Microsoft reckons the tech landscape has changed in the last few years, and Windows 8 will serve its needs. Let’s see, says Nicholas Kolakowski
So much for the veil of secrecy: while other tech products are kept assiduously under wraps until the moment of their official release — and others are revealed only in beta — Microsoft seems determined to show off the upcoming Windows 8 early and often.
This willingness to offer a trickle of details about Windows 8, due for release sometime in 2012, gives Microsoft some advantages. First and foremost, it builds buzz for the next-generation operating system. Second, it opens the feedback floodgates for Microsoft well ahead of the release, allowing the company to correct any issues before they become late-stage critical.
The latter is a reflection of Microsoft’s usual ramping-up strategy when it comes to major product releases: Release multiple versions of the software over time, hoping an army of early users can pick out the bugs before the final release.
Considering the challenges ahead for Windows 8, Microsoft needs the buzz. Windows 7 proved a significant hit, selling hundreds of millions of licenses since its October 2009 debut. Persuading businesses and consumers to upgrade so soon could prove a big challenge, particularly with regard to traditional desktops and laptops.
Suitable for tablets and PCs
Microsoft is also pledging that Windows 8 will work equally well with tablets and traditional PCs, thanks to a pair of user interfaces operating in “no compromises” harmony. In tablet mode, Windows 8 will offer the user a set of colorful tiles reminiscent of Windows Phone, but it can switch easily to an old-school desktop mode.
This dual system will give Microsoft a potential inroad to the tablet market, but it will also set it up for bruising competition against Apple’s well-entrenched iPad and a host of Google Android devices.
Through its official “Building Windows 8” blog, Microsoft has offered select glimpses into the operating system’s nuts and bolts, including USB 3.0 support, fast boot times and the ability to run multiple virtualised operating systems on the same physical machine.
In terms of overall aesthetic, Windows 8 embraces the “Metro” interface established by Microsoft’s Zune and Windows Phone software. It replaces the “Aero” look that informed Windows Vista and Windows 7.
The blog also defends some of Microsoft’s decisions about the user interface, in particular the inclusion of the “ribbon” mechanism into the updated Windows Explorer. The ribbon, which offers tabs and icons in a horizontal or vertical panel, has made enemies of some users.
“We chose the ribbon mechanism, and to those that find that a flawed choice, there isn’t much we can do other than disagree,” Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky wrote in a 2 September posting on the blog. “We were certain, and this proved out, that the dislike of the ribbon is most intense in the audience of this blog.”
Built for a new tech world
Microsoft offered another layer of insight into Windows 8 at its BUILD conference, which kicked off on 13 September in Anaheim, California. Sinofsky (pictured) used his opening keynote to offer a value proposition to the scores of developers gathered for the event: Build applications for the Windows platform and open up a marketplace of hundreds of millions of users.
Windows 8 embraces a new tech world with a “whole new set of scenarios,” he added, pacing a stage lined with screens running the next-generation operating system. Computing is done on the move, on an increasing number of small-and-light form factors, in a world where consumers are increasingly interested in things like touch capability and apps.
Windows 8’s mission, Sinofsky explained, is to “build on all of that success of Windows 7,” while offering features and tools to meet the demands of this new paradigm. Programs supported by Windows 7 will run on Windows 8. The next-generation operating system will be “equally at home on ARM and x86,” he said.
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