Windows 8: Microsoft Reimagining Windows Platform
Here is some of the news that has made headlines in the technology sections of various media channels recently:
Google acquired Motorola mobile division
Microsoft ties up with Nokia
Apple iPhone 4 sales leaves Blackberry behind
Intel willing for a 20% cut in the price of Ultrabook processor for the notepads
Do all these news have something in common? Yes. The digital world is going digital in a smarter way faster than imagined. The pace at which the smart devices and powerful notebooks are getting popular and occupying our lives is tremendous. It is so fast that the architects of the next generation of Microsoft OS have to re-imagine their flagship OS platform to be in-line with these changes, or at least that is what they are communicating.
There has been much news about the Windows 8 that is the code name for the next version of the Windows OS family, which will be targeting the PC, laptop and tablets platforms.
A significant positive shift in the usages of smart devices and touch screen based UI has been important drivers dictating the way Windows 8 has been designed and developed, to be what is claimed by Microsoft as the most significant revamp after the Windows 95 release. It has estimated that nearly two out of the three PCs are small size mobile devices (laptops, notebooks, tablets, etc.). At the one end of the spectrum, there are devices that can be easily held in the hand whereas at the other end there are HD screens that can fill the entire wall. Increasing size of the low cost storage devices and decreasing cost of services like Internet and wireless services in conjunction with the cloud services has revolutionized the computing world. Touch screen based UI reach applications are changing the way users interact with the applications. Above and all this proliferation of vendors and service providers demands technology platforms to be as compatible with the other platforms as much as possible.
Windows 8 it planned for release in 2012 sometime and a build conference is scheduled for Mid September 2011.
Innovative and exiting user experience is what the Microsoft has tried to provide with Windows 8. Users will view a very new “Start” screen modeled on the lines to Windows Phone 7- a touch based screen, having applications and widgets tiled in a mosaic with additional quick information available in the extra space. The frequently used services like Email, Weather forecast, Calendar etc. will be available on the start screen. This screen will also be home for the additional widgets that will be available probably from the Microsoft stores (on the lines of Apple). Legacy applications will be working as they work currently after this screen. Microsoft Office tools too will be working mostly as of today but with optimizations for “Fuzzy Hit Targeting” that takes care of the fact that fingers has less accurate target than the mouse or keypad. The OS will continue working with mouse and keyboard, there will be a soft key like smart phones that will be touch enabled. One of the very innovative features that the soft key will provide is that they will be aligned to the bottom corners of the screen where the hands can reach them easily. Another exiting feature will be, multitasking, that users will be able to stack more than one applications running side by side simultaneously. Some of the basic functions (browsing for files, viewing images etc.) has been fully revamped and made more users friendly, smooth and better suited for the touch screens. An in-built PDF reader and enhanced themes support will be an added bonus.
Support for Tablets
Windows 8 has been designed as target platform for PCs, laptops and tablets. It will be the first version of Windows built to run on ARM-based (for tablets) and Intel 86x and AMD chips for desktops and laptops. There will be at least six versions, four for ARM-based device (none will support the legacy windows based applications) and two for Intel and AMD chips. It might happen that a third party comes up with an emulator that can enable windows legacy applications to work on ARM devices. It is not viewed as a problem for business enterprises because they are less likely to use it, tablet users will see it as a problem though.
Programming Platform and Mode
Introducing this new programming model has caused many speculations in the developer’s community about the fate of existing .NET based development platforms like WPF and Silverlight. It is highly unlikely that the support for these technologies will be removed immediately but unless and until some formal declaration comes from Microsoft, this uncertainty is going to hang.
Since the platform has been designed to work with the tablets as well that, have lesser processor power it is hoped that the optimization might give some performance improvements for the PC versions as a bonus.
Intel released a statement recently that mostly XP and Vista applications will not be compatible with Windows 8. Microsoft has refuted the statement but there will be a wait period before the formal details are available.
What is Next?
The current preview was mainly centered surrounding the User Experience for the Windows 8 platform. Much information about the internal features, programming model and tools is awaited. Microsoft has announced that what has been displayed is just scratching the surface and much more will be coming in the upcoming previews. Next build conference for the Windows 8 is scheduled for Mid September 2011 when more features and tools related information will be on display. Microsoft’s imagination on the User Experience side appears to be promising and given the trend, opting HTML 5 as the development platform too does appears a smart move. What is disturbing for the developer communities is the hanging uncertainly regarding the future of existing .NET technologies. Users and developers will have to wait for some time to see what Microsoft has to offer.
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