Microsoft's Steve Sinofsky, head of the Windows Division, has shown off the latest developments on the Windows 8 front, in both desktop and tablet form, to an eager developer audience at its BUILD conference.
The Next BUILD
Windows 8 has had a few brief moments in the limelight, with the Windows 8 blog showing off developments on the desktop front. But in the tablet market, with Apple's iPad dominating the field and the many upcoming rival tablet devices eager to take market share, Microsoft has had to sit on the sidelines and patiently wait its turn.
That turn got a little closer today with the demonstration of Windows 8 running on tablets, notebooks, ARM-powered devices and more. That's Windows 8, as in all of it. Windows 8 is one system that will run on whatever system builders put it on. Using the "Metro" grid system familiar to Windows Phone 7 users, it brings useful information to the user without having to resort to opening apps, browsing websites and digging across page of icons.
Microsoft has created a clever, slick way to present information from a number of sources in a coherent and non-intrusive way. It makes the little numbers next to the iPhone's social media apps look positively quaint.
The front end of Windows 8 comes with a cunning touch log-in method
The new start screen can be zoomed in and out of, so no matter how much info or how many "Metro" applications are there, it isn't too much trouble to find the right tile and everything can be customized.
The same interface on the tablet will sit across the desktop version of Windows 8 and, if there is a boom in touchscreen notebooks, then Windows 8 will help lead the sales charge. With the two demands of tablet and desktop meeting, Windows developers could potentially tie themselves in knots, but, so far, things seem to working out neatly.
Underneath the gloss is a refined Windows interface that is being tweaked to work more efficiently for a user base that has barely seen it evolve in a decade. While it can be a bit of a jolt to move from the lovely Metro interface back to regular Windows, expect more apps to move to Metro over time.
Is the Day of the Desktop Over?
That seems to be a frequently asked question these days, and the obvious answer is "no!" With hundreds of millions of PCs out there (more of them using Windows 7 than XP, finally -- according to Sinofsky), and billions of workers all in need of a stable OS and a simple set of apps for work tasks. Microsoft has fulfilled that role for decades and users have, sometimes begrudgingly, accepted that dominance.
To that end, everything on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8 with everything equally happy on an ARM or Intel processor. To prevent panic about massive upgrade requirements, Sinofsky showed Windows 8 running on an old Lenovo netbook, and it ran using less than half the memory of Windows 7 and fewer processes running.
Windows 8 has refined the features from previous versions
None of that will change anytime soon, but as tablets and phones become more commonplace -- and that means outside of people who read tech blogs constantly -- more work will transition to the new, sleeker, devices. Windows 8 is Microsoft's effort to bridge the gap and it seems to be doing a pretty good job of it.
Sinofsky spent a lot of time talking about touch, as if it were a new thing, and seems to be an admission that Microsoft wants the hardware industry to move further that way in notebooks. If touch notebooks become the future, then Metro may well start to succeed traditional Windows apps, but that will be a long time coming
And, with over half-a-billion Windows Live users, Microsoft is getting ready for the time that people won't be stuck to the desktop. Using the cloud was clearly a big part of Microsoft's plans and will help people work across their PC, tablet and phone without worrying about moving data between them.
Finally, for beta testers, a new version of Windows 8, beta build 8100, is due to be passed out at the event to play with. A tweet from the Windows 8 developers feed suggested that a more accessible (read, public) beta might be available soon.
UPDATE: You can download it now in 64/32 and other versions from here.
Developers cheered when they heard that they can use any language they like to write Metro apps in. The rewrite of Windows API is outside this blog's remit, but sounds like a major change inside the OS.
If you missed the show, you should be able to watch a rerun. UPDATED - Microosoft is making the developer beta available to the public today. You can download it from here.