Windows 8 will be Great on a Slate but is it too Late?


Microsoft has revealed some juicy info about the next version of Windows, codenamed Windows 8, at the AllThingsD conference. What we know so far is that the user interface is going all touchy-feely with big “live Tiles” instead of icons in the revamped Start Menu. Windows-8-start-menu

You may have heard this called “immersive” or MoSH (i.e. Modern SHell). You may have seen a similar UI as early as Windows Vista’s Media Center or more recently on the new Windows Phones. However, fear not, this is not the only UI present. It is just the initial starting point and normal Windows, complete with all your old apps like Photoshop, Word, Windows Explorer and the usual taskbar/wallpaper look, are all there in the background ready to be switched to at the click (or tap) of a tile. To get a better overview of what the work in progress looks like at the moment check out this YouTube video

Building “Windows 8”, Part 1

The video shows Windows 8 working very much like current Windows Phones do with smooth transitions and intuitive navigation. I love how you can “snap” the new look apps alongside traditional software. I think it really puts Microsoft back in the game after Apple stormed the market with the whole iPhone/iMac/iPad ecosystem but is it too late? I don’t think so. This gives hardware manufacturers (OEMs) the usability of the popular Android tablet OS with the power, software and user base, of Windows. We should see some really special devices out in time for Christmas 2012!

Key Points

  • The full Windows 8 OS will be able to run on any form factor, whether phone, tablet, slate or, of course, PCs (plus any new form factor that may appear in the meantime!)
  • The hardware specs aren’t increasing. This means it will run on any PC in the shops today & even older Windows Vista machines
  • MoSH is just a layer. All your existing apps will still work as they do in Windows 7.
  • The new apps (.appx) are written using HTML5 and Javascript. This potentially means the same code could run in any modern web browser on any OS (e.g. Macs, Linux)

My Musings

  • The new welcome/lock screen has come a long way from the CTRL+ALT+DEL. Notice the notifications you get (see pic below)? These are very similar to what appears on the Windows Phone 7 lock screen. Is the first icon a webcam? Does that imply how many contacts are online now for video chat? Maybe it is hinting at some Skype integration?win8-notify
  • The speech bubble on WP7 means you have a text message and it can be seen again in the shot below. But what is it in Windows? Text messages (SMS) from a built-in SIM or a more grouped messaging like in Windows Phone “Mango” i.e. merging SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Instant Messages win8-msg
  • At first I thought that apps developed for Windows Phone 7 would scale up and run on Windows 8 but that doesn’t look possible due to the different programming languages. However that doesn’t mean a Windows 8 appx couldn’t run on a WP7 device.
  • Are the new apps reliant on Internet Explorer 10 being installed? We only seem to just be free of embedding a browser into Windows, does this make a u-turn on that decision?
  • Does this give you a Chromebook-style option of storing everything in the cloud?
  • Will you be able to just run MoSH without real Windows behind it? Would you ever need to?
  • How is any standard HTML5 web page not an app? Is there a distinct line between a web app running today in IE9 and an AppX in Windows 8?
  • In IE10 you can see Pinned Sites. Can these be pinned to Start? Will they get rid of the “Favorites” system and switch to Pinned Sites entirely (I hope so)
  • Will the Immersive UI be back-ported to Windows 7? I doubt it but maybe you can run Appx via IE10 for Windows 7?
  • Will the next generation of XBOXs run Windows 8? Would that mean you could play XBOX games on a Windows 8 PCs?
  • Is Media Center now defunct? Can we get all the functionality from the new look UI? I imagine it is at least in for a shake-up, integrating Zune goodness.
  • The background of the Start screen is a solid purple colour. Will this change with your usual Windows 8 theme? Can you have a photo? Even better, could you use a DreamScene style video like the demoed Weather app has?
  • Is the Store just for the new style apps as a download service or also traditional software like Microsoft Office? Will it merge with the Zune/WP7 marketplace or even the Microsoft Store for hardware purchases
  • The Dial Keys keyboard returns (see below). This is an innovative way of splitting the keyboard so you can type by just using your thumbs. It was first seen on the Microsoft Origami UMPCs back in 2006 but seemed to just drop of the radar win8-keys
  • As well as fingers, thumbs, and mice don’t forget about stylus (or paintbrush) inputs for handwriting recognition. This is something iOS and Android doesn’t offer (as far as I’m aware)
  • The new Ribbon in Windows Explorer looks horrible. Hopefully they will get rid of those legacy, Windows Vista, forward & back buttons. I’ve never got fully comfortable with Explorers look in Windows 7 and on the rare occasions I use Windows 2000 I fall in love with the speed and usability of the old style
  • Paul Thurrott raises a point that Windows 8 hasn’t been shown in portrait mode yet. Is that something that people want? On one hand it seems odd that this would be restricted but on the other hand who would ever rotate their main Desktop or Laptop screen? Sure you could on a second monitor or a stylus-based tablet but not your main screen. It’s almost a reverse of the WP7 phones that are locked into Portrait for the Hubs and Start screen.
  • What about the next version of Windows Server (2012?). Will it still share the same codebase as client versions of Windows. Will it allow us to control MoSH, including deployment of new apps?
  • When’s the first public beta? Probably at the newly titled BUILD developers conference on September 13th. Although this will likely only be for bug-fixing and won’t consider any UI changes

Good Windows 8 news sources

I won’t have time to blog about all the changes revealed for Windows 8 but if you follow these guys you shouldn’t miss anything

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8 thoughts on “Windows 8 will be Great on a Slate but is it too Late?

  1. I suspect that the new UI will support Silverlight when it ships since developing in HTML5 and Javascript only (not .net) would exclude a large portion of .net developers and that wouldn’t make any sense.

    1. Don’t forget .net apps will still run on Windows 8 just not through MoSH. You may even be able to have a dual app where a hefty .net one is used in normal Windows and a smaller Immersive app connects to the data and presents it in a MoSHy way

      1. I still think that the HTML5 would be a new but not only way to develop a MoSh app. It just seems odd that WP7 would use Silverlight as the method for creating MoSh apps but if you wanted to port that app the the desktop, you would either have to embed a Silverlight app into a web page or rewrite it using HTML5.

        By the way, as a fellow WP7 user (Focus) what your thoughts on Mango.

      2. I’m really liking Mango and can’t wait for more features to be revealed. The WP7 buzz is building quite a bit now so Microsoft need to make sure its ready, on some killer handsets, by this year’s “holiday” period

  2. Totally agree with you regarding the Windows Explorer ribbon and the ‘Forward’ and ‘Back’ buttons.

    Regarding Mango, a Nokia handet or 3 really need to be present when, or very soon after the update is released in order to build sales, fill shelves and turn the momentum into dollars.

  3. It is all too “Consumer-ish”,….completely ignores the needs and desires of a traditional Corporate Desktop.

    1. I don’t think it ignores it, everything from Windows 7 is still there. However, the real test is whether people (developers, enterprise & consumers) embrace the metro apps

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