Microsoft Offers Sneak Peek of 'Windows 8'

Code-named "Windows 8," Microsoft's upcoming operating system was shown off Wednesday at the D9 Conference.

Device makers and original equipment manufacturers in Taipei, Taiwan for the Computex show also got a glimpse of Windows 8 on Thursday from Mike Angiulo, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Windows planning hardware and PC ecosystem. However, Microsoft's hardware partners have likely been in the loop about the new OS for almost two years already.

The user interface of the new OS might be described as a radical departure from Microsoft's Windows roots, although it's not completely unfamiliar. The UI looks a lot like the tile-based interface found on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 mobile OS. The familiar Windows start button no longer exists with this OS. Instead, users get a start screen with so-called "live tiles" that show updated information from running apps. One of the tiles connects to a store to get apps.

The new OS will support applications that currently run on Windows 7, and users will see that same familiar Windows 7 interface for those apps. In addition, Microsoft is pushing a new paradigm for Windows 8 apps, which can be built based on HTML 5 and JavaScript. Those Windows 8 applications will be optimized for a touch-screen user interface, and other sensors in devices, although keyboard and mouse inputs will also work, according to Microsoft. Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps describes this approach as a "touch first" emphasis for developers. Windows 7 supports touch, but it lags somewhat in current tablet designs, she indicated.

 Windows 8 start screen[Click on image for larger view.]
The Windows 8 start screen uses a tile-based UI approach, like the Windows Phone 7 OS.

In a press release, Microsoft described new libraries and controls for developers "designed for fluid interaction and seamless connectivity." For instance, the file picker control can be used to get info from an independent software vendor's application or from another Windows 8 application, and also tap the "local file system and the network."

Microsoft also announced on Wednesday that it has created a new Build developer conference, scheduled for September 13 to 16, 2011 in Anaheim, Calif. Build will supersede Microsoft's traditional Professional Developers Conference, according to veteran Microsoft reporter Mary-Jo Foley.

Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live Division, told All Things Digital reporter Ina Fried that Microsoft had been planning the new OS ever since Windows 7's completion in July 2009 and that Microsoft was "influenced" by mobile phones in creating Windows 8. Sinofsky, along with Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president for the Windows experience, told D9 Conference hosts and journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher that Windows 8 represents the biggest Windows change since Windows 95, according to a transcript.

As noted in January at the Computer Electronics Show, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to run on system-on-chip architectures, including x86 (AMD, Intel) and ARM Holdings designs. Chip partners include AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. It's thought that Windows 8 on ARM chips will open up new possibilities for low-power devices with different form factors. However, it's not clear if current Windows 7 applications will be easily ported to the new ARM-based hardware. Intel last month raised questions on that point, but Microsoft objected that Intel's comments were inaccurate and misleading.

Microsoft has not yet said when Windows 8 will appear on the market. CEO Steve Ballmer dropped the year 2012 for Windows 8's release, but Microsoft spokespersons later characterized his comment as a "misstatement." Epps suggested that if Microsoft can get Windows 8 to market in 2012, it will "stave off defection from OEM partners to alternative operating systems, and from consumers and enterprises tempted by Apple's platform."

Microsoft's bloggers have just gotten started sending out additional information about Windows 8. For a summary thus far, check out this Microsoft blog. Information on Microsoft's new upcoming Build conference for developers can be found here, where registration is currently open.

Microsoft describes Windows 8 in greater detail in this video.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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