Microsoft's next Windows version could let users customize their desktops in new ways.
Bloggers Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, in a series of April postings on Rivera's Within Windows blog, have dissected various features of what they call an early build of Windows 8. Many of these features, should they appear in the operating system's final version, will add new layers of functionality: a built-in PDF reader, an "immersive" user interface with Windows Phone 7-style tiles (ideal for touch screens) and an Office-style ribbon integrated into Windows Explorer-complete with tools for viewing libraries, manipulating images and managing drive assets.
But other parts of the early build suggest Microsoft is thinking of ways to make Windows 8 a more personalized experience. According to Rivera and Thurrott, the new Personalization interface offers "the ability to automatically configure the color of Aero elements, like the Start Menu, Windows Explorer windows, and the taskbar based on the desktop wallpaper." That means if your desktop wallpaper is predominantly brown, for example, the frames of any open windows will tint brown, as well.
If current rumors prove accurate, Microsoft could release the next version of Windows-often termed "Windows 8" by media and pundits-sometime in 2012. The company has made it clear that the upcoming operating system will support SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. In turn, that would give Microsoft increased leverage for porting Windows onto tablets and other mobile form factors, currently the prime market for ARM offerings.
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, suggested during January's 2011 Consumer Electronics Show that "under the hood there are a ton of differences that need to be worked through" with regard to SoC-supposed Windows. Nonetheless, he added, "Windows has proven remarkably flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff."
A Windows 8 lock screen uncovered by Rivera and Thurrott, featuring an icon for portable-device power management, suggests that Microsoft is designing an operating system capable of running on a multiplicity of devices, from small tablets all the way up to desktops. There is also the possibility, however remote, that a version of Windows 8 could find its way onto the company's smartphones, replacing Windows Phone 7.
In the absence of any official comment from Microsoft, though, all that remains pure conjecture. Certainly Redmond faces rivals intent on porting their own operating systems onto a variety of hardware: not only Apple's iOS, currently available on the company's smartphones and tablets, but also Hewlett-Packard's webOS, which will appear on both mobile devices and PCs.