Monday, August 3, 2015

Windows 10 Day 5: Using Windows store applications

In the last few days, I was merely talking about the overall experience of Windows 10 and in this week I will begin focusing on core aspects of the operating system that gives it that unique Windows 10 touch. Sure you have the new and improved Start Menu and Microsoft's personal assistant Cortana, living on your desktop but using Windows is all about being productive. And part of that productive workflow is using applications.

I am not going to bore you by talking about the standard Win32 applications like Chrome and Photoshop that we've been using for a long time. Specifically, I will be discussing about Windows Store applications which has been given a pretty solid upgrade in Windows 10. Unlike Windows Store apps that run in Windows 8/8.1, Microsoft has finally given these applications a window of it's own meaning that these applications will no longer take up your full monitor space when it is actively running.
Windows 10 Day 4: Talking to Cortana - Cortana is Microsoft's very own personal assistant and it has been brought over from Windows Phone and she will be heading to both iOS and Android by the years' end. Continue reading.
However, not all applications will have this characteristics as I have noticed that some games in particular (Age of Empires) still run in full screen and there's no option to resize it to my liking.

The new Windows Store applications in Windows 10 is built on a new platform that Microsoft is calling the Universal Windows Platform or UWP in short. Basically what this means is that applications built using the UWP standard will be able to run on the broad range of Windows 10 devices from a small IoT device all the way to the holographic world of HoloLens. This however isn't something new to developers as Universal applications already existed in Windows 8.1 but back then the apps can only be run on the phone and desktop.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has also converted some of the core applications (eg. Calculator and Settings app) into a Universal application. This is a good initiative as Microsoft will be able to load these applications onto various Windows 10 devices and the experience will be consistent throughout. Doing things this way will also prevent Microsoft from hard coding the core applications into the operating system and inturn they will be able to update these applications through the Windows Store as a normal application without going through a full system upgrade in order to squash some bugs.
Personally, I have to say that I do enjoy using Windows Store applications in Windows 10 mainly because the apps do not run in full screen now and the modularity of the application's window makes me want to use it more. With Windows 10, Microsoft has made the operating system treat every application equal and that means that Windows Store applications will also support snapping to corners and can be moved to and from Virtual Desktops.

But as much as I like using them, there are some problems that I just can't look over. Probably the most apparent problem is the these applications are not stable and they tend to come with a couple of bugs here and there. Take for example the photos app, Microsoft has made that the default way for you to view images and there is a pretty nasty bug that will open two instances of the application each time you try to open a photo through the file explorer.

But that's not all, the new photos app comes with a new an improved design which is a little bit of a shortcoming for me as the titlebar does not list the name of the file being displayed. This is a particularly important feature for me that I use pretty often because I usually take a couple of identical photos through the camera and look for the best shot through the photos app. The new photos app however does not explicitly list the file name on the title bar as that information is nicely hidden in the three dot menu on the top.

Another thing about the range of Windows Store applications currently available is that the design scheme is still not consistent. I can overlook the differences in design for third-party applications but even Microsoft's own applications come in a range of design terms. Some of them come with a colored status bar and some don't while some applications features an actual settings page while some apps just come with a settings pane that slides in from the left. Overall, I think Microsoft will need to pick just any design and stick with it rather than trying out a new user experience for each application.
Windows 10 review - Formerly called Project Spartan, the new Edge browser looks nothing like IE other than a few similar design cues. It looks somewhat like Firefox with a Windows 10 theme put over it. Continue reading.
Besides that, Windows 10 is still fresh out of the gate and developers have yet to update their applications to reflect the new design. What this means is that the User Experience is inconsistent and the design will remind you a lot about the wrong design choices made with Windows 8 like the horizontal scrolling interface and the charms menu. Maybe in a couple of months, things will look a little better.

But before moving forward, I would like to talk a bit about the brand new Twitter application for Windows which has been redesigned. True, the design of the application shows that Twitter is bringing their application to a new era of Windows but the feature set is still lacking. What I am referring to is that Twitter still has not fixed the age old notification problem of their Windows application. What this means is that if I have read my twitter notifications on the new Windows 10 Twitter application, it will still remain unread on other places like on the web and through the iPhone or Android application. This is yet another downfall of the Windows platform as developers are using custom APIs to server the users and this somewhat shows their true feelings towards the platform.

Finally, there is yet another thing about UWP applications that I have a gripe about and that is resizing the application Windows. I am not sure if this is a Windows 10 problem or is it a problem with the application itself. But bottom line is that, I expect to only resize the application window once and I am expecting for it to stay resized even after I close it. What this means is that I want that application to be that size but for some reason, this only works with some applications. Some applications choose to reset to the default window size after the program has been terminated and some applications gracefully keep that resized window.

Again, this problem will most likely be fixed in an upcoming bug fix and not everyone is as me about the actual window size.

However, there are some things that I do extremely love about using Windows Store applications and one of them is the live tiles support. There's just something about the animation of data being flipped in and out that I just love seeing. Windows 10's new Start Menu comes with a modular list of columns which you can fill in with tiles of applications and while normal Win32 applications will keep their static icon the rest of the time, Windows Store applications will display information that is present in the application like the current weather or an upcoming calendar appointment.

And probably the most awesome-est feature that Windows Store applications bring is notifications. Microsoft has introduced a unified Notification Center within Windows 10 and only Windows Store applications will be able to take full advantage of beaming real time notifications. I heavily rely on notifications from the Email, Calendar and Twitter app as there is technically no way of getting these notifications on the desktop unless you install some third party add on through a browser.
Well, that is all the time I have for today's article about Microsoft's ambitious plans to make users use Windows Store applications. Tomorrow, I will be talking about the Notification Center and also some of Windows 10's multitasking feature. But in the mean time, if you have not received the notification to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft has gladly made a promotional video to guide you on the steps to get your computer ready for Windows 10.

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