Microsoft's next version of Windows could include a version of the ribbon interface already present in later versions of Office, according to an early build of the operating system, which two prominent bloggers supposedly previewed. Their postings also include images from that build, including a lock screen whose elements suggest Microsoft is taking a page from its mobile efforts in developing its next traditional OS.
"This is based, quite clearly, on the Windows Phone 7 lock screen, and is just as attractive," Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, two bloggers with a track record of delving into Microsoft's proprietary code base, wrote in a pair of connected postings on Rivera's Within Windows blog. "The display includes the time, day of week, the date (month and day), and icons for power management (for portable machines only) and ease of access."
Nothing in the two April postings indicates how Rivera and Thurrott accessed this alleged early build of "Windows 8." Although Microsoft has stayed adamantly tight-lipped about a possible release date for the next version of Windows, a growing amount of online chatter suggests it could make an appearance sometime in late 2012. As such, the elements discussed by the two bloggers could undergo radical changes in the interim-should this early build even represent the main thrust of Microsoft's thinking and development, as opposed to a test or secondary prototype.
Chief among the (possible) new elements is the addition of Microsoft's ribbon interface to Windows Explorer. "If Microsoft goes through with this change, the Ribbon will replace the menu and toolbar in today's Explorer windows," Rivera and Thurrott wrote, "and as in Office, it will make many more features visibly discoverable, albeit at the expense of on-screen real estate and, we think, attractiveness."
The Windows 8 ribbon apparently includes an "extensive" file menu, as well as tools for viewing libraries, manipulating images and managing drive assets.
"In the current pre-release builds we've seen, the Ribbon is a serious work in progress and is quite unattractive," the two bloggers added. "It's unclear whether Microsoft intends to move forward with this UI as-is, or whether it will appear only in certain UI types." There are indications that, if Microsoft holds to something approximating this design, users will have the option of disabling the ribbon.
While the exact form of Windows 8 software remains nebulous, Microsoft has made it clear for months that the next version of the 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 more mobile form-factors, currently the prime market for ARM offerings.
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, suggested during this January's Consumer Electronics Show that "under the hood there are a ton of differences that need to be worked through" with regard to SoC-supported Windows. Nonetheless, he added, "Windows has proven remarkably flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff."
A new version of Windows optimized for touch interface would allow Microsoft to make a more substantial play for the tablet market, currently dominated by Apple's iPad and a growing number of Google Android devices. The glimpse of a Windows Phone 7-influenced lock screen, if eventually proven accurate, hints that Microsoft is indeed considering ways of altering Windows that are more conducive to mobile devices, but given the distant date of a possible Windows 8 release, anything could change.