Windows 8 previews have centred on the tablet aspects, but victory depends on convincing IT pros and power users, says Nicholas Kolakowski
The majority of buzz surrounding Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 has centered on the operating system’s support for tablets.
That’s understandable, considering the white-hot tablet market—not to mention the novelty of seeing Microsoft’s strategy to conquer that market finally under way. It also means that Windows 8 desktop-centric aspects have taken something of a backseat for the moment, at least in the eyes of most observers.
But trust that Microsoft will start pushing Windows 8’s desktop-and-keyboard aspects, if only because the company needs to convince power users that the operating system is capable of meeting their needs.
Aiming for the best of both worlds
As demonstrated by Microsoft during the opening day of its BUILD conference, Windows 8 is capable of seamlessly transitioning between a touch-centric user interface (as represented by a set of colourful tiles) and a more traditional desktop environment. Windows and Windows Live division President Steven Sinofsky claimed during his BUILD keynote that the two interfaces will cooperate with “no compromises.”
Onstage, he flipped between Windows 8’s desktop and tablet modes. Windows 8’s tablet interface embraces the “Metro” aesthetic pioneered by Microsoft’s Zune and Windows Phone software, drawing away from the “Aero” design used in Windows Vista and Windows 7. And when it flips to desktop mode, Windows 8 does offer a “look” that’s chunkier and more blockish than Aero—although, given this early stage, it remains to be seen whether this is anything close to the final look.
On the power-user side of things, Microsoft has revamped the task manager with a heads-up display and the control panel with granular controls for power users.
Windows 8 also continues the lessons learned from Windows Vista, whose aggressive alerts and pop-ups sparked a firestorm of user complaints. With the upcoming operating system, the alerts (or at least, the alerts shown at BUILD) are subtle, with small text positioned near the bottom of a particular screen.
Other capabilities include ultra-fast boot, picture password (which involves tapping parts of an image to access the system) and the Windows 8 app store, which will list win32 apps in addition to “Metro” apps. IT administrators and developers will have the ability to run multiple virtualised operating systems on the same physical machine.
During his keynote, Sinofsky insisted that technology had evolved enough in the three years since Windows 7’s release to justify the creation of a whole new operating system. He argued that the rise of mobility, particularly in the consumer space, made it essential to build a platform capable of running on tablets. But if Microsoft wants Windows 8 to be a hit on the scale of Windows 7, it will have to convince business users and IT pros that Windows can continue to play the more traditional role of a robust operating system, with all the compatibility, interoperability and complexity that entails.