Back in 1997, Microsoft Technology Evangelist David Isbitski was just beginning his career. “I was working on Microsoft’s help desk,” he says, “and the number one question was ‘Why do I need a mouse? I have a keyboard, I use DOS, what do I need a mouse for? This is silly!’”
Isbitski says that he spent the early days of the PC revolution teaching Windows 95 users how to double click.
Isbitski and his employer are not all the way back to square one, but there has been some pushback against Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system, which combines touch gestures with, in some cases, the mouse that nearly every American — toddler to retiree — now sees as a natural hand extension.
There have been negative reviews of Windows 8, especially as it works in PCs, from the likes of top tech writers, including the New York Times’ David Pogue and The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, citing among other things confusion with the touch-mouse interaction.
Windows 8, which features a colorful tile interface and also powers Microsoft phones and tablets, including the popular Surface tablet, is a pretty radical departure from previous Windows operating systems. Eventually “a light bulb came on for early mouse users,” says Isbitski, a passionate but patient man for whom the title “evangelist” could have been coined. He is confident that the same will happen with Windows 8.
Isbitski gives a free “Introduction to Windows 8 Apps” on Tuesday, February 5, at 1:30 p.m. at the Ewing Community Center at 999 Lower Ferry Road. Call 609-882-5086.
This is an event for anyone who would like to know more about Windows 8, including developers, or would-be developers, who are interested in writing apps for the operating system. Apps are Isbitski’s specialty, and he says that he will be happy to talk with developers, give them advice, and tell them where they can find more help.
Computers have been Isbitski’s passion since he was a boy growing up near the Jersey shore. His parents, John and Estelle, were solidly blue collar, he says. His dad and many other family members worked as butchers for supermarket Grand Union or in the meatpacking industry. They didn’t know anything about technology, but supported their son, helping to supplement his earnings as a paper boy so that he could buy his early computers — a Commodore and an Atari.
Isbitski was soon so proficient at programming and operating computers that he was frequently called upon to help his high school teachers work with them.
“Back then they didn’t have computer teachers,” he says. “They usually called upon people from the math department.” Excelling at technology, Isbitski began studying at NJIT, from which he graduated in 1997, before he even finished high school.
The computer age constant, of course, is change, and having been in on the beginning of the age of personal computing, Isbitski is now helping to ease the transition to the next phase, in which every pocket holds a computing device stocked with apps and every computing device — at home and in the office — can be connected through the cloud.
What is Windows 8? The website TechTerms.com says that Windows 8 “provides an entirely new user interface,” which “displays a collection of tiles rather than a traditional desktop environment.”
These tiles, TechTerms.com continues, “provide access to commonly used programs and tools,” some of which are updated in real time. It can run on “a wide variety of desktop and portable devices and is especially well suited for hybrid computers that include a touchscreen as well as a computer and mouse.”
Why should I use Windows 8? Pure and simple, says Isbitski, Windows 8 is the future. “It’s different,” he says. “It’s a reimagining. We could have said we’re supporting the old way, but we didn’t.”
Not long ago, just before the time that today’s kindergartners were toddlers kept amused in restaurants by mom’s iPhone, the idea of typing on glass sounded weird. But now, says Isbitski, “touch comes first.”
Pretty soon we will all reach out to touch screens, whether they be on tablets, laptops, or PCs. Windows 8 is built around touch, and what’s more, he says, “touch on a laptop is awesome.”
Even more important than touch is the connection among devices that Windows 8 allows, a connection, says Isbitski, that “you don’t get in the Windows 7 world.” In a scenario that he paints, an employee at home, catching up on his Twitter feed or playing Words with Friends, will see an E-mail request from the boss and have everything he needs to make revisions to a document he had been drafting on his desktop at work. Some may wonder if this is a good thing, but Isbitski is convinced that it is the future.
What do Apps have to do with it? Apple has primed the world for apps, little programs, accessed by touching an icon or pointing a mouse at a picture, which tell children bedtime stories, help sailors steer clear of storms, provide real time stock market information, showcase homes for sale, shoot down thieving cartoon pigs with angry birds, and so much more.
Late to the app party — Apple is said to have about 600,000 and counting — Microsoft has made apps an integral part of Windows 8. Though it has only about 25,000 apps to date in the U.S., Isbitski says that there were 60 million downloads in the first 11 weeks after the operating system launched in late October.
Microsoft’s app store says that, through its apps, “things that used to take lots of different programs to do now flow together in one simple experience. Use the Photos app to see all your photos from Facebook and Flickr, and then upload them to your blog or send them to a friend via E-mail — all without leaving the app.”
Can I make my own apps? The company actively encourages developers to come up with new apps and provides free app development kits. Isbitski says that creating an app is not difficult. A knowledge of Virtual Basic is about all that is needed and sometimes not even that. Simple apps can be created by dragging and dropping elements.
Some developers want apps to help them with their own business tasks, while others are hoping to turn an app into a business opportunity. Isbitski made a drawing app for his two daughters, eight-year-old Lauren and four-year-old Ava, and made a few thousand dollars selling it in the Microsoft app store.
He says that developers have made up to six figure sums on apps, and points out that it is easier to get noticed with a Microsoft app now, while the selection is still relatively limited. “It’s a gold rush,” he says. “In 18 months, it won’t be so easy to get noticed.”
What’s in Windows 8 for my company? Speed, for one thing, says Isbitski, declaring that Windows 8 is blazing fast. Another reason to consider the change, he adds, is that the new system does not mean extra work for a company’s IT staff. “It can be deployed next to Windows 7,” he says. “It reports the same way. It’s easy for the IT administrator.”
The new system, or one like it, may make its way into the office one way or the other with or without the boss’s blessing, says Isbitski, who points out that employees started bringing PCs into their workplaces through the back door years ago rather than wait for time on the company’s mainframe computer. Then they started showing up with their smartphones and tablets. As employers saw that these devices boosted productivity, they began to adopt them company-wide.
Isbitski, who lives in Doylestown with his wife, Cheryl, and their children, is eager to spread the word about Windows 8 in general and its app development program in particular. He maintains office hours at the Microsoft store in the Bridgewater Commons Mall and provides information about his hours there through his Twitter account, @theDaveDev. He also blogs as DaveDev, sharing advice and resources with app developers.
The kid with the paper route and the Commodore now has a job to envy, spreading enthusiasm for Windows 8 and other products he enjoys every day for a company that, he says, “treats its employees like gold.” There just isn’t an app for that.