Lifting the lid on Windows 8 "Copenhagen" concepts

With his connections spanning across Microsoft in the Windows Experience area and in the Windows community, Cullen Dudas has single handedly built a Windows 8 user interface
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Cullen Dudas doesn't have a blog, nor does he have a website, and he doesn't have a wealth of publicity associated with his name. He is known by many but for no one reason, and this young lad keeps mostly to himself... until now.

For months, this student has spent his time working on a concept design in form of a white paper which sets out a "vision [and] guiding fundamentals relative to design, quantitative analysis of past designs", aiming to make the Windows experience an easier, more relaxed and gentle approach to using a computer.

He describes himself as a "incredibly passionate Windows enthusiast" and with his connections spanning across Microsoft in the Windows Experience area and in the Windows community, he has worked on this white paper tirelessly in between studying full-time.

Screenshot gallery To briefly step into the Copenhagen experience and understand the visual aspects behind the concept designs, head on over to the screenshot gallery which will give you an understanding of how the user experience could be evolved.

Concept white paper The white paper is available in two formats available from SkyDrive in PDF and DOCX. You will need Adobe Reader and (at least) Microsoft Office Word Viewer 2007.

I sat down with him some weeks ago to discuss the many elements of the concept white paper, what he hopes ot get out of it and how it all started.

"My tools were comically large pieces of paper, and a 12 pack of Crayola colored pencils, a sharpie pen and my past experiences of watching friends, family, acquaintances, and customers use Windows. I started with some sketches of general ideas that I thought would work well. So, then there was a lot of work in better understanding usability and psychology, analyzing user sessions of Windows, further development of design, developing and executing much of the process that was outlined in the white paper."

After realising his first concepts were very linear and that the visual elements needed much improvement, he also realised Photoshop reached the limits. With a working prototype in a developmental environment, at least he would be able to physically manipulate his concepts in a working fashion.

"I looked into how I might be able to turn this into a semi-functional prototype. I had never really done much programming, but understood theory quite well. In December, I decided Flash would be best, because I was preparing for a campus visit, and thought that showing off my current designs would be a good idea.

So, I had two weeks to learn Flash, and make my Photoshop mock-ups functional, two hours of sleep, seven-and-a-half hours of school and two hours of sleep. Through all this, Copenhagen was born."

Having a concept, let alone a working prototype was one thing, but these by itself have no weight in the world. With the dozens of prototypes for Windows 7 even before the final user interface was set in stone, people had already taken time out of their lives to create mock-up's to show the world.

"I showed it to a few friends at Microsoft, but not much traction. Then in February 2009, after talking to a lot more people about the current design, I moved on to the next iteration (what you see in the video). It was no longer linear, but was limited to specific scenarios. That finished in March or so, and then in April I started with the video. The video went out and the white paper came next."

Having connections in industry, regardless of how much I disagree with the fact of the matter, is that they do get you places. Having knowledge is practically arbitrary in this day and age, with industry connections propelling people to fame, fortune and wonderful things. Dudas not only embraced his own knowledge with the work in the white paper, but utilised the industry connections as much as possible.

"I've been talking to people at Microsoft for the past couple of years. I got to know a lot of people all over Windows in all sorts of functions. It's been really fun to be able to talk to all sorts of product teams, have some in-depth discussions with them, and knowing that the feedback I was giving was going to make a better Windows experience for close to a billion people. That was an exhilarating experience for me. I love Windows, and I love Microsoft; it's a deep passion for the products and the people who use it."

My personal passion for the company ended the minute I walked out of the London office a few years ago. That aside, the work involved to create an entire user experience for the next generation of Windows is something special, considering a mere mortal student worked on it. I asked him how much support he had from Microsoft and other companies in the process of developing Copenhagen:

"From the time I started Copenhagen I didn't talk too much about it to too many people. Just a small group of friends knew the full scope of the project. Even though, I did talk to various individuals in different work, school, and public settings to get feedback on different parts, very few people still knew really what the whole project was. That being said, there really wasn't any support or influence from any outside sources as I was developing Copenhagen."

Considering Copenhagen is merely a concept and not relating to Windows 8 in any official capacity, I asked him on his thoughts relating to Windows 8.

"I don't really have much insight into what is being planned with Windows 8; I can only say what I'd like the next version of Windows to feel like. I would expect Windows 8 to feel "new". Not a constricting band across the bottom of the screen. Not just a big menu with an endless array of buttons (be it the start menu, or a context menu).

No guessing around to find a control or an option. Instead; a delicate balance between work and play. Some fun animations. More intuitive. More aligned to work with the way the human mind works. A more coherent bridging of all the different features of Windows."

To conclude his in-depth analysis of the concept, he finally states: "Copenhagen has the potential to bring Microsoft into a position where the company can truly allow customers to pursue their passions, and reach their full potential."

How very true.

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