The excitement BUILDS around Windows 8
This century's most dramatic operating system upgrade.
In September, I made my way to Microsoft’s BUILD conference in Anaheim. Along with about 5,000 other hardware and software developers, I eagerly anticipated Microsoft’s 'opening of the kimono' on the much-awaited Windows 8 release – Microsoft’s upcoming operating system upgrade – rumoured to be ready to officially hit the market in 2012.
As well as taking part in a red carpet press event and scoring myself a shiny new Samsung Slate, complete with a preloaded developer preview version of Windows 8 (the loot given to each and every conference delegate), I returned home with some valuable insights into Windows 8. And I was given plenty of developer tools to experiment with behind the scenes as we wait for next year’s commercial release.
I’m pleased to report that my verdict is unequivocally positive. It’s an extreme makeover, or a total 'reimagining' of Windows, to use Microsoft’s words. It’s also possibly Microsoft’s most radical OS paradigm shift since Windows 95 – and it’s one I think will go down well with Windows users. It’s worth noting that there are more than a billion Windows users out there, so this is a pretty significant step-change!
So, what’s on the cards for Windows 8?
Developers may be relieved to hear that existing Windows apps will run on Windows 8 and that they can continue to build apps for Windows the way they always have.
But, there are numerous incentives for developers to start using the new “WinRT” platform. For example, only WinRT apps will be downloadable through the new Windows apps store. The app store will be where developers can sell their wares – whether these are new games or familiar productivity tools. These will be vetted before being allowed in the store, just as they are with Windows Phone 7 and the iPhone.
The best of Windows 7 (only better)
Windows 8 is an evolution of Windows 7, so you’ll get all the same improvements in performance, security, privacy and system reliability that Windows 7 delivered. Plus Windows 8 has reduced the memory footprint needed, which means it will run better on existing hardware, and will run on new, more efficient devices. It will work across a broad spectrum of devices, will power up instantly and will probably run all day on a single charge.
The ‘Metro’ look and feel
"It feels clean and sparse, while at the same time being informative and information-rich."
The Metro design style entered the world with Windows Phone 7 and with Windows 8 is here to stay, now becoming the default start screen and the start menu in Windows 8. The new face of Windows 8 is a touch-centric home screen populated with 'tiles' instead of icons. Each tile is active and full of information. It feels clean and sparse, while at the same time being informative and information-rich.
In this new Metro-style, applications are the focal point of your experience, filling the whole screen so there are no distractions. Applications are designed to work seamlessly together in Windows 8 – for example, you can select and email photos from wherever they are, whether that’s on Facebook, Flickr or your hard drive.
Windows 8 embraces what Microsoft calls the 'touch-first user interface.' Although it can, of course, be used with your trusty old mouse and keyboard, touch screen features are critical. Windows 8 will offer both a fantastic finger-centric tablet mode and a mouse/keyboard desktop mode in the same package. Both work extremely well.
With Windows 8, we see another concerted move by Microsoft towards bringing the cloud to mainstream users, with every Windows 8 user getting a SkyDrive – an internet-based storage space where users can create, save and retrieve files online. Plus Windows 8 syncs across all your devices, with Windows Live roaming content from all the cloud services you use the most, keeping them up to date.
The devices – a new generation of hardware
The Samsung developer preview slate, while interesting and fantastic to use, is just standard hardware under the covers: a quad-core Intel i5 with 4GB of RAM. The real change will come with the release of Windows 8 running on ARM chipsets. Think: Windows 8 on iPad-class hardware. I got a look at some demonstration ARM slates at BUILD, and can say that the experience was on-par with the Intel devices.
We haven’t seen the final build of Windows 8 on ARM, so we don’t know for sure if support for legacy apps will be included. Even so, I’m absolutely looking forward to the Metro experience (populated with thousands of WinRT apps built by eager developers), running on slick new ARM tablets.
To quote Steve Sinofsky, Microsoft’s President of the Windows and Windows Live Division, “From the chipset to the new user experience, Windows 8 brings a new range of capabilities without compromise." And when pressed to reveal a release date, Steve stated that the commercial release date for Windows 8 (a developer preview version is already available for download) will be driven by quality, not deadline – an approach that earned him a sonorous round of applause from his developer audience.
So all signs are extremely positive, and the anticipation is building. For now, I’ll be content to play on my coveted pre-release Samsung Slate, and I look forward with great excitement to general availability of the product. If you’d like to know more about what Windows 8 has in store, I always enjoy the opportunity to talk tech – just drop me a line at email@example.com.
Ben Gracewood is a Solution Architect in Intergen's Auckland office.