Windows 8 was slowly revealed to the public during the course of 2011. A number of unofficial leaks were soon followed by an official "developer" preview in September at the Microsoft BUILD conference. The final product is due sometime in 2012 and is expected to be one of Microsoft's most important product launches ever.

After the disaster that is generally accepted to have been Windows Vista, Microsoft recovered well with Windows 7. Seen as everything its predecessor wasn’t, mainly reliable and responsive, Windows 7 has been a huge success for the company. It cannot afford to drop the ball with Windows 8, and so far the signs are positive.

That is not to say the company isn’t taking risks. The new "Metro" interface alone is a bold step forward, as is the decision to make the software available for the ARM family of processors.

But what can the direction of this iconic software product tell us about the next release of SharePoint? SharePoint has been an enormous success for Microsoft in recent years and is a hugely important enterprise offering (and revenue stream) for the company. It stands to reason that the development team will have been inspired, officially or unofficially, by elements of Windows 8 when putting together SharePoint 2012 (or whatever it will be known as).

Let us take a speculative look at three areas where SharePoint can learn from Windows 8.

The "Metro" User Interface

The Metro interface is probably one of the biggest areas of change in Windows 8. Optimized for touch screens, this new way of using Windows is clearly inspired by the "Windows Phone 7" user interface. "Metro apps" will be a new breed of Windows application, sitting separately from things like Office and Photoshop, and developed using what are seen as more traditionally web-based technologies like HTML5 and JavaScript. Users will interact with them in a much more visual manner, even on non-touch devices, and Microsoft is assuming many users will make the permanent shift away from the current Windows desktop interface.

Implications for SharePoint are twofold. Firstly, Metro apps aren’t a huge logical leap on from webparts. Could Metro apps form the basis of a "next generation" webpart? Could approved Metro apps even run natively on SharePoint? Certainly this could give Microsoft a head start if it did decide to create a SharePoint specific store (see my next point). Changing the underlying architecture of webparts to something more web based would open up the developer base to a wider audience and bring the technology inline with the majority of other similar widget platforms available.

Secondly, the Metro interface (the idea of functional hubs, full bleed canvases and the typeface) is very likely to inspire the general direction of the SharePoint 2012 interface. How much of this is practical to implement is currently only known to Microsoft. SharePoint will surely retain its current content management system elements, elements that many users customize to provide the exact look and feel they require. On the other hand, the out of the box site templates are starting to feel tired and the administrative interfaces didn’t really change after the 2007 release. Whatever the outcome, there is certainly an appealing argument for Windows 8, Windows Phone 7 and SharePoint 2012 to share a common look and feel.

The "Windows Store"

The Windows store is set to be the key digital distribution platform for Windows, likely offering both Metro apps and more traditional Windows software. Seen as a direct response to the Apple Mac software store, and of course inspired by the original iPhone app store, this feature will probably change forever how Windows software is purchased and maintained.

The next version of SharePoint seems almost certain to feature a similar offering. Two elements of the current SharePoint experience make this likely. Firstly, SharePoint is extremely well supported by third party suppliers and developers. A whole host of add-ins and tools are already available for purchase, and it would make perfect sense to centralize the distribution of this software. Secondly, one of SharePoint’s key features, webparts, makes almost the perfect store item. Webparts are generally small pieces of software, tightly focused in functionality and low in price. They are very much the app of the SharePoint world.

The "Ribbon" Interface

Yes, the Microsoft ribbon can already be found in SharePoint 2010, but SharePoint 2012 will surely see it used to a much greater extent. The often controversial ribbon, which debuted as part of Office 2007, was used sparingly in Windows 7 but forms a more integral part of Windows 8. It is now integral to the operating system as part of Windows Explorer. Whilst this hasn’t been met with universal acclaim by those that have used it, Microsoft looks unlikely to backtrack.

As a result I expect to see the ribbon used much more extensively in the next version of SharePoint. Settings screens and central administration are obvious candidates for an overhaul. It would also seem likely that its use for list, and in particular webpart, configuration will see an improvement.

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