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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Windows 8: A Preview

A Look Inside The Upcoming Windows Transformation
With each coming Windows version, Microsoft inevitably promises huge changes bound to transform the operating system concept as we know it. Despite these promises, the core appearance of the Windows user interface has remained relatively unchanged for 16 years, dating back to the emergence of Windows 95. However, with the next version of Windows, code-named Windows 8, Microsoft will finally come through on that game-changing promise.
Early peeks released by Microsoft of the internal Windows 8 builds show a drastically overhauled interface that could leave users looking for the ubiquitous Start button. Instead of the standard Desktop that has a Taskbar and Start button, Windows 8 boasts a tile-based interface reminiscent of those used in tablets and smartphones. This and other changes foreshadow a Windows future far different from anything we’ve seen and experienced up to now.

New Look, New Functions
According to Mike Meikle, CEO of The Hawkthorne Group, Microsoft has encountered a barrage of competition in the OS field since the release of Windows Vista. Cloud computing, VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) options, and alternative operating systems are now gaining serious momentum across a wide range of hardware platforms. Along with mobility, which also has had a major impact on the overall IT market in recent years, these changes have prompted Microsoft to approach its future desktop OS with a strikingly different mindset.

“With iDevices, smartphones, and tablets pushing PC and laptops out the door, Microsoft needs some solid, universal features through the Windows 8 OS offering to entice users to stay with a client-based operating system,” Meikle says.

Users of tablets and smartphones have grown accustomed to touch-friendly interfaces that rely on icons or tiles for quick navigation to apps and utilities. For Windows 8, Microsoft is taking a page from its own Windows Phone platform through the use of tiles that replace the conventional Windows Desktop. These “live tiles” not only provide access to apps and other tools, but they also automatically update their appearance based on the content within the app or utility. For example, the investment tile will show an updated daily tally of your investments, so users can get a quick glimpse via the tile instead of actually opening the investment app.

This concept borrows heavily from cutting-edge Web technologies, including HTML5 (Hypertext Markup Language), but it doesn’t mean that Windows 8 is a pure cloudbased OS that’s completely ingrained with the Web. Instead, it will allow for full-screen, vibrant apps that are geared for touch but also compatible with a traditional mouse and keyboard. This underlying Web concept will also lead to a much speedier version of Windows that sees apps opening in an instant, rather than the multiple seconds required by many apps on Windows 7. Navigation between open apps will be similarly quick, requiring a simple swipe (if using touch) to move between them. Of course, this is similar to app behavior found on today’s smartphones and tablets.
Meikle notes that Windows 8 will also likely include other innovative features destined to further distance the OS from its predecessors. For example, Windows 8 looks to include out-of-the-box virtualization support to allow users to set up multiple virtual machines on a single device, in turn providing backward-compatibility and compartmentalization of specific applications. He also says this bundled technology could support Hyper-V 3.0, which will allow virtual machines to access up to 16TB (terabytes) of storage and multiple processors (or cores).

“Some other features Microsoft is expected to package in with Windows 8 are much faster booting and run times, facial recognition capability, gestural interface support, new file system technology, and touchscreen keyboard support [for tablets]. Also on tap for Windows 8 is the inclusion of Windows InTune 2012, an upcoming version of Microsoft’s cloudbased PC and information security management suite. And, by subscribing to Windows InTune 2012 ($11 per PC per month), business users likely will have Windows 8 upgrade benefits when the new OS is released.

Assessing The Changes
For current Windows users, the changes coming in Windows 8 could appear rather daunting, considering they reflect more of a tablet-like experience than that of a desktop. Patrick Gray, president of Prevoyance Group, says that the OS could prove challenging for Microsoft as it seeks to build on the success of Windows 7.

“[Microsoft is] focusing on making [Windows 8] perform two fairly diverse roles: that of a traditional desktop system and as a media/content consumptioncentric device. In the best case, Windows 8 could take the best of both worlds, combined with Microsoft’s tablet PC experience, and produce something really unique and compelling. In the worse case, we’ll have a schizophrenic OS that does nothing well,” Gray says.
While tablets continue to forge a formidable spot in the business market due to their ability to handle a wide range of tasks, the limitations of the underlying software are starting to emerge, Gray says. This presents a great opportunity for Microsoft with Windows 8, but Gray acknowledges that the company will nonetheless have to satisfy a varied range of constituencies, including large companies, small businesses, home users, students, and others.

“To really differentiate, Microsoft would combine traditional desktop interaction [keyboard and mouse] with touch and pen input, allowing the OS to adapt to the current situation seamlessly,” he adds. “I’d also like to see Microsoft leverage its collaboration and cloud technologies so I can have my relevant emails, contacts, and projects on whatever Microsoft device happens to be in my pocket at the moment.”

Windows 8 Wish List
Microsoft has already unveiled big changes coming to Windows 8, but considering the operating system likely won’t be released until late next year, it remains to be seen how many changes will actually appear in the final version. Jason Wisdom, president of Wisdom Consulting (, offers the following wish list for this upcoming Windows version.

SIMPLIFY. “Windows 7 was leagues better than Vista, but the changes were top-down—in other words, appearance first—and then went deep only when necessary. What Microsoft needs to do is rewrite their OS from the bottom up [and] rewrite the core features of Windows 95 or 3.11 that still remain.”

BETTER VIRTUAL OPTIONS. “Whether it’s controlling other computers from this one, or controlling this computer from other ones, complicated third-party software should not be needed.”

APP STORE. “We might be dreaming, but if [Microsoft is] forward-thinking, this would really be a smart idea.”

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