Yesterday an early Alpha of Windows 9 was released on the corporate network and I couldn’t resist installing it. I started up the installation, which went very smoothly by the way, filled in the necessary details, clicked “Finish" and left it running overnight. When I arrived this morning a friendly Power Shell-window was greeting me asking me to calibrate the voice control.
Working with Voice control
After less than 90 minutes of training I was able to open notepad and highlight a section of text which was very exciting.
I wasn’t the only one who’d leapt at the opportunity to run the Alpha, so there were quite a lot of us shouting commands at our computers which caused quite a ruckus at times. It was quite impossible to keep a normal conversation over the phone with people shouting “New Paragraph!” and “Dear Mom!” left and right. Still, that’s the price you pay for being an early adopter I guess.
The decision to use voice command (VC) only is definitively a brave move, but I think it’s the right way to go. People have been generally hesitant to use the VC features of Vista, but I think that’s mainly due to the lack of support. Forcing developers to think outside the box and adapt their software for this new means of control is definitively the way of the future. Just like Nintendo demands that developers adapt to their unorthodox controller for the Wii, I’m sure Microsoft will start a new era in computer software with this revolutionary step.
After only 90 minutes I was able to highlight text in Notepad.
Other cool features
Apart from the VC there were a lot of other cool features that I really enjoyed.
Xbox 360 emulator
The next Windows will ship with a complete Xbox 360 emulator. It is basically a tweaked version of Virtual PC that allows you to run console games on your PC. I fired it up and played a little Halo 3, but I must say I was a bit disappointed. The voice control needs additional working on. It quickly got tiresome yelling at Master Chief and my cries of “go forward”, “go forward”, “fire”, “turn around”, “left”, “left”, “fire” and “reload” made it quite hard for me to disguise to my boss what I was doing. One of my colleagues had just picked up a case regarding twelve crashed IIS-servers and an on-line banking application. He was on the phone trying to sort the situation out and started giving me dirty looks after a while. I also must add that the whole Xbox-live experience was somehow diminished. The usual chatter was sadly missing since we were all so busy shouting directions. Still, it’s only an alpha, so I’m certain these things will be addressed.
Another nice addition that also seems to heir from the Home Entertainment Division is a boss key. It's really quite surprising that we had to reach the 9th installment of Windows before this was introduced. All I had to do was say "Hi boss" and the screen would immediately present a blue-screen. This is useful in more ways than one. Not only does it quickly hide your Halo 3 session from view, but it also gives you a reasonable explanation as to why your productivity has been somewhat lacking. It's a pure stroke of genius.
On one occasion it turned out that the alpha had blue-screened for real due to some conflict with my graphics driver. It took me almost 15 minutes to realize this after having spent several fruitless attempts trying to wake it up from boss mode. 🙂
From what I've heard the planned release date is April 1st 2009, exactly one year from now.