Yesterday was a big day for Windows.Next, where Steven Sinofsky — President of the Windows Division — talked about codename Windows 8. Some of the features talked about and shown off were previously rumored — such as the Tile interface — but now we know a few things about Windows 8 for sure.
When Sinofsky took the stage at D9 yesterday, Walt Mossberg began by asking how he felt being left out of the “Gang of Four” which are running the Internet (Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook).
Sinofsky replied, “You know, I’m watching it and feeling like the guy who’s in the race and not winning it.” In addition, nothing that starts as a “Gang of Four” ends well, either.
There was a lot Sinofsky talked about, so let’s take a look at some of the highlights.
No More “Oomph” Required
Everyone probably remembers what a major jump in system requirements Windows Vista brought along with it, but Windows 7 changed that. When Windows 7 came out, if your computer could run Windows Vista, it could run Windows 7, and Microsoft is doing that again.
“Windows 8 won’t require any more hardware oomph (memory, disk space graphics, etc) than Windows 7,” said Sinofsky. Sinofsky said they “look really hard” and figured out how to change the operating system, without increasing resources required. Once again, just as with Vista, if your computer can run Windows 7, your computer will be able to run Windows 8.
Legacy Support and Applications
As always, businesses want to make sure their applications will still work properly on newer versions of Windows, sometimes people do the same — but not as often.
Sinofsky says that yes, as always, applications will continue to run on Windows 8 if they run on Windows 7.
But don’t worry — every application won’t have to be written in HTML5. The “old” model (such as .NET Framework, C++, etc.) will still exist, and even with the new tile interface, older applications won’t require any updating. Now it is probably a great idea for developers to update their applications to feel more natural, but if they are not, they will open up and appear almost identical to current Windows 7 applications, according to Sinofsky.
There is one caveat for what I said about “application will continue to run on Windows 8 if they run on Windows 7,” as that is only true if your computer is still using an x86 chipset. If your computer is running on ARM, such as a tablet, applications would need to be updated to work on the new platform.
There were rumors of a Windows 7 Mode for ARM to run x86 applications without issue, but Sinofsky says, “That turns out to be technically really challenging.”
Designed for Touch
Microsoft’s current tablet strategy is to shove Windows 7 on a tablet, and then enabling “touch-friendliness” to make it a more usable interface. The problem is that enabling “touch-friendliness” makes buttons slightly bigger — which is still a pain.
Windows 8 was designed with touch in mind, with the new tile interface front and center. People asked for Windows Phone 7 on a tablet, and while it won’t actually be Windows Phone 7 on a tablet, it will certainly look like it (as seen in the image in the introduction).
Let’s not forget about the good ol’ mouse and keyboard, because those still have their place, especially if you are using a desktop. Julie Larson-Green, Corporate VP of the Windows Experience, says the solution is to “design for touch and then allow the OS to translate that input from the mouse if necessary.”
Other characteristics of Windows 8 will be inherited from Windows Phone 7, such as the lock screen which will be swiped to unlock. This lock screen will have the current time, upcoming appointments, just as Windows Phone 7 does.
Mossberg asked an interesting question, “How is Windows 8 different from [HP's] TouchSmart? Isn’t this just a layer on top of Windows?” Larson-Green said that the tile interface is not a layer, but that it is “a seamless experience.”
Don’t Worry, the Desktop is Just Hiding
For those wondering, the Windows desktop is still there, it is simply hiding under the new tile interface. Mossberg asked whether OEM’s could turn off the “traditional” Windows desktop, that way a user would never see it, to which Larson-Green replied, “You can’t turn the desktop off. You can choose never to go there… but it’s always
The same applies to the new tile interface as well, it cannot be turned off either, because it is the start screen. I asked Microsoft if there would be a way for the user to choose which screen they saw first, after all, if the user doesn’t have a tablet, the tile interface may not be all that intuitive. I simply received a response suggesting I take a look at the video and image gallery over at the Microsoft Press Center, but I didn’t see anything that actually answered my question. So that is still an unknown.
But once you get to the desktop, it will be just like Windows is now — with likely changes — where the user can access the file system and anything else.
The Need for… Boot Speed
Windows is known as the King of Boot Time, poor boot time, that is.
People expect on-the-go devices such as tablets and phones to be ready-to-use within mere seconds, but that is something Windows 7 cannot provide. My desktop takes around 30 seconds to get to the log on screen, then another 2 minutes before everything is done loading — this is unacceptable for a tablet.
This topic came up during the conference, “Will all these new devices start up as fast as a MacBook Air or iPad?” asked Mossberg. Sinofsky didn’t answer the question directly, but he suggested Windows 8 would be able to boot very quickly.
So When Will Windows 8 Arrive?
There have been some rumors going around which said that Windows 8 tablets could be available as early as later this year, but Sinofsky put such rumors to rest. Sinofsky said outright, “It won’t be this fall.”
Seeing as Windows is on a release schedule of every two to three years, Windows 8 will be out sometime next year, likely to be finalized by mid-year.
It may not be that long until people can test drive Windows 8, as the BUILD conference (what was once known as PDC) will start September 13, and go through September 16. Microsoft may release a public beta of Windows 8, but last time, for Windows 7, the beta was only available to a select few, opening up to the public a month or so later.
If you want to take a look at Windows 8 in action, check out this YouTube video uploaded by Microsoft: