10 Things You Have to Know About Windows 8



Steven Sinofsky, the President of Microsoft’s Windows division, gave us a peek at what Windows 8 will look like. A lot will likely change between now and the time the OS is available to the public, or even in beta, but that sneak peek revealed some important details about the future of Windows, and how Microsoft sees us using our computers in the future.
At first glance, the interface is different: so much so that it’s almost unrecognizable from the standard Windows we all know so well. The taskbar is gone, the desktop is gone, and in their place is a very Windows Phone 7-style system of tiles. In a preview video, Microsoft director of Program Management Jensen Harris took us on a tour of the video, but some of the most important things to know about Windows 8 are the things he didn’t say. Here are some of them:

1. Windows 8 will support system-on-a-chip architecture, meaning tablets and other devices. 
We can all put the rumors to rest that Microsoft would make a play for the tablet market with Windows Phone 7. Instead, Microsoft has gone in for a convergence play, bringing the desktop and laptop versions of Windows closer to Windows Phone 7 instead. The interesting thing is that they’re trying to do it without cramming the code for Windows Phone 7 down the throats of desktop users. We already knew that Windows 8 would have ARM support and x86 support, but based on the video we know that Microsoft is going for the same experience regardless of the device you’ll use. The only question remaining is whether or not Windows 8 will come in separate versions or SKUs for tablets. We’re betting they will.

2. Windows 8 will be backwards compatible. 
Near the end of the video, Harris expressly says that users will be able to open and run “legacy apps,” even from the Start Screen. He uses Microsoft Office as an example to prove that old Windows 7 applications will work on Windows 8, and while it looks horrible, it does work. The big unresolved question here is whether or not that means you’ll be able to run Microsoft Office on your ARM-equipped tablet. At least laptop and desktop users won’t have to ditch all of their software to upgrade to Windows 8.

3. Windows 8′s Start Screen can be disabled. 
Another thing we saw near the end of the video when Jensen opened Microsoft Office was the standard Windows 7 UI underneath the Start Screen. That means you’ll be able to turn the Start Screen off entirely and use Windows 8 the same way you use Windows 7. You may be able to drag in newer Windows 8 apps into view on the sides of your screen, but you’ll definitely be able to navigate files and folders and run applications the way you’re used to. Plus, there’s a “Desktop” tile on the Start Screen. What more proof do you need?

4. Windows 8 Applications will run in Metro UI. 
One thing you can’t miss in the demo is that all of the apps that Harris runs make use of the Metro UI interface, and those apps never deviate from the Metro design. The video makes it difficult to tell how you’ll be able to run multiple apps simultaneously without swiping side to side to move among them, but that could be the point. Much like Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s interpretation of “multitasking” looks like one app has the foreground while others run in the back, where you can’t see them. All of the apps that you see in the video behave this way, unless you go back to the “legacy” apps on the old Windows desktop.

5. Windows 8 will be the most touch-capable OS on the market. 
Microsoft is betting a bundle that more people want tablets, laptops with trackpads, and all-in-one PCs with touch-screens than ever before. They’re also clearly making a bet that keyboards and mice as tools to navigate windows and applications are on the way out. The on-screen keyboard still, even though Harris complains about it in the video, takes up half the screen, which tells us they’re not too concerned about people actually spending time typing. The new UI is designed to get you to files with swipes and multi-touch gestures, and then when you’re ready to use the app, then you can use your keyboard and mouse. Every Windows 8 native application we saw supported multi-touch gestures, and there were no keyboards or mice to be seen in the demo. At all.

6. Windows 8 native apps will be web capable. 
He rushed through the statement, but Harris noted that the Live Tiles all leverage HTML5 and JavaScript to pull and provide information to the user from the Start Screen. The goal is to give users a way to see relevant information without opening an app to get it (sound familiar? It should – that was the desire behind Microsoft SideShow, which never really took hold with OEMs.) Since most of that information comes from the web in the form of email, tweets, Facebook posts, photos, and other updates, it makes sense for all of the apps behind the tiles to support web standards and to be connected to the Internet. What we don’t know is how apps developed using Microsoft’s own Silverlight and WPF will play into this. 


7. Windows 8 makes Aero Snap more important than ever. 
Even in legacy apps, you can clearly see newer Windows 8 apps pinned to the side to let you work while reading the news, or your Twitter stream. In the demo, we saw Microsoft Excel 2010 running next to a Windows 8 Twitter client, and while it looks a bit clunky, especially considering the design differences between Metro UI and the traditional Windows desktop, it does work. How it’ll work with a mouse instead of a touch-screen though could be tricky. Windows 7 users who hate Aero Snap will hate this in Windows 8, but it may be the only way to get multiple apps to appear on screen at the same time.

8. Windows 8 will have a built-in app store. 
It’s plain as day in the video, and rumors have been circulating for months, but Microsoft finally said that Windows users will be able to purchase and download applications for their Windows 8 systems from a built-in store, accessible from the Start Screen. What that store will look like is anyone’s guess, but some screenshots of the store reportedly leaked back in April that may give us an idea of what it’ll resemble, at least in the old Windows 7-style UI.

9. Windows 8 is a huge risk for Microsoft. 
The fact that Microsoft is planning to make the Start Screen your center of operations when using your computer highlights the fact that they feel that Live Tiles and the Metro UI is the way to go. They’re minimizing the traditional desktop-with-icons interface, and in the video, the desktop is only referred to for use with legacy applications. Microsoft seems to think that if they leave the desktop behind, no one will miss it. The rest of us aren’t convinced. If the bet doesn’t pay off, all of Microsoft’s new features will amount to something users turn off or find a 3rd party utility to disable so they can get back to work. In the worst case, it’s so integrated in the OS and people dislike it so much that they’ll stick to Windows 7, and Microsoft has another Windows Me on their hands. 


10. Windows 8 will look very different when released. 
It’s important to remember that all of these things are subject to change. The Start Screen looks pretty well baked and will probably be included in one form or another, and for all we know it may only make it into tablet and premium editions of Windows 8. Other features and applications are yet to be seen, as are the underpinnings of the OS that will make all of this possible. Our next peek at Windows 8 will come at the BUILD developer’s conference in September, and a lot will happen between now and then.[source]

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