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Windows 8 - My Homework

February 28th 2013

by Tony Abbey, NAFEMS Training Manager

My constant companion of 3 years passed away this week, luckily on the trip back from the client’s site. If I tell you that the early symptoms were a dreaded Microsoft ‘Hard Drive failure’ message then you can forgive my lack of compassion. The last day of the training course included a kind volunteer at the front of the class using my mouse to click the ‘Drive Override’ option every ten minutes. It kept him awake and it became a reaction time test for the whole class to enjoy.  I use a USB clicker to page through PowerPoint, so we could work double-handed. Stranger things have happened on courses!

The upshot was a new machine. It was a very quick purchase including Operating System, MS Office software and a re-install of whatever I was able to salvage, all happening 5000 miles from home.I decided to go for a small neat laptop, it seemed to have the power and performance of the, just departed, great brick of a machine. I had noticed the trend away from bulk by many of my fellow travellers over the last year or two. The spec looked good, the price seemed right so I was happy; time really was of the essence. Then the penny dropped – it was a Windows 8 operating system. In fact all the machines were Windows 8. I deep a deep breath, summed up courage and bought the thing. I reasoned that I was an adult, an engineer and had battled through many arcane GUI’s over the years.

I think the first factor was my undoing – Windows 8 is targeted at the new generation of computer users who swipe, stroke, poke and generally attack hardware and software. The very young salesman was kind enough to give me a quick survival course. He was patient as I stumbled and fumbled and learned there is a particular way of dragging an application to close it and there is a shutdown icon, somewhere.
I am still struggling with it, but I do get the point. With some customization I will be able to tailor the front end to be much more ergonomic and I am already working in different ways than the old interface allowed. I need to watch the younger generation at work to see how to use it really effectively.

That set me thinking about much of our CAE software; we perhaps take for granted a lot of the linear drop down menus, forms and other contemporary paradigms. We are all reluctant to shift to new ways of working if we have reached an efficient, productive plateau. I remember the trauma of the first move away from command line driven pre and post processors. We got lost in all that new acreage requiring constant mouse clicks. However, few would relish going back to that.So where does the motivation come from to make a real paradigm shift in a CAE GUI, in a similar manner to what Windows 8 has achieved. There are clearly big advantages in dragging, zooming and manipulation of objects on a CAE screen using touchscreen or gesture recognition. I like the look of radial menus, virtual toolboxes and other new ways of working. However, it will take a brave software provider to market a radically different environment. The fertile development ground has to be with young minds, unbiased by years of doing things the old way. But it still needs experience to direct that effort towards the fundamental end goals of CAE; fast, efficient and accurate simulation setup, analysis and review.

I look forward to seeing the new generation of software as it evolves and salute the pioneering spirit of any company that goes down a radically new route. There is a lot of risk; but the rewards of getting it right will be in the form of compelling software – software that we will be able to immerse ourselves in after the initial shock wears off.And my homework? I had a previous blog all ready for the editor, but Windows 8 it.
It’s in there somewhere - I think.

Until next time,