Reviews, Solutions

Best Replacement for Weave News Reader

Update: 16/3/2015 – Corrections & additions to WP8 Nextgen Reader & Magnify, Weave Server deactivated
Update: 15/3/2015 – More in-depth review of NextGen Reader for Windows 8 & WP8
Update: 12/3/2015 – additional info for NextGen Reader for WP8

Weave is no more!

Weave News Reader was one of the first and one of the best news reader for the Windows Phone platform. I started using it when it was Windows Phone News. It is a Windows Phone exclusive app from Windows Phone 7 till now but like we Chinese say, “There’s no celebration/banquet that lasts forever.” Weave stopped working on 16 March 2015, with @Selesgames pulling the plug on the Weave server. This also means that Weave for Windows 8.x has stopped working as well.

@Selesgames has posted on Windows Central regarding the abrupt decision and while I’m sad that Arash Emami, the sole proprietor of @Selegames, is discontinuing Weave, I’m happy that he’s joining LinkedIn. Hopefully he can do something about the LinkedIn app in Windows 8 / WP8 & Windows 10.

I exclusively use Weave (Windows 8/WP8) for news on Windows, Windows Phone, Technology in general, Science & Astronomy, World News and Self-help. In fact, based on Battery sense, Weave is usually the single biggest usage of Battery!

Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.
Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.

So what’s next for users like me? Well I think it’s time to do a comparative review of some of the best news reader for the Windows/Windows Phone platform.

The contenders

There are many great news aggregator in the Windows Store but I have chosen these few to compare against Weave. The areas that I’ll compare include ease of initial & subsequent setup of accounts & feeds, ease of synchronization between devices including Windows & Phones, speed of app in pulling feeds online & offline, speed in displaying news aggregate and individual articles, UX and customisations.

Converge 4.3.1 – Converge is a popular app with a 4.5 star rating. It focuses on Tech news only which makes it less useful for me but it has a very nice UI & includes a Video Hub that display all videos embedded in all the downloaded articles.

The Popular page is the Home page and you can switch between Tile mode shown below as the 2nd screen or Slideshow mode (find this in Settings) which changes to a magazine mode shown below as the 3rd screen.

It doesn’t sync to other devices and also doesn’t have a Windows 8 app, which is a waste, as the potential for this app to be popular as a Universal app on Windows 8 & 10 is definitely great.

The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It's also distinctively Modern.
The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It’s also distinctively Modern.

Flipboard 2.6 – Flipboard is a social-media driven news aggregator app that’s ported from IOS. The main draw of Flipboard for IOS users was it simulates the page curling and flipping when you switch between articles, akin to flipping the page of a magazine. Alas, this flipping transition was not ported in WP8 thus reducing the “magic.”

The lineage of the app is very Apple-esque. The Windows version is very versatile but UI takes some getting used to. Things like Following which Feed or which Category was scattered all over the Modern app. I have not tried Flipboard on my iPad so I can’t tell if it works the same way there but I felt it could have been better organized. Flipping the page and other navigation is through keyboard left and right cursor keys or the Scroll on your mouse. BUT, there was NO indication on the screen on how that’ll work if you’re not using a touchscreen! Unlike other Modern apps like Microsoft News which has pop-up left/right edge cues, Flipboard for Windows doesn’t have those!

After you spend a few hours sieving through all the hundreds of feeds/website/categories/whatever and Follow the correct Feeds, you’d be very happy as it syncs back to your Flipboard account and that will propagate to all your devices. Unfortunately, there seems to be some issues with my Flipboard for Windows. After I’ve followed some feeds, it doesn’t sync back to my Flipboard account. It will always revert to the default Flipboard feeds & categories.

FlipBoard for WP8 works much better as it syncs perfectly with my Flipboard account and with other devices. However, it overwrites all the categories I’ve selected in FlipBoard for Windows. Now sieving through so many feeds isn’t productive on a small screen so it’s a real bummer that FlipBoard for Windows wasn’t synching properly.

A lot of potential here but it takes too much time to get to the news I want.

FlipBoard for Windows is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.
FlipBoard for Windows (Above) is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 (Below) is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.

Fuse 2.4.0.2 – Fuse is created by legendary Windows Phone developer Rudy Huyn. It is a very functional software with an interesting Film reel layout. Setting up is quite easy but still requires you to sieve through a huge list categories of RSS feeds. After which you can categories it according to your preference.

It is the least polished of the apps in this round-up and lacks important features like sync to cloud and a Universal app for Windows 8/10. The film reel news feed, while functional, is very distracting with huge website name and the perforated separator for time making this part of the UI rather clunky and un-modern.

There’re some nice touches and animations here and there like all of Rudy’s other apps but this app definitely could use more development.

Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.
Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.

Microsoft News 3.1.4.381 – Microsoft 1st party News app is a showcase of how a Modern app should be like and they have more or less succeeded in that mission. BUT, it’s also the least customizable of all the apps in this comparison. There’re also some nagging bugs like the Featured News showing SUPER OLD NEWS. See the picture below!

The pre-installed list of news sites are very few and doesn’t cover the full spectrum of interests and categories. You could make it show news from all your favourite websites but you’d have to manually key in the address and configure the RSS, which is why I only use MS News to follow Singapore & World news.

For some reasons, MS removed a great feature which allows you to add your own “Topic of interest.” This is moved to Cortana so I suppose MS means for us to use Cortana as our News source?

MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive.
MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive. News for Windows (Above) has a tendency to show old news. News app for WP8 (Below) is great though with Auto-sync.

Nextgen Reader 6.3.0.5 – Nextgen Reader is another 4+ star app that has won the praise of many user and reviewers. It is highly functional and the Windows UI is modeled after Outlook Express. It’s also a Universal app which automatically syncs your account between devices.

However, its Achilles’ Heels is the configuration has to happen at the Feedly website. As a client only, it is not possible to configure from the Windows app. Fortunately, the Feedly website is easy to navigate with interest & categories clearly sorted and searchable. Even though the list isn’t pre-selected or curated, it was very easy for me to add the individual websites into the category as major topics of interest are #hashtagged in search. Unlike Flipboard or Fuse, getting organized was super easy & quick, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of websites.

After I’ve added some of the websites that was curated from Weave, I selected a few more which were not in Weave’s list. After that, clicking Sync in the Windows 8 Nextgen Reader immediately displays all my selection from the website. It was super easy!

Opening the app in WP8 was the same, the list and news feeds were all sync and ready to read. I just have to change the view to “Headline with Large Image” and it works almost the same as Weave!

You can add & delete Feeds from within the WP8 app which makes it a bit weird that the Windows app can’t. Did I miss something? WP8 Nextgen Reader has an awesome built-in Twitter sharing engine but if you prefer another app, you can always disable to share via WP8 Shares, or you could have BOTH! This multiplicity of functions is what I’ve come to expect from Desktop software. To see it in mobile apps without clunking up the whole UI is why I love WP8 platform and why I’m growing to like Nextgen Reader more everyday.

I subscribe to a large number of Feeds from multiple sources and it can go into the hundreds within a few hours. I don’t read every article, so I scroll through the list and tap only those I’m interested in. A very useful feature for both Windows & WP8 is the ability to, “Mark above as Read.” This allows me to go through a huge list of articles and simply mark ‘read’ the posts that I’ve scrolled past so I don’t have to go through them again later.

Nextgen Reader is not the prettiest of the bunch but so far, it’s the closest competitor to Weave. After using it for a couple of days I find that there were some areas that can be improved. In the WP8 app, currently in List view, ‘Read’ articles are denoted by a greyed Headline, it would be much clearer if the preview image was greyed as well. And when I go into an article, I have to tap “get full article”, why not set this as the default behavior? This is true for both Windows & WP8.

NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!
NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!

Magnify News Reader 3.1.7 – Magnify (Beta) is a beautiful app with so much bells and whistles, they had to create a video tutorial that runs the first time you open the app. It is also a Feedly client like NextGen Reader and thus, all my feeds are downloaded and sync to the app immediately after I sign in. If you haven’t create feeds in Feedly website, the app will appear empty and that’s why I scratched my head the first time I installed it months ago. The UI & UX is vastly different from NextGen Reader and users who like 3D animations are in for a treat.

All the transitions have 3D animations, from Home Page to individual section, there’s that flying pages animation. In the Preview page, scrolling up & down also scrolls up and down the Preview images. Once inside the article, a 3D cube effect changes the page instead of a standard scroll.

The app is also packed with tons of features that I use regularly in Weave so this is definitely a strong contender, although I must say that after reading a few articles, I got a headache from all the animations. Fortunately, there’s an ‘Article view’ which switches off the 3D cube effect and just scroll as per normal.

A very important feature that sets it apart from Nextgen Reader is the included Curated lists when you tap the “+” hub. It is a full featured Feed management system which gives users the ability to manage their Feeds completely within the app or use the pre-selected ones in each category or interest. It’s also more powerful than Weave and almost as easy to use as the Feedly website, which is an impressive feat given the limited screen size. Also, when I tap to view an article, Magnify shows the preview while downloading the full (mobilised) article automatically in the background. Kudos to the developers!

Its biggest annoyance is perhaps the lack of the “Mark above as Read” which is so useful in Nextgen Reader. Since the Feeds are not paginated, I have to tap on individual Feeds group if I think I cannot finish all the posts at one go. Within the Article list, you can only Mark all ‘Read’ or ‘Unread’. This can definitely be improved. Personally, the app is a bit too colourful for my liking but if you like your Groups to be colour-coded and fully customizable, you’d love Magnify!

Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.
Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.

Weave News Reader 8.7.0.2 – Weave News Reader. Much has been written about it. It’s a fantastic news reader for the busy person. It looks fantastic when it first came out. While the look is a bit dated now with Flipboard & Magnify looking awesome, Weave still gets the job done pretty well.

One of its best feature, the Weave (mobiliser) server that Weave News Reader sync to is no longer unique and in fact, can be unstable at times. Certain website also doesn’t get mobilised, including some of my favourite websites, causing Weave to switch to the much slower Web View. Beside mobilising the webpage, the Weave Server also prepares the page for Text-to-Speech, which is a great feature not available in most other apps.

Unfortunately, Weave News Reader has its fair share of bugs like the synchronization of Read/Unread posts can become out-of-sync between devices. When the Weave server was unstable, Weave News Reader would crash or its Live Tile can go haywire. Another very common complain was a stuck Live Tile but that’s less common after WP8.1.

Having said that, Weave still has the best curated list of websites sorted into interest & categories to get newbies up and running quickly. After that, you can opt to sync to your Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter or Google Account. This allows your selected feeds to sync between devices, including read/unread posts so you can continue reading on the go or at home/office.

You can easily customize your preferred website or add more if you so desire although IIRC Feedly isn’t supported. Articles can be easily shared to multiple destinations without any fuss and you can favourite any posts so it stays in your synchronized feed forever, or until Weave server goes dark on 14th March.

Weave has tons and tons of features but somehow doesn’t feel cluttered and is one of the best example of a modern app there is!

Which app is the winner?

Well, after this review, I still prefer Weave but since I have to choose an alternative, my recommendation goes to NextGen Reader. It has the best balance between UX, UI, features & customisations. I’d continue to play with the other apps and update this article with my thoughts as I go along.

To help readers make up their own mind, here’s a table.

Winner in Red.
Winner in Red.

Comments are welcome and if you want me to review another app on either Windows or WP8, I’d be happy to do so when I have the time. Remember to like my post & subscribe!

Opinions

Microsoft buys Nokia! …

WOW! But not all that surprising…

OK, Microsoft buys Nokia’s devices division & licensed their IP non-exclusively for 10-years for USD$7B. Nokia will keep their Nokia Networks & Here Mapping, not sure about their Advanced Imaging group (Scalado) though.

More information here. Microsoft acquires Nokia’s Devices division.

Some history

Nokia has been hemorrhaging market share for a long time. Symbian was fine as an advanced feature-phone but based on today’s metric of counting apps & multi-touch, it’s not really considered a modern smartphone. Sony Ericsson withdrawal from Symbian in 2010 hit the final nail in Symbian’s coffin as a mobile OS. Nokia just prolonged the inevitable and by the time the board realize it, it was almost too late. Which is why they brought in an ex-Microsoftie, Stephan Elop.

Nokia Symbian steadily losing market share.

There are some undercurrent of mistrust generally coming from an ex-Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen but that’s to be expected because after all, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile was an competitor’s platform for the longest time, even though Stephan Elop was in charge of Microsoft Office 2010 & Microsoft Dynamics for 2 years only. The truth is probably somewhere in between but that point is moot since the Symbian-based Nokia Asha product line didn’t do as well as expected in China & India.

Nokia has underestimated the demand for high-quality smartphone at an affordable price. Which is why the Nokia Lumia 520 sold extremely well while the Asha line didn’t. Everyone seems to want to launch expensive flagship phones but market share is built from bulk purchase of entry-level & mid-tier phones. In fact, most of Android’s market share come from cheap phones & even “smart” feature-phones using Android.

Despite the fact that investors are increasingly questioning Elop’s “Burning Platform” approach, it stands to reason that the world don’t need another Android maker. HTC is tepidly recovering with their HTC One, Sony & LG are posting some profits for their Android handset business after years of loss & Moto still seems to be flat on their face. Only Samsung is making real money so Nokia isn’t so bad IF you consider their record USD$3B lose in 2012. However, turning businesses around is always painful and Elop has handled it pretty well.

If Nokia had gone with Android in 2011, they may not have been desperate enough to bring OIS to phone cameras (Apple & Samsung are not expected to bring OIS in 2013), or improve Navteq (now called Here) to be a true Google Maps competitor in 2013, or Wireless charging across most of their product range starting in 2012. All this happened within 2 years of Elop coming on board.

The Nokia Lumia 800 was my first Nokia phone ever, while the Lumia 920 was my second. I’ve always used Windows Mobile because it’s a true smartphone compared to Symbian but seeing how Nokia was committed to Windows Phones & bringing so much to the eco-system, I remain convinced that going with Nokia phones was the right move because other partners like HTC & Samsung eventually gave more resources to their Android phones & I can’t blame them since it made more business sense. And I was right. My third Windows Phone will be the upcoming Nokia Lumia 1020, the 41 megapixel monster which looks just like my Lumia 920. 🙂

The present

3 months ago, it was reported that Microsoft and Nokia talks about Nokia’s hardware division sales to Microsoft had collapsed. On retrospect, this was a red herring created to throw everyone off-balance. Good business move. I always wondered why that news pop out of nowhere.

With HTC going down (executives leaving and/or defrauding the company, Q3 2013 expected loss) & Samsung disinterested in WP and plans for Tizen (based on Intel Atom SoC rather than ARM), now is the right time for Microsoft to buy Nokia. No one will likely challenge this move and it’ll help Windows Phone immensely.

With the combined strength of Bing Maps + Here Maps, Microsoft now have 2/3 of what’s needed to take on Google Maps. The last one 1/3 is Foursquare, which Microsoft is actively courting.

MS has also licensed a huge treasure trove of Nokia IP, which has proven to be lucrative & effective in fighting off patent trolls unlike Moto’s IP. They have also acquired Nokia’s up & coming Lumia brand which is synonymous with innovation & clever advertising.

Clever guerilla ad campaign by Nokia Lumia 1020 against the Samsung S4 Zoom.

Nokia Asha & other feature-phones will most likely be wiped off the roadmap by 2014. I could be wrong but I don’t see Microsoft is interested in fighting with China & India low-end phone makers.

Nokia will have access to Microsoft (Pegatron) factories in China, Microsoft will also acquire Nokia supply-chain management & manufacturing capabilities so there’ll be no more USD$900m write-down.

Elop has proven to be a great person in reversing Nokia’s diminishing fortunes but at the same time, conspiracy theorists will continue to accuse Ballmer of sending Elop to Nokia as an acquisition target some time in the future. The truth is probably in between, since Microsoft has ALWAYS sent seed money & people to friends & frenemies alike.

This is part of Bill Gate’s legacy. To have Microsoft software everywhere whether they be thay friend or thay enemy because in business, everyone is a bit of both.

 

Stephan Elop as a leading contender of Steve Ballmer’s successor.

The Future

We already know that Bill Gates, Microsoft board & ValueAct all had a role in Steve Ballmer’s surprise retirement announcement a few days ago. His leadership was controversial from the beginning but he has fans and critics alike.

Now is also a good time for him to step down because although he had keep Microsoft growing strongly all these years, he obviously missed the mobile boat. It can be argued that Microsoft needs a CEO that doesn’t exist, someone who’s a strong Microsoft team-player & supporter, someone who has strong leadership & management skills and someone who has a good track record.

Stephan Elop seems to fit the bill very well & many pundits are already predicting this deal confirms Stephan as the best candidate since he’s a solid Microsoft supporter, so he wouldn’t rock the boat too much like selling off Bing; he’ll bring an outside perspective to Microsoft but is not marginalized like Steven Sinofsky; he’s shown his brilliance in making people like the Office 2010 ribbon & saving Windows Phone and finally, his PR-friendly face & press-friendly nature means there may be less bad press and more love for Microsoft moving forward. Perception is a very important factor in the success in any product or services.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned in a post from last year where I predicted Windows 8 & WP8 will share code in a common IDE, we may actually see WP9 be based on Windows RT, thus coming full circle where Windows is finally Mobile.

Oh, did I mention Xbox One will also run Windows 8? 😉

Opinions

OEMs can’t do it, so Microsoft DID IT!

This is a follow-up for my previous post on What I think a Windows 8 Tablet should be like.

Intro

Finally, our prayers have been answered. While Computex showed some interesting Windows 8 tablet concepts. Most of it was just gimmicky (Asus Taichi) or rehash of a failure (Acer W510/W700) or plain uncomfortable (Lenovo Yoga).

Before Microsoft Surface

The Acer W700 looks like it may be the closest to my wishlist but then they added that huge useless stand. I sure they can squeeze a couple of Lithium cells in there.

The Acer W510 is interesting because the keyboard has an additional battery & based on the battery life it’s an Atom but is it dual-core? Acer isn’t saying.

Asus Taichi looks very impressive & I’m sure some people is going to love the dual-screen, but can you imagine the current draw on the battery? Even when the screen is off, there’s current leakage which can absolutely kill the battery!

Lenovo Yoga has a flip to the back 360° hinge, so in tablet mode, your hand is caressing the keyboard keys. Very nice if you’re an accordion player, not so nice for the rest of us.

The Future

What is Microsoft to do? Well, they did this!

The Microsoft Surface

Not to be confused with the Super-cool but super-expensive coffee table, the new Surface(s), one for Windows RT & one for Windows 8 Pro, is targeted at the iPad & Android tablet market & the TabletPC market respectively. (The coffee-table is now called PixelSense.)

Microsoft worked in secret for this tablet & the engineering effort shows in the precision in the whole thing. Unlike the iPad, the Surface is also easily repairable like all Microsoft hardware products. See the torx screws at the bottom?

The Fully magnesium-alloy chassis is also used in many hi-end tablets/Ultrabooks from Lenono Thinkpad X series to Fujitsu T & S series because of strength & toughness, but this is an expensive material to use & machine. In the Surface, it’s basically magnesium & Gorilla Glass 2.0 protecting the thing. So this thing is NOT going to be cheap. BOM cost is going to be high. So I’m hoping this is like the 1st-gen Xbox & Microsoft sell at or below cost to secure market share. (Me dreaming…)

Why is Microsoft doing this now?

Some bloggers & tech journalist mentioned threat to the Windows eco-system. What do they mean? Windows is installed in more than 1 billion PCs around the world. When you add up all the Macs + iPad, it’s only 300million. (Phones not included). What threat?

Well, Microsoft’s Windows is 1 of the pillars of profit. Over the years, it’s profitability has reduced slightly. One of the reason is iPad is good enough for many people’s needs + iPhones has 30+% of worldwide smartphone market. Many of these people still need a PC to connect & manage these devices. A big portion has chosen Mac OS to be THAT device. Granted, many of them still buy Windows licenses to run in Parallel, but that’s because they NEED to, not because they WANT to.

The soonest their work don’t need Windows, they wouldn’t even boot up or upgrade their Windows license. Microsoft knows this, hardware makers know this, Apple knows this & now, so does Google with their Chrome OS.

After the uninspiring show at Computex, Microsoft announced this ultra-secret press conference to salvage developers’ interest. Remember, without apps & hardware, the eco-system is dead. Just look at RIM, lotsa BB 10 demos but no devices yet. Developer interest is low.

Apple just finished their WWDC & Google is doing their thing next week. On Wednesday, Microsoft will share Windows Phone 8 Apollo with the rest of the world. Monday was the best time to drop the bomb.

Mostly good reception but doubters exist.

Some bloggers criticized Microsoft for always announcing things way before product availability unlike Apple. These bloggers must not have covered the tech industry for very long or they’re only covering Apple, who deal mostly with consumers.

Microsoft has to announce things early so that companies can set the direction & upgrade path for the next few quarters. CTOs cannot have disruption to their business because a vendor suddenly change or discontinue product lines, something Google is famous for, or new features which are incompatible with company infrastructure, Apple’s forte.

Yes, BYOD is on the rise. But in many industries, accountability & compliance is still paramount. Microsoft is successful because they do not disrupt their product lines like Apple do. Surface is the most logical way of moving forward & setting the bar for OEM to follow, just like how Intel set the Ultrabook reference design. Microsoft is also not withholding any special software features so OEMs can play on even ground when they get their acts together.

Another mitigating factor is, Surface is unlikely to be cheap (assuming Microsoft sell at a premium), so OEMs can differentiate themselves using price & features like the laptops & PC.

Research houses like Ovum pointed out a jarring & horrible user experience. Jarring maybe, horrible? Hardly. If you’re using Win RT, the chances of you dropping to Desktop is low & only for Office 15 which you’d use when you’re sitting down & working with the keyboard cum cover. I’d like to ask Ovum researchers, when you’re on the move, will you be formatting your text & checking grammar or generating numbers of Excel or Access, or will you be taking hand-written notes, audio notes & shooting the event with the camera?

For Surface Pro, a stylus is included so you can still use all your Enterprise software that uses ink. When used as a laptop, the keyboard/mouse is still used & Aero is still easy to navigate. When on the move, Metro takes center-stage. Jarring? Yes, but humans are adaptable.

Will Surface cannibalize OEM tablet sales? Just look at why Google came out with their Nexus series of phones. The OEMs can’t make it well. Look what happened to Samsung after helping Google? Their Galaxy line of smartphones benefitted greatly from getting frontline support from Google & Google’s vision.

In Microsoft case, Microsoft Hardware division designed the tablet in-house, according to Pinoys, the actual device is probably made in China by Pegatron. If we look at the hardware market for Mice & Keyboards, you still have a very healthy eco-system with Microsoft, Logitech & Razor on top, & tons of China/Taiwanese brands serving the mid-to-low end market.

Remember, we’re talking about Windows PCs here, which has more than 1 Billion physical devices. Right now, Microsoft has to grow this tablet market so that eventually these OEMs can rejoin at a later date with compelling products.

If cannibalization is the worry, I think the Surface (& subsequent OEM efforts) may wipe out the OEMs’ own Android tablets & overtake iPads. With a wide variety of Windows tablets to choose from, Microsoft’s vision is to beat the iPad the way they beat the MacIntosh 20 years ago.

Opinions

How Windows Phone 8 & Windows 8 can share software

Overview

Microsoft just generated a huge amount of buzz in the press & developer community when Microsoft’s Paul Thurrott confirmed a leak that Windows Phone 8 (WP8) codename “Apollo” will use Windows 8 kernel.

This is a big deal, bigger than what most people realise, because it means that Microsoft can have a standard integrated development environment (IDE) to target Windows 8 (for Intel x86/64 – Wintel), Windows on Arm (WoA) & WP8 (now a WoA)!

So when a developer wrote an app for Windows 8, he can automatically target both Wintel, WoA & with some tweaks for screen dimension, WP8!

What’s the big deal anyway?

Let’s me start by saying I’ve been a software developer for many years since C++ & Visual Basic 6. Unlike many developers these days, I’m what was called a system programmer, meaning I do low-level, machine interface stuff, including Assembler on embedded systems. I stopped coding professionally 8 years ago but I still do some projects here & there. So I’m aware of the going on in the development of Wintel, WP7 world.

Software is created by writing code in a language not unlike English. In order for the code to be recognised, you need the other party to also speak the same language.

Unfortunately, Intel Core i7 or nVidia Tegra-3 or Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU doesn’t speak English, so you need an intermediary. A translator that converts the code into machine language which is just a bunch of ones & zeros. This is the job of the compiler.

There are 2 ways to accomplish this. You can compile code directly into machine language or you can send your code into a translator that converts these code in realtime into machine language.

The advantage of the first approach is speed. The problem is you need to rewrite (port) code from one platform to another.

The second is the interpreter approach. A middleman will translate the code during software running time into machine code for the CPU to execute, hence the term, “runtime”.

The advantage is the ease of porting code from one platform to another. It still takes efforts & time to customise for the environment but at least there are less mundane chore to do/debug. The major problem is speed because the middleman also uses CPU resource. Multicore CPU mask some of the time but there’s still lag.

SO, where does Windows 8 fit into all these CPU discussion anyway?

Windows 8 is an Operating System. It’s job is to manage resources in CPU, memory, storage, network, graphics, user input, etc. The part that manage the hardware is called the kernel, which is itself a special software. The part that you see on the screen is the GUI, which is also software. All the apps that you use must interact with the kernel & GUI.

IIRC, the kernel of Windows Phone 7 is based on Windows CE, which is itself a branch of Windows 95 or earlier. It’s a very mature & stable kernel but doesn’t support multi-core CPU or pre-emptive multi-threading which is why multi-tasking on PocketPC/Windows Mobile always seem to hang or slow the phone with no way to recover but a soft reset. Surprisingly, Android 2/3 seem to share the same problems! But is mitigated somewhat by having multicore CPU.

Windows Phone 7 bypass this limitation by following Apple’s iOS when it was initially launched. No app is allowed to run in the background, except for a few that strictly follows certain parameters. Task switching was minimum, restricted to 5 open screens, not 5 open apps. This severely limited many enterprise apps which required ongoing background processing.

Now unlike Apple, which keeps its iOS & Mac-OS separately. Microsoft seems to want to consolidate their OS as early as 2003 with the MinWin initiative. Windows 7 is based on the Windows NT kernel, which was super robust but very monolithic in that all the services were integrated into the kernel, making it big & hard to debug or extend. Performance was good though because all the services exist in the same memory space.

The problem was, every time a new service is needed, like IPv6, Microsoft had to change the kernel without affecting other components. The complexity gets too much to handle even for a software house as big as Microsoft. The only way was to compartmentalized the kernel. Performance suffered a bit but can be recovered when developers optimise the individual components that were separated from the kernel.

This initiative culminated in Windows 8 using just 600+MB of memory footprint compared to Windows 7 800+MB in a TabletPC configuration. The kernel itself is only tens of MB! Small enough to fit in the future 256MB of RAM on a Windows Phone 7.5.x upgrade called “Tango”.

For WoA, the memory footprint will probably be similar to Wintel because Windows Desktop will also appear in WoA. However, as mentioned, for any developer who needs speed in their desktop apps like Microsoft Office, they will have to port their code & recompile the entire app to work in WoA Desktop environment. Which is why Microsoft was very secretive about whether legacy Windows Apps can run on WoA. My answer is, No. (Unless MS includes VirtualPC on WoA.)

It’s very clear to me that since Microsoft wrote the compiler in Visual Studio IDE & can port the entire Windows to ARM, it’s no problem for them to port MS Office as well! However, legacy apps compiled for Intel CPU will not work on WoA. Developers need to port their code.

The good news is, the new Visual Studio will probably support compiling to both Intel x86/64 & ARM all in the same IDE! Devs may need to set certain parameters but they do not need to invest in another IDE or train/hire new developers. Visual Studio will handle the differences in platform like it handles the difference in Intel & AMD CPU.

This is excellent news for Enterprise customers because it simplifies managing their business by providing a single platform that can run on Intel PCs in the office & WoA laptops/tablets for their mobile workforce. Intel CPU is much more powerful but ARM CPU uses much less power so having Windows on both platform solves a dilemma that has dogged the industry for more than 10 years. This is the reason why the iPad is so successful because even though Bill Gates envisioned a tablet future, it was Steve Jobs who realised the vision!

However, Steve had to compromise on functionality on the iPad because Mac-OS wasn’t optimised for low-memory/CPU computing. On top of that, Mac-OS was compiled for Intel CPU & it will take them time to find a good compiler to recompile for ARM, plus all the engineering needed to port the OS.

What about WP8?

Most of the 60,000 apps on WP7 are written in Silverlight & XNA. Both are interpreted code which requires a Runtime. This Runtime is also an integral of Windows 8.

Now that we know WP8 Apollo uses the NT kernel, it automatically means that WP8 supports multicore CPU, full pre-emptive multi-threading, multi-GPU & multi-displays on-top of the other regular stuff you find on iPhones & Android phones.

Since Microsoft has to compile Silverlight/XNA to work on WoA & Windows Phone is actually an ARM computer with a small screen, it means that there is NO difference between WoA Silverlight/XNA & Silverlight/XNA on Windows Phone as well! Do I even need to mention Silverlight/XNA is already in Windows 8 for x86/64?

Ultimately, this means that developers can use Visual Studio to compile speedy Native apps like MS Office for Wintel, WoA & WP8. If the situation doesn’t require speed, they can more easily program in Silverlight/XNA & enjoy low power consumption for Wintel, WoA & WP8 as well. The only major work is to change the interface to fit the screen & that’s it!

Conclusion

Microsoft has announced a range of screen size for the next version of Windows 8/WP8 & the reason is very simple.

All Windows machines will share a common interface & work the same. After adjustment for screen size, Silverlight developers can also easily target WP8 & Windows 8.

Native App developers can also easily target Wintel or WoA allowing the new platforms to gain huge number of apps in a short time. Having tons of apps drive adoption which is what ensures the survival of the platform.

I can’t wait! 8)

Reviews

Windows 8 Developer Preview on Fujitsu T4215 (Updated)

Update: My Fujitsu T4215 has been upgraded to Windows 8 Pro 32bit. Everything works as expected but battery life doesn’t seem improved from Win7.

This is a quick note of my thoughts on the new Windows 8 Developer Preview on my souped up Fujitsu T4215 Convertible Tablet (launched 2007).

*** Summary ***

Windows 8 DP looks great @ Build 2011 because they are using fairly modern hardware (don’t need to be the fastest). When running on legacy hardware without Touch, even with a Digitizer, the experience is not so great. These are hardware problems & it’s not something software can solve easily. SO? Go buy new hardware! 8)

*** Quick specs ***

CPU: Intel T7200 2Ghz (upgraded from T5600 1.83Ghz)

Memory: 4GB

HDD1: WD 160GB 5400RPM (some drive I had lying around)

HDD2: Kingston 64GB SSD with Full Disk Encryption enabled

Input: Keyboard/Touchpad/Digitizer screen

*** Boot-time ***

HDD1: 9 sec

HDD2: 7 sec

Not quite the 3 sec boot up shown by Emily Watson. Reason is probably because the BIOS is too old & together with a motherboard that does not support UEFI, dooms my Tablet to boot using legacy IBM PC mode.

You need a modern system with newer chipset + a SSD to achieve the 3 sec boot up.

*** Memory footprint: 630MB on boot up with TabletPC extensions enabled. ***

Better than Windows 7 by a fair bit

*** Windows Experience Index ***

CPU/Memory/HDD : 5.2

Graphics/3D : 3.2

*** Drivers ***

Intel INF + Graphics : Latest available but actual installed driver dates back to 2009

Fujitsu Motherboard BIOS extensions : Latest available for T4215 on Windows Vista and dated late 2007 Windows 8 detected all other drivers natively

*** Findings ***

— Older hardware like my T4215 is not modern enough to run the full Windows 8 Experience. Running normal apps etc., it can keep up when my WD Scorpio Black 7200RPM HDD or a SSD is installed, but Fast Boot & Touch experience is not as the developers intended. This means that I cannot use the Metro Interface even though I have the Stylus.

The situation is unlikely to change unless a new input scheme is hatched because a Stylus only allow 1 point of touch while Metro works best with multi-touch. This means that a Stylus works more like a mouse than as a touch device.

Boot up is faster than Windows 7 even taking into account logging into your user account.

— Windows 8 new UX (this will change by a fair bit when Win8 is launched (mid?) next year)

The old Start Menu is completely gone & replaced with the Start Screen so at the moment it feels disjointed when using just Keyboard/Mouse. I would rather they leave Start Menu there when you click the Windows Icon & show the Metro start when you Touch the bottom Left corner of the screen. That way the transition is smoother. As a Keyboard Mouse user, I’m already starting to feel like a second class citizen.

Microsoft has defended this move in this recent article. It does make sense & I admit I did not spend a significant amount of time to “acclimatise” but I’m one of the 1.2% who uses Jumplists so I’d appreciate if Microsoft develop that secondary tiles concept. A good compromise is probably to switch between Start screen & Start Menu based on the input mix and also allow users to set it in Control Panel.

Many of the apps & the OS itself is compiled in Debug mode so performance ain’t so great. For example, the Weather app, on my WEI graphics score of 3.2, the background video is choppy. When released it should be much better. Under the Hood, Microsoft has done a lot of groundwork & it shows when you use the system. No crashes or BSOD, background tasks are started & completed without user intervention or any slowdown in performance, everything is smooth & seamless. Much of the architecture has been changed & rearranged to minimise Kernel/Drivers/Services footprint & UI impact, allowing the UI to take center stage. Even at this stage, Windows Update is working, allowing Microsoft to smoothly transition developers from DP to Beta to RC without the hassle of reinstalling the whole OS.

It also allow programmers from different backgrounds to tap into the powerful Win32 API, now called Windows Runtime, all using a single familiar IDE in Visual Studio 11. New Tools like Task Manager, Control Settings, Windows Refresh, etc. also enhances the basic day-to-day operations & maintenance of your piece of equipment to improve productivity or simply to enjoy your PC without having to worry about background stuff.

The only problem now is how to find these little gems without resorting to Search all the time! I think the Apps Hub should be part of the Charm bar & Metro Start bar instead of going into Search.

*** Conclusion ***

Microsoft has completely casted away the uncertainty the DOJ had caused them & have gone back to basics. Windows 8 as it is now is already a much better Windows 7. Lower memory footprint, tighter CPU control on Apps & even Windows itself. 3D accelerated UI across the board, nice addition of information incorporated into even simple things like File Copy, all makes Windows 8 very nice to use if you have Touch.

With Keyboard Mouse & Stylus only + legacy hardware, the experience is more mundane. It’s still very nice but it lacks the WOW factor seen in the Keynote videos. Make sure you buy a laptop with a Touchscreen or Tablet to get the most out of Win8.

Hint: Windows 8 will run on any of the Windows 7 tablets on the market like Acer Iconia W500, Asus Eee Slate EP121, Fujitsu Q550, etc.