How “Personal” is coming back into PC

So, I learned a lot at WPC – see my Day 1 Blog – but on Day 2 of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (and a little bit of Day 1), Microsoft showed some fairly radical, game-changing stuff that I think, over the next half decade or so, will really get us to look at computing differently. In broad strokes, they centered around these 3 questions:

  1. What does the Personal in Personal Computing mean?
  2. How SHOULD (not do) we interact with computers?
  3. What benefit will computing bring the human race in the future?

Unfortunately, we were shown so much stuff, that I’m going to have to break this blog post into three parts, with this being the first part. As the second and third posts go up, I’ll list them here:

So, with that said, let’s jump into the first topic…

How “Personal” is coming back into PC

Historically, IBM was the company that originally coined the term "PC" over 30 years ago. Ironically, it (IBM) has since left that field, so it is up to other companies to continue to evolve what the PC means going forward. Intel has certainly done its part by inspiring the line of Ultrabooks that are growing in the market today. But Microsoft is also making some very interesting contributions. In my personal opinion, perhaps one of the greatest things they showed (and I was actually lucky enough to get one) is what they are calling "Windows-to-Go" (Win2Go). For those familiar with Linux, it is essentially a "LiveCD" on a USB stick, meaning that you can boot a computer directly from the USB drive. But, in this case, it is really oriented towards business users. If you will, it could be, among other things, a "spare tire" for your computer.

For example, you're on a business trip and disaster strikes - your Laptop/Ultrabook is a) stolen, b) left in the back of a cab, c) had copious amounts of coffee (sure, "coffee") spilled on it during a business lunch or d) whatever else happens to computers on business trips. With this Win2Go USB stick, you can stick it (sorry for the pun) into any PC, reboot it, and, BAM! That PC becomes YOUR PC, with all your files, all your settings, all your bookmarks, and access to all the things your "normal" PC would. In some ways, it is almost like a Sci-Fi movie where, instead of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," it is "Invasion of the PC Snatchers." And, perhaps the best part (and this is where it differs from the movie), when you are done using it as "your" PC, just shut it down, remove the Win2Go stick and start the computer up again to return it to its "original" personality as if nothing ever happened...

Another big push of making the PC more personal again is the new Metro User Interface (MetroUI) which will be deploy across both Windows 8 (Desktop, Laptop, and Tablet) as well as Windows Phone 8. In simplest terms, it is like turning the icons you've used for years (since the original Windows 3.x in the 1990s) into animated icons. But, it is not just done for "aesthetic" reasons, but rather personal ones. Like, it might tell YOU how many unread emails YOU have in YOUR inbox. Or maybe how many friends are online for Facebook Chat, or perhaps how many Four Square friends are within say 1 mile of your position. From there, just click the icon (or as they call it "Live Tile") to open the app and start going through your un-read emails, chatting with your friends on Facebook, or find out exactly which of your 4Sq friends are near. Now, these are just examples, but you get the idea. Also, you can re-size these Live Tiles so may they don't just show you a number but could, for example, show the latest Tweets or Facebook statuses of your friends. This video perhaps helps explain it a little bit better:

And finally, there is the concept of having a "Synced" profile, meaning that when you sign-in, your settings, etc., will follow you. This is not dissimilar to what Google has done with Android. When I got my new Galaxy Nexus phone & signed in with my Gmail account, it automatically loaded all the apps I had previously loaded from my old phone, as well as many other settings. Now, before any one jumps on the "copying" bandwagon - that's what happens in the computer market - really great ideas are copied. For example, Apple did not "invent" the mouse, ironically, that was done by Xerox (look up the Xerox PARC "Alto" if you want to know more). In fact, a brilliant (but in my opinion, not retold enough) quote from Steve Jobs himself (citing Picasso) is: "good artists copy - great artists steal." But, regardless of how they got there, keeping one's computing experience consistent across many different physical instantiations I think is a great thing. There may be a little issue in keeping things consistent between the "home" version of you and the version you have at work, but I'm sure the details will get ironed out over time. In the meantime, I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction.

So, that’s the end of Part 1 – How “Personal” is coming back into PC. Once we have Parts 2 & 3 posted, you’ll be able to click them here:

But, in the meantime, please take a moment & comment on the above in the boxes below. Do you like the idea of a copy of YOUR PC in your pocket (let’s avoid the obvious jokes about being happy to see you) with Windows-to-Go? Or the Metro UI & “Live Tiles” – brilliant idea or distracting? And having a more “Synced” profile that stays consistent between Home, Work, and wherever else you are – the perfect future or creepy? Let me know your thoughts below…

(or Eric Mantion)

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CaptGeek (Intel)'s picture

@Mauricio - thanks for your input - is there a good link you could share with us that has a link of all these shortcuts? I know I've learned a few (like +x is 1 of my favorites so far), but i always love to learn more - thanks!!

Steven M.'s picture

Every form of perceptual computing...touch...facial tracking and facial recognition, speech recognition.hand and skelatol interactions.....full steam ahead.

Mauricio Alegretti's picture

IMHO, most people tend to criticize Windows 8 for it's graphical interface, but what most people don't get is that under the hood, it's also the most shortcut-heavy OS that Microsoft has ever shipped. I've been using W8 for a time now, and I just can't go back to W7 exactly because now I feel more productive with the new keyboard shortcuts (not even mentioning powershell and the flexibility it offers). So, people who like keyboards like me... fear not! :)

CaptGeek (Intel)'s picture

Thanks guys - to be honest, I like text interfaces too - but my favorite is a graphical interface that supports hot keys so that I can just use my keyboard to get things done (the copy/paste is a classic example). However, the bigger truth, as I see it, is that people are all different. If you want to hit +R & 'CMD' to get to the command line, you can still do it (ipconfig /release /renew /flushdns are still my favorite 3 commands). But, for the folks that like graphical interfaces, they can choose that as well. And, IMHO, that is really the money shot - an environment where the PC adapts to the person, rather than the person adapting to the PC - to me, that is really the most perfect definition of what a "Personal Computer" really is :-D

lesley h.'s picture

I favour text-heavy work environments too - not necessarily command line (although I do a lot of server work that way), but still environments more information dense than the Windows 8 apps. I love the Windows 8 style interface for tablets, but on my PC I still stick to desktop mode.

Part of the reason for that is multitasking - sure, you can dock Windows 8 interfaces to different parts of the screen, but that seems a less efficient way of organizing the screen than being able to drag windows to exactly where you want them, at absolutely any size and position. I think that the Windows 8 style interface is nice for specific devices in specific situations, but pushing it for everyone just because it's new is a bad idea - new doesn't always mean better.

I like the idea of a Live Windows stick, though - I love my portable apps at the moment, but a full Windows environment would be really nice.

anonymous's picture

I think the Live Tiles are more than a distraction. I think the most productive way to work is in Bash or PowerShell. As far as programming goes, I have heard that Windows 8 software, or "apps" as everything is affectionately referred to these days, will be written in C#, and a lot of emphasis will be put on C#, Visual Basic, .NET, etc. It seems that (I don't have any grounds to say this really) Microsoft is trying to discourage the use of portable native languages like C and FORTRAN in favor of .NET, C#,, etc.

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