Microsoft is reportedly working on Windows 8, which could benefit from an app store, robust communications features, and perhaps some inspiration from Xbox Kinect.
Microsoft released Windows 7 in 2009, accompanied by a hard
marketing push and the hope that its latest operating system would wash out the
bad taste of Windows Vista, which never managed to overcome its bug-filled
reputation. But time rolls on, and from all indications the company is already
hard at work on the next version of Windows, dubbed "Windows 8" by media and
Rumors suggest that Microsoft will release Windows 8
sometime in 2012. Features
of a supposed early build
have leaked online, suggesting the company is
considering everything from a built-in PDF reader to an Office-style ribbon for
managing drive assets and manipulating images. Whether such features appear in
the final version of the software, though, Microsoft could-and perhaps
should-be considering some of the following development paths, as it seeks to
build a Windows capable of beating back challenges from Apple, Hewlett-Packard,
Although Microsoft remains tight-lipped about any features
of the upcoming Windows, the company has revealed it will support SoC
(system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from companies
such as Qualcomm and Nvidia. This will give Microsoft the increased ability to
port Windows 8 onto tablets and other portable devices powered by ARM
Bloggers Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, in a series of
April postings on River's Within
blog, have dissected various features of what they call an early
build of Windows 8. One of those features is a lock screen, featuring an icon
for portable-device power management, which suggests Microsoft is indeed
designing an operating system capable of running on a multiplicity of
Right now, many of those smaller devices-including tablets
and smartphones-are hitting the market with front- and rear-facing cameras for
video conferencing. Some tablets have the native ability to make calls, or can
be jury-rigged to do so with a VoIP (voice-over-IP)
app. But if Windows 8 devices leverage Microsoft's considerable work in
communications software, it could offer a sizable advantage over competitors'
relatively limited offerings: something along the lines of Microsoft Lync,
which combines telephony, instant messaging, video and audio conferencing, and
application and desktop sharing.
Leaked screenshots of a "Windows App Store" have appeared on
in recent days.
Should they prove authentic, and relatively close in particulars to a final
software release, those images suggest a digital storefront loaded not only
with smaller apps (Angry Birds, Opera 11) but also full-sized software suites
such as Office. (Winrumors noted the images are "unverified," and Microsoft
generally declines to comment on anything related to projects in early
A fully stocked app store would allow Microsoft to counter
Apple's Mac App Store, which offers full-screen apps for the company's PCs,
purchasable with one click. On the legal front, Microsoft is also attempting to
undermine Apple's app roadmap by asking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's
Trial and Appeal Board to deny its Cupertino,
Calif., rival the rights to trademark the term
"app store." Microsoft's legal counsel has argued in a legal filing that "'app
store' is generic for retail store services featuring apps and unregisterable
for ancillary services such as searching for and downloading apps from such
The leaked screenshots hint that Microsoft's ultimate aim in
denying Apple the trademark is to clear the way for its own branded "app
store." If Microsoft does include an app hub in Windows 8 (backward-compatible
with Windows 7), it would serve as a competing offering to storefronts being
developed by companies ranging from Hewlett-Packard and Apple to Research In
Motion-in other words, something wholly necessary, given the direction of the
Microsoft has made no secret of its "all in" cloud strategy,
which will see a variety of services offered via online subscription. These
include Office 365, which combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online,
Exchange Online and Lync Online into a unified platform.
Increasing its cloud presence also gives Microsoft a
particular opportunity when it comes to Windows 8. Shifting the bulk of user
data to the cloud could allow users to access their data on multiple devices
simultaneously-whether it be music, games, video, or documents. That sort of
versatility could present a competitive advantage, especially since it would
allow Microsoft to leverage all the assets in its product portfolio.
Natural User Interface
Xbox Kinect, Microsoft's hands-free controller, proved a hot
seller during the last holiday season. It also represents the beginning of a
deeper push into natural user interfaces, according to Microsoft executives.
Those plans include integrating touch, gesture and voice-activated technology
into products ranging from video games to cameras.
Kinect leverages a 3D camera to transcribe the player's body
movements to their onscreen avatar, and it also includes a substantial
voice-activated element: whether shouting commands at a character in an Xbox
game, or telling a movie to pause or fast-forward, the spoken word represents a
sizable element of the interface.
Meanwhile, some 20 percent of Bing Mobile searches are
conducted using voice commands. Ilya Bukshteyn, senior director for marketing
for Microsoft Tellme, told eWEEK during a December 2010 meeting that it would
likely be "two to three years" before voice became a more ubiquitous factor in
both the consumer and enterprise space.
Microsoft also recently acquired Canesta, a maker of
3D-image sensor chips and camera modules that can be embedded in a number of
consumer products, including laptops and vehicle dashboards. This raises the
possibility that future versions of Windows could leverage natural user
interface for commands. Given the popularity of Kinect, and consumers'
increasing interest in voice control, Microsoft is very likely considering how to
bake this sort of functionality into Windows 8.