

Larson-Green: ... to get to a more mobile form factor. So people can plug in a mouse and keyboard, and use it just like...

Mossberg, interrupting yet again and looking at Swisher: We're hearing their ad campaign.

[I'm trying hard here not to editorialize. But I just want to emphasize that Mossberg interrupted with an inane question and when confronted with a very plausible and customer-centric answer, he then accused Larson-Green of foisting an ad campaign tagline on him. Unbelievable? Yes. Unprofessional too.]

Larson-Green, laughing: ... Just like they would otherwise. So here I am [navigating in Windows Explorer], using the very much improved touch interface. [Switches back to Start screen.] But the new style applications can also access all of the facilities of Windows too, so it's not a choice you have to make between two shells, it's not two shells, it's just one shell. So if I go back to my Tweet@rama application [which she launches] ...

Mossberg, interrupting: Tweet@rama?

Larson-Green: This is our own little ... All these apps I'm showing are just sample applications that we've built, based on our platform. So here I am in my tweets, I'm going to go ahead and do a little post and say, this is a demo, go click on the file system, and we have a fully redesigned access to all the parts of the file system, so in my application ... if you want to [she is quickly scrolling through many image thumbnails], you can go ahead and...

Mossberg: That's nice. Last time you got made when I touched it.

Larson-Green: I know, it's working better now.

Mossberg touches the screen and immediately screws up the demo: I'm lost.

Larson-Green takes control back and returns to demo: We can put things in the basket down here. [Mossberg interrupts, taps screen again] We can get to anywhere, or anything over the network, and then also new for Windows 8 is a way for different applications to present their information. So if I have, say, a photo service, and I wanted to get files and photos from that, to put into my Twitter feed, I could go to my Photo Feedr application and everything that I have access to, or other things that my friends have posted, are right here. So instead of leaving my application and going back to another application, I can just do it all in one place. And then your basket can contain many different files from different locations. [She posts the photos to Twitter.]

Larson-Green: So it's very easy to go back and forth between the different things [uses the left side swipe to move between new style applications and traditional applications], I can go back and forth to the desktop, I can go back...

Mossberg, interrupting and gesturing towards the screen, which shows Excel 2010: Can you expand that, so it's like full screen?

Larson-Green: Yes. [She does so by tapping the screen.] And so I can just quickly go back [continues using the left swipe] between different things here, and I can work in my Tweet@Rama app, I can type in Excel, I can go back to another one. I can go back to Excel, and if I want to see them side-by-side, I just pull it up, and now I can do both at the same time. [In this demo, Larson-Green has snapped a new tailored app next to a legacy application, Excel 2010.]

Swisher: And how would you use other apps on this? Existing apps?

Larson-Green: Other existing apps? ["Other" since Excel 2010 is, of course, an "existing app".] The same way, you would just go to the Start screen, and choose what application you want to run, and it comes up...

Mossberg, interrupting: So, there's not a separate applications thing here, these tiles can be anything.

Larson-Green: They can be anything. Anything that...

Mossberg, interrupting yet again: So the user can organize them?

Larson-Green: You can organize them he or she wants, you can group them, you can have small icon, large icon, you can get lots of live information and notifications, or not have notifications, all under your control about what's in here. It's all the things you know and love, it's kind of a fast and fluid...

Mossberg, interrupting: So for instance, if you were more of a social networking person, this could be all social networking .

Larson-Green: Right.

Mossberg: If you were interested in, you know, having your bookmarks or...

Larson-Green: All your news in one place...

Mossberg:...or your news, or all your favorite apps, you know how you have people today despite all your great efforts at finding ways to organize things, people cover their desktops with shortcuts

Larson-Green: Absolutely. And so you can organize it, and group it, and play around with (it) however you want, your company can put the things that your company wants...

Mossberg, interrupting during yet another crucial bit of information about this UI: Can I? [Navigates through the Start screen.]

Larson-Green: Sure.

Swisher, once again grasping the truly important things happening here: What's Piano? [Referring to a Piano tile on the screen.]

Mossberg: Is it a piano app?

Larson-Green: It's another sample app that we built. [She shows the app. Let's not worry about that bit about how companies can control what's on the Start screen, no doubt with Group Policy.]

Larson-Green: So, to say it one more time... this isn't just for tablet OSes or touch-first devices. It works touch-first, and everything about it works touch-first, and application developers can write their applications for touch,   but if it's a machine with mouse and keyboard, like this one over here, has both touch and mouse/keyboard, it works just the same way. [She moves over to a standard Tablet PC-style laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad.] So if I log in here, and we do the work to make sure mouse and keyboard works as well as it does with touch, so a developer doesn't have to think about what kind of thing [the user] is buying.

Mossberg: So you can use the ... [reaches for keyboard]

Larson-Green: Yeah.

[General conversation about the PCs on stage ensues. This isn't interesting or relevant to this discussion. Except for this bit...]

Sinofsky: The thing that's also neat (about a slate-style PC) is that all of Windows is here and so if you wanted to plug in a keyboard ... you get the keyboard experience like you would with a laptop. All the arrow keys work, the control keys work, it's a full experience ... Keyboard as the primary interface, with a mouse...

Larson-Green: Hundreds of millions of PCs will run Windows 8, just like with Windows 7, hundreds of millions. It doesn't matter if it's touch or not touch.

Swisher, once again in a bizarre non sequitur that betrays an ignorance of the people she's interview: So, again I'm curious, why are you not changing Office also ... in this design paradigm? It's a huge shift...

Sinofsky: Oh, we left the Office team. We both worked on Office, but we're done. We work on Windows now. And ...

Swisher, just beating the non-point to death: And if you're looking for the whole experience, the idea (that) everything's changed, I was sort of looking at this very beautiful screen and went, uck, the ugly old house if back, you know? Why not switch the whole thing? ... I mean, this is a whole different look. Because Bing fits into this nicely. Why not do everything?

Larson-Green: There's a lot of utility in existing Office around running macros and doing things that take keyboard intensive time, and I'm sure that the Office team will look at what we're doing...

Swisher: It's just jarring. It's a jarring shift. So you ... you ... expect this to be used on more these kinds of things? [Gestures at the demo tablet machines] or ... these? [Gestures at the laptops.]

Larson-Green: Your choice ...  I think that's the only choice that a customer has to make, is, what kind of machine works for their utility. Whether they want something that they can...

Mossberg, interrupting: Well, there are still other operating system choices, I should point out.

Sinofsky: Right. Once we get them in the door, then all the choices are all the different PCs. And I think that's a super important thing. Because right now, you see this sort of weird world of (iPad) aftermarket products try to turn it into a laptop or try to add a keyboard to it. Or peripherals. If you didn't like the camera that came with it, you wanted one with higher definition, and you wanted to use a particular printer, or a scanner, or anything that's out there, all of those things continue to work (in Windows 8). And there'll be new ones and all sorts of scenarios. And this scales from about an 8-inch screen using today's current DPI all the way to wall-sized displays, and whether you have a touch grid overlayed over it or you're using a mouse and a keyboard.

Mossberg: Steven, how long have you been at Microsoft?

Sinofsky: A .. while. I think 22 years.

Mossberg: 22 years. And I know you haven't been working on Windows all that time, only the last, what?

Sinofsky: 5 (years).

Mossberg: This seems to me, like, the biggest change in the user interface of Windows I can remember.

Larson-Green, nodding: Since Windows 95.

Mossberg: Yeah, that's right. That's when it went full... sort of...

Sinofsky: ... to a desktop metaphor, yeah.

Larson-Green, still trying to get this point across: So it's reimagined for everything that's happened in that time frame. We're ....

Mossberg: But I would say this is even bigger, 'cause that was very much a more refined version of what the Mac had started and what Windows 3.1 had ... This is not, you know, it doesn't look anything like the menus and the icons, and the familiar GUI... although you can switch into it. Could somebody who was uncomfortable with this just run in the old house, as Kara said?

Larson-Green: Run in the desktop? Yes. They could have all their desktop programs in the Start screen and then just go to the desktop and never go into...

Swisher, interrupting: And when is it coming out? For consumer use?

Sinofsky: If I could use the answer from before, it's a Defense Department secret.

Mossberg: No, it's not. [Stupid joking ensues, skipping.]

Sinofsky: Right now, we're focused on getting the release done. The next milestone for us is the developer conference in September. Look, every two to three years, we're releasing...

Mossberg, interrupting: But look, it's 2012.

Sinofsky: Every two to three years is a good release.

Mossberg: And so when was the last release?

Sinofsky: General availability (of Windows 7) was October of 2009.

Mossberg: So it could be this fall.

Sinofsky: It won't be this fall, but let's not...

Swisher: This is so consumer oriented, it's much more ... the phone, consumers...   Businesses, are you worried about them embracing this, looking at it and going ... it's too consumery?

Larson-Green: I think that people who use computers are very similar whether they're in businesses or working at home, and that a consistent experience is really important for them. So much of your life is blurred between work and home these days.

And with that, the demo ends. Julie "gets a chair" so they can talk some more and Swisher, thankfully, heads off stage. But there's more to come, courtesy of a post-demo chat and some almost comically pointless Q & A from the audience. But that will have to wait for Part 3 of this transcript, coming soon.

About the Author(s)

Paul Thurrott

Paul Thurrott is senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro. He writes the SuperSite for Windows, a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE, and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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