Similar to my prior post regarding Windows Phone 7, I would like to list out some thoughts I had regarding the future of Windows on the desktop and how to improve it for the next version. We have a preview of Windows 8′s touch interface, which hopefully will not be mandatory on the desktop, but aside from that, I would like to offer a few ideas for the next version of Windows.
Microsoft is working on componentizing Windows so that it can scale better for different form factors, which may be useful in some respects, but I do believe that the Windows Phone OS would be more suitable to the tablet form factor, and could allow app portability to the tablet with a “buy-once, use-everywhere” license.
For the next Windows, I would start with Media Center:
Windows Media Center
Add a TV Library that fetches metadata from the Zune library, much like Windows Media Player fetches metadata on songs, so it can categorize my video files correctly as Zune does today. Display these TV episodes by series, season, and episode, with pivots up top for sorting by title, year, genre, airdate, language, people (actors, directors, etc.), country. You can ‘play all’ of a series to play straight through all of it, with the media center bookmarking where you leave off so you can return right back later on. You can ‘play all’ for a season, and you can also add episodes to a video playlist so that you can play 2 or 3 TV shows in a specific order (such as Star Trek TNG, DS9, and Voyager in the order they occur within their series).
Add support for subtitles and multiple-audio tracks so that I can switch audio tracks from the pop-up interface. Add support for purchasing content through Zune from within Media Center for movies, TV, music videos, and music and place that content into your libraries automatically. Add support for mkv containers for HD content within the OS.
Media Center needs to be integrated completely with the Zune marketplace so that we can purchase and stream video content from Zune to our big screen TVs. This could even enable a set-top Media Center box which could easily compete with any of the other set-top boxes out there. If it were possible to purchase a small device the size of a Roku, possibly with a blu-ray drive and HDMI out, that connected to my HomeGroup and my WHS, and streamed my media to it, and used the Media Center interface, that would be the device to beat in digital media. Such a device, given the Zune marketplace, the Media Center interface, and Microsoft’s reach across the world, would be a great home theater centerpiece.
Broaden codec support for mkv file containers, as this is often the format of choice for users who choose to back up their own DVDs onto their computers, and this format should also be supported in Media Center. This would come with built-in subtitle support within the mkv file or within a subtitle file (*.srt) in the same folder as the video file. This would also enable multiple language audio for movies from foreign countries so you can hear the original audio or the dubbed version.
Additionally, add a Music Video Library for those music videos you purchased from Zune or otherwise placed on your computer, such as from an enhanced CD, with sort pivots for title, artist, genre, release year, language.
For users who have purchased audiobooks on CD, there should be a separate ‘Books’ or ‘Audiobooks’ section of the Music bar so that your audiobooks do not appear as part of your music library, which takes up space and can interfere with a party playlist. The same of Podcasts – have those show up in Media Center, preferably in its own Podcast bar.
In the Music bar, there should be a link to the Zune Marketplace to allow me to purchase music. Here too I could also ‘subscribe’ to artists to be notified of upcoming concerts near me and new albums by the artists I choose. If I queue up music for download from Zune it should automatically show up in my library. Smart DJ would also be available from within the Music Library as well, along with my channels from Zune.
A longtime complaint in Media Center is that it replaces album art on files with incredibly low-resolution versions of the same. This should be stopped in Windows Media Center 8, and the default should be 500×500 album art, or even better 1000×1000 pixel high-resolution album art. We have the hard drive space nowadays and the HD Displays for it, so there is no reason to continue using low-resolution album art.
In the TV bar, a TV Library would be added along with a TV Marketplace link to allow users to purchase/rent new TV Shows as they are released. You can also ‘favorite’ TV Shows that don’t exist in the marketplace so that you can be notified when they make it to the marketplace, and the Marketplace tile will also update you when a new episode of a favorite TV show is uploaded to the marketplace. If you have a season pass, it will then offer to download those shows to the default location, and give a live-tile notification that you have new shows.
In the movie bar, there should also be a movie times tile so I can see when movies are playing near me. When I get home, I can ‘bookmark’ that movie so that when it becomes available in the marketplace, Media Center will notify me so that I have the opportunity to go view it or buy it. The movie times app here will also let me put in reviews and ratings of the movie as well so other users can see what I thought. In addition, a marketplace link for movies would be great so that I can purchase/rent movies right from the Media Center interface, without exiting and then entering the Zune Application. I should also be able to ‘favorite’ or ‘bookmark’ movies not currently in the marketplace, such as the Bond movies or Star Wars, so that Media Center will update me once those are released, and give me the opportunity to purchase/rent them from Zune once released. The Movie Library is great, but needs to add support for subtitles for hard-of-hearing users and multiple audio tracks for movies originally in another language and those who want to hear that track or switch to English. If I record a movie from TV, it should show in the movie library, not the recorded TV library if I choose to move it there.
It would also be useful for Media Center to have a ‘News’ bar to offer weather forecasts, hourly weather, and a 5-day forecast; an RSS reader so you can see your RSS feeds from the common feed list that IE and Outlook also subscribe to; social network notifications from FB and Twitter; and if you have it, a webcam app so that you can call any contact in your messenger list just by clicking on their contact card.
For the Internet TV, it would be great to integrate Hulu and Vimeo here, along with internet-only channels, such as BeckTV (the only one I’ve seen advertised so far) so that it appears as an integrated TV channel there.
Blu-Ray playback should also be enabled by default, since it is the high-definition disc format of choice.
Windows Media Center is already similar to the Metro interface across Windows 8, but it would be great to have a special section of the Windows Store dedicated to Windows Media Center Apps, programmed through Visual Studio like other Windows 8 Apps, in Silverlight or any other language supported by Windows 8. This would encourage users to build apps they could monetize that would greatly improve the functionality of Media Center, without the currently arcane and difficult to manage MCML language, in favor of using Silverlight and other standard programming languages. With an entire section of the store devoted to Media Center, it would get much more exposure than it already has.
Windows Media Player
Microsoft should add the advanced tag editor back into the media player. That is the main reason many users even used the player – due to the power tag editing capabilities. There is no reason to remove this functionality from such an otherwise capable player. In addition, the support for multiple-audio-track video files, and support for imbedded subtitles in video files would be a great help for those who have such videos on their computers.
If there is an error with a video or audio file codec, instead of simply refusing to play, send an error with the file’s codec information so that the user can then download an approved codec from Windows Update for that file.
In Media Player, add separate sections for TV Shows, Movies, Music Videos, audiobooks, and podcasts so that users can better categorize their media. This would also flow from the new smart folders functions also available for users.
It might be time to try upgrading from the 10+-year-old NTFS file system to something with a bit more data redundancy, such as ZFS. The ReFS is being implemented in the Server side, but it would be nice to have that in the actual consumer version. Better yet would be a file system that would enable users to input metadata for video files if possible, and not limited by the file formats involved.
In Explorer, allow drag and drop to the breadcrumb bar so that a user can drag a file from c>music>TobyMac up to C>music>, have it expand out at the arrow, and drop into >David Crowder.
It would be useful to be able to change the app color to match the glass color, from a user customization standpoint, similar to how IE 9 already changes the back/forward button colors to match the color of the web site icon.
Add in smart folders for TV Shows, Movies, Music Videos, Audiobooks, and Podcasts to the default system folders of Music, Videos, Documents, and Pictures. These would allow a user to better organize his media, which is increasingly digital in nature. These five new folders would display TV Shows in folders (series) which then have subfolders (seasons) each filled with episodes (files). These, regardless of format, would have metadata associated with them, like mp3 files do now, so that you can add series name, airdate, season #, episode #, title, actors, guest stars, producing company, etc. With this information you could then do more intelligent searches of video files than trusting the file names to be accurate. Movies would also allow the same enhanced metadata, as well as music videos. Movies and TV shows would include ‘album art’ or DVD cover artwork so that you see that instead of a generic video file icon. These folders would be reflected in Windows Media Player, with your media properly sorted and tagged. This would make searching and sorting much easier than it is now.
When you create Windows Contacts, it should integrate more fully with your Windows Live account, feeding through there, your Windows Phone, and in Outlook. If you mark a contact’s birthday / anniversary in their contact card, that should also reflect on your default calendar, your Windows Live Calendar, and on your Windows Phone automatically.
Contacts should also allow to mark a spouse, children, and parents of a contact, if they are also in your contact list, and have a clickable photo-hyperlink to that other person’s contact card. So, if you open my card, you can click and see my wife’s card by clicking on her picture along a row at the bottom of my card, with her name on it too.
In addition, you should be able to import contacts from Windows Live and Outlook with a simple click.
Contacts should also have contact groups so you can filter out your contacts when viewing them so you see just family or just work colleagues.
When looking at a contact card, there should be action buttons so you can send e-mail, send IM, send video call, create a meeting, and get directions to that person’s house from the contact card.
Additionally, your contacts should also have Metro-style swipes for ‘what’s new’ (Facebook, Twitter feed), photos (on your HDD or online), e-mails/IMs from/to that person, history, Zune, and X-Box. This would be similar to the Office 2010 pivot/tabs that for info, pictures, videos, messages between you and the contact. This way, if you’ve gotten a message from your friend 2 years ago, but don’t want to sort through 2 years worth of e-mail, you can just open that contact card, click messages, and it will be right there. The Zune pivot would connect to that contact’s ZuneTag so you can see their recent music, TV, and movie views, top artists and TV shows, and favorite artists/shows/movies. On this pivot, if you click on something, it will connect you to the Zune Marketplace to purchase or rent that TV Show. You can also choose to send shows/movies/music to your friends from the respective marketplace links in Media Center.
IE should also allow the use of the scroll wheel to move tabs left/right, as Firefox can do currently.
Windows Live Calendar should be made its own program again, and feed into your Windows Phone and Outlook calendars. This calendar will also give you reminders for friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
Skydrive / Windows Live Mesh Integration
It’s being integrated into Windows Phone 7 with Mango, but should also reflect in the new version of Windows also. In my concept, you right click a file, and choose ‘backup’ and it stores it on your Skydrive. If it’s music, then it automatically shows up on your Windows Phone in Zune, because Skydrive would automatically back that up to the cloud so that it’s seamlessly part of the Phone’s music library. Documents would automatically get backed up also, which would be available everywhere you log in with your Windows Live ID.
The picture hub is more integrated with Windows Phone, but some of its ideas can certainly come back to the desktop. The photo hub on the desktop could give a friend feed to see what pictures your friends are posting where, similar to on the phone. Given the larger size of the desktop / tablet over the phone, another good idea would be to see a timeline view of your pictures, so you can see them in order of when you took them, possibly using the Pivot View from Live Labs as the viewing metaphor. Also, a map view for any pictures I have that are geotagged would also be great, so I can see where I took which picture, and finally, a ‘breadcrumb’ view or a ‘journey’ view, showing me in time when/where I took which picture, so if I went to England, show me on the map at Heathrow, the Tower of London, the Museum, Buckingham Palace, moving around using Bing Maps, integrated into the shell of the OS. People tags should allow me to sort by who’s in which picture, and pictures of people should show in the People hub under each person’s profile/card, and on the Bing Map of my friends – that would be a great way to discover ‘hey, my friend from school also went to London!’ I could then comment on those pictures, and ‘like’ them.
The Music hub within Windows should be provided by Zune. If we view music by artist, we should get an artist view with a toggle bio, the artist picture as the folder background, and our music listed out by album. We can click on ‘related’ to see similar artists in our collection, and also links to the Zune marketplace to purchase additional music.
A note here, that Microsoft has started a site called Schema.org, intended to categorize the world’s data. They should build some of that into the OS so that we can organize our own data. To an extent, this is done in Zune, wherein we can organize video files into TV Shows, Movies, and Music videos, but this is not currently possible in the OS itself. I believe this ability should be built into the OS so that we can organize our disparate video and audio data so we can more accurately keep track of it all.
I would propose a new TV Show hub to hold the TV Shows purchased from Zune, and any we have gotten digital copies of through the DVDs of TV Shows that have those. No matter the digital format of the video file, mp4, mkv, avi, etc., the Windows Media Player or Zune should recognize it and play it. It should also allow us to add full metadata for that show (episode title, season, episode number, series name, language, country of origin, air date, stars, guest stars, director, producer, writer, series cover art, season cover art, episode thumbnail) regardless of the format of the file allowing that or not. Zune already does this, and it makes sense to extend this to the OS itself as we consume more media digitally. For the touch screen, the interface would essentially be the Media Center interface, with pivots for title, genre, rating, and air date. On the TV Show home screen, the air date pivot could show you what aired today from your collection so you can choose to see shows you might not have seen in a while.
A Movies Hub would be the next hub / folder I would add to the OS to store all the movies we digitally purchase either via Zune, Amazon, digital copy or elsewise. Again allowing mp4, mkv, avi, etc., and metadata for the movie regardless of format. We should be able to view these by movie cover, and on the touch interface. On the touch screen, essentially the media center interface would be superb. Pivots for title, genre, rating, language, country, and release date would be great.
For those who have purchased Music Videos from Zune, a hub for that would be great, and regardless of format, allow metadata for title, artist, genre, and album to be associated to the file. On the touch interface, we should be able to create video playlists of music videos so that, if we connect the tablet to the TV, we can use that as our background music.
A People Hub could be another good idea for all the contacts we gather in various areas of our lives, with pivots for groups we place them in, and a ‘what’s new’ feed for our Friends’ social network activity (FB, Twitter, Tumblr, Windows Live, and elsewise)
I would suggest adding OS-level support for multiple finger gestures: 1, 2, 3, and 4-finger swipes left, right, up, down, and diagonally, as well as pinch and spread to zoom. Each application could then customize these gestures within the application so that ‘power users’ could use those gestures to move around the application that much more quickly.
Additionally, the Control Panel needs to get some work making the interface consistent. Some panels open in a separate pop-up, some open in the same window, and some include interface elements and icons from earlier versions of Windows. All icons should be replaced with more modern versions of the same.
I am going to have to agree a bit with this article from ZDNet concerning Windows Update. It’s time Windows Update got some feature improvements. This article shows one glaring problem: I actually have to save what I don’t want to lose manually. The technology is already here to auto-incrementally save my documents so I don’t need to do it myself. OS X does this in its most current iteration, so I don’t think it would be that difficult to do it in Windows. Secondly, why do we still need to reboot after applying updates? Could there be a way to shut down the part of the system updated, then restart just that?
Given the rise in e-books, and electronic magazine and newspaper subscriptions, it would be great to have a built-in Windows 8 bookstore, with content available through the Zune Marketplace. You could subscribe to your favorite newspapers, magazines, and comics, and receive a live-tile notice of your new issues when they arrive. Additionally, you can get your e-books delivered, whether in *.lit format or otherwise, including your audiobooks purchased through Zune, and have them all appear on your bookshelf.
As an enhancement towards social networking, you can also tap a ‘zune button’ while reading your book, and post a note to Facebook that you’re reading the latest issue of Scientific American or the article you’re reading, including a link back to the Zune Marketplace – free advertising for Microsoft and the publishers. This is similar to the feature found in the Zune HD version of Facebook, where you can post a link to the Zune Marketplace version of the song you’re listening to at that moment.
It might also be useful to add a Zune-iversity section of the store where educational textbooks and podcasts would be made available in one place, teachers could post their textbooks, and students could purchase digital versions of their books. This would be a great time-saver for parents and students, and save money and their backs from having to lug a number of expensive (hundreds of dollars) books around. This would be a great way to showcase the Windows 8 tablet form factor, and open up a new market for developers on Windows 8 – e-book authors for textbooks and other books in Zune.
Mouse / Multi-Touch
Currently Windows 7 trackpads have an inconsistent implementation of multitouch gestures. I would propose integrating complete multitouch gestures into Windows itself so that all users who purchase Windows 8 will benefit from it. Within any application, tap to click, tap+hold for right-click, one finger scrolling up/down/left/right, two-finger swipe left/right to go forward/backward a page, pinch/spread for zoom in/out, hold one finger, and rotate another left/right to rotate a picture. Three and four finger gestures could also be used for OS functions like minimize all windows, restore, flip 3D, switch between applications.