Change ChangeWindows: version 5.0

When we announced ChangeWindows.org 4.3, we told you all that we had started work on ChangeWindows 5.0. Today, I want to take a closer look with you guys into the development of this new major version of our website. We’ll take a step back first, and then we’ll jump forward.

ChangeWindows: A 3 year history

While the concept of our website will celebrate its 3rd anniversary on October 1st, 2017, the name won’t. I don’t actually know the exact date, but as far as I can find, the name “ChangeWindows” only got introduced in Janaury of 2015. Prior to that, the website was known as “Changelog Windows 10” and “Changelog Windows 10 for phones”. I didn’t know it yet, but those early websites, which where completely static html & css-only websites would grow to become something big.

This was our “beta” stage that would last a year. Back then, Changelog Windows 10 was something I had build in less than a day (the day the Windows Insider Program launched), but as the WIP continued, Changelog Windows 10 had to become more… complex. Adding info on new builds was just horrible. And thus, we started with splitting of the content of the website and the actual website, starting to use separate files to get the data from. Meanwhile, Changelog Windows 10 was still a two-page website (and an About page). During this period, we renamed Changelog Windows 10 to ChangeWindows.

In September 2015, for the first time, we would cease to use files as storage and instead use an actual database. This was the end of the beta phase and ChangeWindows.org 1.0 was born. This was on top of the website back then:

ChangeWindows is a changelog for Windows on desktop, tablet and mobile

As time moved on, we would start making the website more complex as we expanded our reach: more rings and more platforms had to be covered. Just PC and Mobile in the Insider rings didn’t do it. To support that major shift, ChangeWindows 2.0 was build and launched in May 2016, based on 1.x. For the first time, we had the infrastructure to properly cover everything.

Not only that, this is the ChangeWindows version that actually introduced proper ring overviews. The sidebar we have now is still a relic from this time, although it looked much more confusing back then. The tile-like UI wouldn’t get introduced until late June 2016, the color scheme following a month later.

In October 2016, we introduced ChangeWindows 3.0, this version replaced our card-like UI with the timeline we still use until this day. This version was once again a massive shift for us as it introduced proper support for delta-builds, also known as patches. At this point, we started to properly cover them as well and ChangeWindows could finally evolve into a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about updates for Windows 10. By the end of 2016, we finally covered all builds from all platforms for Windows 10.

In late February 2017, we introduced the ChangeWindows HWA and ChangeWindows Preview HWA.

On April 1st, 2017, ChangeWindows.org 3.5 was replaced with version 4. This is the current major version of the website and it introduced our current design. This new look as a radical shift from our own Metro-ish design into Microsofts MDL2, with the main goal being that ChangeWindows.org would feel more like a UWP app, and more importantly: that our hosted web apps would feel like true UWP apps.

What’s next

All these version of ChangeWindows had a couple things in common. One, all of them shared at least some code, there is still some left from the orignal version in the current 4.3. And two: they are being developed behind closed doors.

For the first time, we’re actually starting from scratch, nothing is reused (except of course for images, content and artwork) and the source code for ChangeWindows.org 5 is openly available on GitHub. Yes. We are going open source.

ChangeWindows being open source isn’t the only point of focus, though. So allow me to lay out the major focus points for the next major revision of ChangeWindows.

Stop reinventing the wheel

Every version until 5.0 has been based on plain old PHP (except for version 1, of course). We never used a framework and that is, in retrospect, ridiculous. So this time around, ChangeWindows is being build on top of Laravel 5.4, and we’ll move to Laravel 5.5 when available. The Laravel framework provides us with some powerful tools that make it much easier to build a website like ChangeWindows.

Feature parity

Despite being a rewrite, ChangeWindows 5.0 has to have feature parity with the current version (although we do not plan to reimplement statistics). This means that the builds, rings, milestones and year in review pages will all be available. The current Settings page won’t, as it will be replaced with profiles.

Hosted Web App-compatible

Earlier we already announced that we would no longer update our HWA’s in the Windows Store.* ChangeWindows has to stay compatible with these apps though, and we still want our apps to look great for the time being. So the new website will be Hosted Web App-compatible, including support for Cortana.

*We may have to roll out more updates as time progresses in the 0.5-series or even the 0.6-series.

Full featured API

A very important point for the next version of ChangeWindows will be the availability of a proper API. Up until version 4.2, we’ve provided a very basic API, and with 5.0 we’re finally going to double down on that. Because this time around, we’re gonna need it.

The future of our apps

ChangeWindows Preview HWA

When we’re done with our website, ChangeWindows Preview HWA users will get a Universal Windows Platform app… …that tells them to start using the normal ChangeWindows HWA app. We will discontinue ChangeWindows Preview HWA in favor of using the flight system Microsoft provides through the store. This means that you’ll be able to sign up to test the next version of the ChangeWindows app from within your profile on ChangeWindows.

ChangeWindows HWA & ChangeWindows UWA

With the new system, ChangeWindows will have 2 rings of its own: the Preview Ring and Production Ring. For the time being, ChangeWindows HWA users will see nothing change (except of course for the major website update) while ChangeWindows HWA users in the Preview Ring will hopefully start to see version 1.x-builds. Unlike the current 0.x-series, the 1.x-series won’t be a HWA, but instead, an UWA.

We’ll start developing with a very early version in the 1.x-branch while others can continue to enjoy using the 0.x-series. When we’re done, we’ll release ChangeWindows UWA as version 2.

Note however that this is all the dream, it will take a while and to be honest, this would be my first big jump into developing an Universal Windows Platform app. There is no certainty that this will ever materialize.

Naming conventions

You may also have noticed that we’re refering to our apps and website differently since a couple of days. Instead of “ChangeWindows.org”, we just call it “ChangeWindows” again, as it used to be prior to February 2017. While we now reference the app as “ChangeWindows HWA” (HWA stands for Hosted Web App). This is simply a less awkward way to do it.

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