Microsoft offered a first glance at its upcoming "Windows 8," which boasts a streamlined and colorful look and feel reminiscent of Windows Phone. It will work on PCs and tablets.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has whipped the curtain back from "Windows 8,"
offering a first-ever glimpse at a radically new user interface.
"This represents a fundamental shift in Windows design that
we haven't attempted since the days of Windows 95, presenting huge
opportunities for our hardware partners to innovate with new PC designs," Mike
Angiulo, corporate vice president of Windows planning,
hardware and PC ecosystem,
told the audience
during a June 2 demonstration at the 2011 Computex
conference in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Windows and Windows Live President
Steven Sinofsky was offering a small Windows 8 walkthrough at the D:All Things
Digital Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
"Windows 8" is Microsoft's internal code-name for the operating system, and may
change before the as-yet-unannounced release date.
For many years, the succeeding versions of Windows offered
users a familiar interface: A desktop loaded
with folders and application icons, a bottom file-bar for displaying open
applications and system icons, and a Start button with access to the file
system. Windows 8, at least in the tablet-centric versions demonstrated at both
conferences, offers something new: a user interface centered on large, colorful
tiles that display active information. Microsoft has posted a demonstration video
of Windows 8 in action
on its Website.
At first glance, Windows 8 is heavily reminiscent of
Microsoft's Windows Phone, which also features a tile-centric user interface.
However, Windows 8 is designed to scale on devices ranging from smaller tablets
to full-fledged PCs. If Microsoft's demonstration video is any indication,
Windows 8 will support the full version of legacy applications such as Office,
multitasking (including the ability to display two apps side-by-side on the
screen), access to a "traditional" Windows file system, and Silverlight via an
all-new Internet Explorer 10. Users will be able to "snap" applications to one
side of the screen, an evolution of the "Aero Snap" feature already present in
Windows 7 and Windows Vista, and, with the tablet version, cycle through apps
with a swipe of a finger.
Microsoft's demonstrations centered on Windows 8 as a viable
tablet OS. The question remains whether power users will find their working
lives made easier by the new interface. Despite the time devoted to showing off
the touch interface and virtual keyboard, Microsoft is assuring its audience
that Windows 8 will work just as well with a mouse and keyboard; that, in
combination with the new operating system's backward compatibility with
existing applications such as Excel, could be enough to satisfy most desktop
In any case, Windows 8 hints at an ambitious roadmap for
Microsoft as it seeks to maintain its commanding share of the traditional OS
market while also making inroads into mobile. Certainly tablets are a key focus. As far back as January's Consumer Electronics
Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft was showing off how the next-generation Windows
will support SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based
systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. ARM
architecture powers the lion's share of
mobile devices on the market today.
Rumors of Windows 8's tile-centric, Windows Phone-influenced
interface have been drifting around for months. In April, bloggers Rafael
Rivera and Paul Thurrott dissected various features of what they called an
early operating-system build on Rivera's Within
blog. Their postings included a screenshot of a start screen, done
in the "Metro" design style already present in Windows Phone.
Windows 8 is clearly trying to cover all the computing
world's bases, from tablets all the way up to laptops and desktops. In its bid
to assure the world that it has actual tablet plans, Microsoft made the
decision to highlight its next operating system's touch interface and sleek,
mobile-style look. It may be a little more time before the company reveals how
Windows 8 will work for the people on the other side of the spectrum: the
hardcore PC users, those of the multiple open windows and documents and
applications, who helped make the Windows franchise a juggernaut in the first