Windows 8 Rumors, MIX11 Ramp-Up, Bing for iPad: Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week saw fresh rumors of Windows 8 features, the ramp-up to next week's MIX11 conference, and the unveiling of Office for Mac 2011 SP1 and Bing for the iPad.

Windows 8: Now with a ribbon!

That might as well have been the subtitle for Microsoft's week, after two prominent bloggers posted screen-shots and a description of what they described as an early build of the next version of Windows, often referred to in the press as "Windows 8." (Microsoft officials remains tight-lipped about any plans regarding Windows, unsurprising when you consider they're still trying to sell Windows 7.)

Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, in a series of postings on Rivera's Within Windows blog, described how that early build of Windows 8 integrates an Office-style ribbon interface into Windows Explorer, complete with 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," they wrote. "It's unclear whether Microsoft intends to move forward with this UI as-is, or whether it will appear only in certain UI types."

The pair also included a screenshot of an early Windows 8 unlock windows, which harkens to the "Metro" design style already present in Windows Phone 7.

Although Microsoft is silent on its roadmap for Windows, the company has made it very clear that it intends the next version of the operating system to 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.

The Within Windows blog also documented, at least in the Windows 8 early builds, a built-in PDF reader and "immersive" user interface that embraces the same Metro aesthetic, complete with Windows Phone-style tiles. According to the bloggers, the latter would serve "as an alternative to the more mainstream Aero and Aero Lite [formerly Aero Basic] UIs."

Meanwhile, Microsoft continued to push Windows Phone 7 ahead of its MIX11 conference, which starts April 12 in Las Vegas. That comes as new numbers from analytics firm comScore suggest that Microsoft's share of the smartphone market dipped to 7.7 percent for the three months ending in February. That's down from 9 percent in November 2010, and enough to place Windows Phone far behind Google Android, Apple's iOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry franchise.

Microsoft also plans on delivering a beta of Silverlight 5 at MIX11, which could ease some third-party developers' fears that the company eventually plans on abandoning the plug-in. Originally released in 2007 as a competitor to Adobe Flash, Silverlight eventually found a wider calling as the underpinning of many prominent Web applications, such as the Netflix movie viewer, leading some developers to expect in turn that it could become a much broader cross-platform tool.

Microsoft eventually put the brakes on some of that Silverlight evangelism, instead refocusing its attentions on HTML5 tooling. "Over the coming months, we'll be particularly demonstrative of our emphasis on HTML5, in Internet Explorer and in tools," a trio of executives wrote in an April 4 posting on the Silverlight Team Blog. "HTML5 is a solution for many scenarios, but developers should make the appropriate choice based on application needs, knowing that we have a heritage and a future vision of supporting a wide variety of technologies to meet those needs."

Microsoft will emphasize Windows Phone 7's third-party developer community and supposed focus on "quality apps" that MIX11, touting the latter as a viable alternative to Apple's much-bigger App Store. Even as Microsoft seeks to carve away some of Apple's market share in the mobile space, the company released a Bing for iPad application that ports the search engine onto Cupertino's popular tablet.

"Bing for iPad goes beyond the traditional search experience, offering a unique and visually rich way to search the Web," read an April 7 posting by Zachary Gutt, Bing's lead program manager. "The app is designed from the ground up for touch. You can quickly browse news, movies, Bing homepage images, local business lists and much more-all with the swipe of your finger."

The custom design includes a home-screen loaded with information on local weather, top news, maps and stock-market news. Users can also tap on "Trends" to access information about popular topics. The multiple map-views include road, aerial and bird's-eye, while allowing the user to save businesses and destinations to their address book or calendar. The free application also includes voice search.

Microsoft is also planning on releasing its first service pack for Office for Mac 2011 the week of April 11. According to an April 6 posting on Microsoft's Office for Mac blog, Service Pack 1 will offer "increased stability, security and some new features to the suite," including improved Outlook syncing support.