When we kicked off this blog, the premise was a dialogue – a two-way conversation about building Windows 8. As we said we intended to do, we’ve started a discussion about how we build the product and have had a chance to have some back and forth in comments and in posts about topics that are clearly important to you. To put some numbers on things, I’ve personally received about 300 email messages (and answered quite a few) and in total, we have had just over 3,000 English language comments from about 1,700 readers. In terms of Twitter followers, we have leveled off at about 15,000, (which seems to be about the size of the “market” for following a blog like this based on comparable handles). Just as with the Engineering Windows 7 blog, early in the process I wanted to take a step back to reflect on the dialogue we’re having and focus on a few of the themes. This is a normal part of starting up a new blog—lots of early energy and everyone finding their voice and rhythm. 

We knew talking about Windows 8 would be different than talking about Windows 7. Whereas Windows 7 was about returning to roots, Windows 8 is about maintaining those roots while moving forward in a big and new way. Moving in a new direction always brings engineering challenges as well as challenges in just talking about what we’ve done. This is especially the case for Windows 8 for two reasons.

First, we’re talking about a product used by a billion people. No matter how you slice it, that is going to create a very, very large number of perspectives and customers to serve. Of course there is very high value in serving a broad set of customers with one very open product. We’re seeing a lot of this play out in the comments where people state emphatically their perspectives, reassert them frequently, and are diametrically opposed to one another. Our job, which we view with deep responsibility, is delivering a product that spans customer scenarios and builds on the value of having a single product (for developers, IT administrators, PC manufacturers, hardware vendors, etc.).

Second, we’re changing the user experience model of Windows 8. As anyone who has done user interface work (and more importantly as anyone who has used an interface) knows, having an opinion on user interface is not difficult. Even mocking up static images of how things could look is not that hard. My inbox is filled with mock-ups and proposals of dialog boxes and toolbars. But it already was—we’ve been doing this process for a long time. The difficulty in talking about UI through static images is much like trying to summarize or review a movie based on only viewing a still. Our own testing uses dozens of images in sequence when we evaluate designs.

We went back and forth quite a bit over how to begin blogging. There’s obviously a strong desire to know more. At the same time, we think that when we try to do big things there should be an opportunity to engage in a stepwise discussion of the story. Movies don’t start with the end and you get to meet the characters and motivations behind them (in a well done screenplay). There’s always learning for us in how we approach this, as the combination of the environment and work we’re doing is unique at each juncture.

In that sense, we learned one very valuable lesson early on, which is that discussing user interface is something a lot of people want to do, but doing so through static images very quickly misses the point. Very much like zooming in too far with a microscope, the big picture is lost. It also surfaces the least actionable sorts of feedback to wade through of the “love it” / “hate it” variety. Even with short videos we have not found the right way to put context around the overall experience. Given enough focus, light, and magnification, anything can become important and the subject of a big debate. We certainly contributed to that.

In this, and a subsequent post, I want to talk about four topics in particular: Feedback (which I’ll cover today), the Ribbon, Metro, and Media Center. I hope to add a bit of additional “focus, light, and magnification” without distorting the bigger picture here. Based on the comments and the dialogue, I do feel that each of these deserves some further discussion. One additional topic folks want to talk more about that we will cover at BUILD is the overall programming model. Early on it was clear this is the sort of topic that will take more than a blog post because we have so much to say and to demonstrate.

Feedback

The blog is a feedback mechanism for sure. It is one of many. We’re committed to absorbing and internalizing the feedback. It is fair to say that no other product is both used by so many but also has this channel of dialogue, and certainly not before it is released. How we use this channel is certainly an interesting discussion.

I’ve certainly received my share of extremely warm messages telling me to ignore "those trolls and fanboys" and "what you’re saying resonates." Those are nice to read in the face of an equal number of messages telling me how poor a job we’re doing. We also receive a great many very specific questions and suggestions.

The importance of Windows to so many is clear when we receive such suggestions. It tells us how big a difference Windows makes in people’s lives at home, work, and school. Small changes in the product can make things much easier. Big changes have the opportunity to dramatically improve things, or perhaps not. Our job—what we come to work to do every day—is to figure out how to make changes to the product so that it is better at doing what you expect it to do, and at doing new things that you might not be expecting it to do.

We would love to answer each comment or comment on each proposal, but we are outnumbered, literally. And that is only talking about the blog. Our approach is to listen carefully. Respond to comments that are representative of a theme or represent a topic we think will shed some light on the dialogue. Members of the team have been part of the dialogue. At least 20 senior members of the team have posted comments so far. That will gradually increase as the dialogue evolves.

I just want to reiterate that we are actively participating. Believe me, this blog is the “talk of the town” here in Redmond. :-) We look forward to the continued exchanges – the good feedback, the critique, and the constructive comments. It helps us deliver to you all a product that meets our stated goal of Windows, reimagined.

…more to come

-- Steven