Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Lessons from the Narwhal

There is a lot at stake with the new user interface in Windows 8. Ubuntu’s experience from 2011 gives us clues for how this might work out.

Screenshots of Unity with critical remarks
Brace yourself Microsoft. It's your turn now.

With a new Windows version coming out, 8 is of course dominating the tech blogs. I haven’t looked much myself, but I’m assuming there’s gushing praise from Microsoft fanboys and scathing remarks from the hardcore Mac and Linux fans. I really have no appetite for a string of blog posts on one product myself, but having had a look at Windows 8, there’s now one extra thing that’s grabbed my attention other than the Windows Store, and that’s the Metro Interface (it’s now called the “Modern UI” due to a copyright row, but everyone’s still calling it Metro). I promise to move on to something else next time.

This new interface has grabbed a lot of attention, and not all of it’s good. Microsoft’s incentive is to make Windows 8 more friendly to tablet users where they desperately want to compete with Apple and Android, but they risk alienating their desktop customers. I have now tried out their interface and I can confirm it’s a right pain in the bum to operate with a mouse compared to the Start menu it replaced. I can see this being good for touchscreens, but there’s no sign touchscreens are going to replace keyboard, mouse and monitor in the office. Usability is a major issue for mass consumer software, and from the sound of some commentators you’d think this was Windows suicide.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Cross-platform is the way to go

AMD will shortly be enabling Windows 8 users to run Android apps. I would advise Microsoft to welcome and support this.

Mr Ballmer, surely you won't deprive
your loyal customers of this?

Last year I wrote a blog article on “The Ghost of Vistas Past”, outlining how high important it was to Microsoft that Windows 8 is a success (along with the mistakes from Windows Vista that overshadows the reputation of all future releases). Well, we’re now approaching the release date and I’ve been looking at the pre-release version. Have to say, there have been a lot of Windows 8-bashing comments, but it’s hard to tell whether this is just the new tablet-optimised interface they’re getting used to or something more. At the moment, this could still be anything from a revolutionary ground-breaker to a Vista Mark II. But I’m going to make Microsoft a helpful suggestion regarding their controversial app store.

Firstly, an app store is a good idea. Linux distros were doing this years before there was the iPhone, when it was called “package management”. It’s good because instead of a mish-mash of programs from installation CDs or the internet, there’s a central database which takes care of all installation and updating. And as your computer keeps track of which packages installed which files, if you want to uninstall anything, you can do it properly, instead relying on unreliable uninstallation files that came with the program you don’t want. So far, so good.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Politics versus Plan B

There is no more important place to get IT projects right than central government. Unfortunately, internal politics encourages the opposite.

This is a visual metaphor, with little or no relevance to the actual article.

Who’d be a prime minister? On one day it’s all “We Love You Dave/Gordon/Tony”, then the moment you’re under 35% in the opinion polls it’s a catalogue of everything your government’s doing wrong. This year it’s been the granny tax, pastygate, the petrol non-strike, G4S and the West Coast rail franchise to name a few. All that’s missing is a good old IT shambles. After all, the last government kept us busy with the lost child benefit discs and the ill-fated NHS system. Well, for all you restless journalists itching for a story, I recommend you keep an eye on the upcoming Universal Credit benefit system.

In case you’re not following UK politics on an hourly basis, Universal credit is a plan to merge a number of key benefits such as jobseekers’ allowance and tax credits into a single system. Benefits is a controversial issue right now, but this is a software testing blog, and the issue of interest is that this is all dependent on a new IT system being developed. Now, before I go any further, I must stress I don’t know anything about how this project is going. For all I know, it could be all going swimmingly. But what if it isn’t? There doesn’t seem to be any kind of Plan B ready if the project goes behind schedule. And if this happens, it won’t be the first, because I worked on the last IT project where that happened.

Which IT project, I hear you ask? Well, please don’t be too harsh, it wasn’t my idea, they made me do it, but – I did software testing for ID cards. Yes, those ID cards. Remember them?