Microsofts week centered on one big thing: the release of its Windows 8 Consumer Preview (another term for beta).
Its nearly impossible to overstate the importance of Windows 8 to Microsofts continuing fortunes. While the company maintains a lions share of the traditional PC operating system market, that market as a whole is being eclipsed by the rise of tablets and other mobile devices as the center of consumers computing lives. Windows 8 has been engineered to work equally well on tablets as desktops and laptops; the start screen, for example, is composed of a set of colorful (and touchable) tiles linked to applications, with the old-style desktop interface accessible via a single click or finger tap. In theory, the evolution will allow Microsoft to hold onto the PC OS market while expanding in a major way into the mobile segment.
In a two-hour presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky and other executives demonstrated a host of Windows 8 features and applications.
Sinofsky suggested that Windows 8 represented a generational shift in OS design, capabilities and functionality. Microsoft engineers have apparently instituted some 100,000 code changes since the Windows 8 developer preview launched in 2011. It is very important to maintain the hallmark of the PC ecosystemchoice, he said. Our goal with Windows 8 is to deliver PCs without compromise.
The Consumer Preview can be found in a special area on Microsofts Website. The betas ISO files (for those who wish to install it on another partition or virtual machine) are also available. Microsoft has opened the Windows Store, making a variety of Metro-style apps available to download and try at no cost.
Windows 8s cloud-related features include cloud storage, the ability to roam all settings, and communicate with email and contacts from a Windows Phone smartphone or Windows PC. Microsoft is also providing Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview 5, specifically tailored to Windows 8 devices.
Microsoft executives cautioned about bugs still present in the software. It represents a work in progress, and some things will change before the final release, Kent Walter, a member of the Windows Team, wrote in a Feb. 29 posting on The Windows Blog. One of the great things about widely releasing a preview like this is that it gives us a chance to get a lot of feedback through telemetry, forums and blog posts on where we can smooth out some of the rough edges.
Microsoft executives have already been encouraging third-party developers to build apps for Windows 8, which features an app storefront similar to those offered by Apple and Google. But the creation of a robust, mobile-centric Windows 8 ecosystem spread across everything from tablets and PCs to smartphones would move Microsoft past Apple, which still relies on two separate operating systems for its mobile and PC efforts (with iCloud keeping files in sync between them), and Google, which relies on Android for mobile and Chrome OS for its Chromebook laptops.
Microsoft also used this week to roll out its Windows Server 8 beta for IT administrators and developers. As with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft is pushing the beta to the widest possible audience in order to receive tons of feedback, the better to refine the product ahead of final release.
Among its multiple capabilities, Windows Server 8 includes robust features related to multi-machine management and automation. The new Hyper-V Network Virtualization allows different units within an organization to share network infrastructure. IT administrators will have the ability to move virtual machines and servers without disrupting network assignments.
Microsoft originally released its Windows Server 8 developer preview in September 2011, touting the enhancements to virtual networking, storage and infrastructure management. The obvious competitive target is VMWare, particularly the latters vSphere 5 platform for x86 server virtualization.