Microsoft will almost certainly reveal some significant details about Windows 8 at September's BUILD conference.
In the meantime, the company seems content to dribble out tiny glimpses of its upcoming operating system, courtesy of the Building Windows 8 blog. Overwhelmingly, the blog's posts have focused much less on Windows 8's user interface, and much more on structural elements such as support for USB 3.0 and revisions to Windows Explorer.
With Windows 8, Microsoft is largely abandoning the traditional "desktop" interface that defined previous Windows editions in favor of a user interface centered on large, colorful tiles. The new UI is heavily reminiscent of Windows Phone. Through this revamp, Microsoft is creating an operating system that, at least in theory, will operate on a wide variety of form factors, from tablets to traditional laptops and desktops.
Microsoft will need to convince people that the revamped operating system is just as capable of performing all the functions they need-hence, possibly, the blog's focus on these under-the-hood elements.
The latest posting focuses on Windows 8's revamp of Windows Explorer. Microsoft's Windows team had three goals here: optimize file-management tasks, create a streamlined command experience, and maintain the "power and richness" of Explorer while bringing back some "relevant and requested features" from Windows XP into the Windows 8 architecture.
In the end, the team decided to embrace the ribbon as a unifying element for Windows 8's version of Windows Explorer. "The ribbon would allow us to create an optimized file manager where commands would have reliable, logical locations in a streamlined experience," Alex Simons, Microsoft's director of program management, wrote in an Aug. 29 posting. "The flexibility of the ribbon with many icon options, tabs, flexible layout and groupings also ensured that we could respect Explorer's heritage."
In addition, "the ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus and context menus," he added, and meets the needs of power users. Windows teams are apparently working to "mitigate" how much screen real estate is taken up by the typical ribbon.
One interesting side note: Back in April, Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, two bloggers with a track record of delving into Microsoft's proprietary code base, wrote a posting on Rivera's Within Windows blog detailing the presence of a Windows Explorer ribbon in Windows 8, which included an extensive file menu, as well as tools for viewing libraries and managing drive assets.
Developers may soon have a chance to test the ribbon out for themselves. Earlier in August, speculation erupted over the possibility that Microsoft, in a bid to generate additional early buzz for Windows 8, would distribute an early build of the operating system on quad-core tablets at BUILD.
That speculation largely originated thanks to Microsoft's TechEd New Zealand conference, where Microsoft principal architect Patrick Hevesi offered up a glimpse of said tablet. IT consultant Alan Burchill, attending the conference, snapped off a couple of quick images, which he subsequently posted on his blog at Smartergeek.info.
From there, the story broke into the larger blogosphere. Burchill's photos don't offer a glimpse of the tablet's operating system, but bloggers chattered at length that the device would be handed out to BUILD attendees loaded with a Windows 8 test version. "Most Microsoft watchers are expecting Microsoft to provide paying attendees with a test build of Windows 8," Mary-Jo Foley wrote in an Aug. 25 posting on her All About Microsoft blog, "and maybe some kind of PC or slate prototype to use to develop applications for the upcoming operating system."
The BUILD conference kicks off in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 13.