Microsoft argues that it's a vastly different tech world than a few years ago, and it's a world that needs Windows 8 to meet its needs.
So much for the veil of secrecy: While
other tech products are kept assiduously under wraps until the moment of their
official release-and others are revealed only in beta-Microsoft seems
determined to show off the upcoming Windows 8 early and often.
This willingness to offer a
trickle of details about Windows 8, expected to release sometime in 2012, gives Microsoft some advantages. First and foremost, it builds buzz for the
next-generation operating system. Second, it opens the feedback floodgates for
Microsoft well ahead of the release, allowing the company to correct any issues
before they become late-stage critical.
The latter is a reflection of
Microsoft's usual ramping-up strategy when it comes to major product
releases: Release multiple versions of the software over time, hoping an army
of early users can pick out the bugs before the final release.
Considering the challenges ahead
for Windows 8, Microsoft needs the buzz. Windows 7 proved a significant hit,
selling hundreds of millions of licenses since its October 2009 debut.
Persuading businesses and consumers
to upgrade so soon could prove a
significant challenge, particularly with regard to traditional desktops and
Microsoft is also pledging
that Windows 8 will work equally well
with tablets and traditional PCs, thanks to a pair of user interfaces operating
in "no compromises" harmony. In tablet mode, Windows 8 will offer the user a
set of colorful tiles reminiscent of Windows Phone, but it can switch easily to
an old-school desktop mode.
This dual system will give
Microsoft a potential inroad to the tablet market, but it will also set it up
for bruising competition against Apple's well-entrenched iPad and a host of
Google Android devices.
Through its official
"Building Windows 8" blog, Microsoft
has offered select glimpses into the operating system's nuts and bolts, including USB 3.0 support, fast boot times and the ability to run multiple virtualized
operating systems on the same physical machine.
In terms of overall
aesthetic, Windows 8 embraces the "Metro" interface established by Microsoft's
Zune and Windows Phone software. It replaces the "Aero" look that informed
Windows Vista and Windows 7.
The blog also defends some
of Microsoft's decisions about the user interface, in particular the inclusion
of the "ribbon" mechanism into the updated
Windows Explorer. The ribbon, which
offers tabs and icons in a horizontal or vertical panel, has made enemies of
"We chose the ribbon
mechanism, and to those that find that a flawed choice, there isn't much we can do other than disagree," Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky
wrote in a Sept. 2 posting on the blog. "We were certain, and this proved out,
that the dislike of the ribbon is most intense in the audience of this blog."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.