Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Perfect Recipe For Windows 8

Microsoft is already hammering away at the next version of the Windows platform. It has been a few years since Microsoft released the last version of Windows and the tech world has changed dramatically. So to stay in the game, Microsoft will have to make some fundamental changes to Windows to bring it up to today’s ever rising standards.

Windows 7 was specially designed to work well with Netbooks, as that was the trend at the time. Netbooks, however have not been as successful as many hoped. The initial concept sounded excellent – laptops that were lightweight, cheap and ran the latest version of Windows – but in reality, these machines where slow and bad quality. This realisation swiftly ended a short-lived era.

Then, led by Apple, we entered the tablet era. As soon as Apple released the iPad, it was apparent that although the industry had a long way to go, it was surely here to stay. Since then we have seen many significant releases, such as many Android tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook and the iPad 2. We have seen the rise and fall of WebOS, and Android’s transition to a tablet optimized interface. The tablet space never stands still.

In addition, we have also seen a few Windows 7 tablets surface, however none have seen remarkable success. And the problem is in the software. While Windows is workable on a tablet, the experience it delivers is nothing to that of it’s competitors. Buyers will not choose a tacky, old fashioned Windows experience above an intuitive, modern experience that works straight out of the box.

But this is about to change with Windows 8. This new system will feature a tablet-optimised UI based on Microsoft’s Metro design language first seen in Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft will leave the existing Windows UI intact, in the form of “Desktop Mode” for the sake of traditional PC users and legacy applications. Both these things together will contribute to Windows 8’s overall UX, both on tablets and PCs. A perfect recipe.

Come on, nobody can say that they weren’t wowed the first time they saw that tablet-optimised grid of apps. There are full screen “immersive” applications that can be launched from the Start Screen, and these are developed in HTML5 and JavaScript. As well as this, all existing Windows applications will be fully compatible with Windows 8, but to run them, you are sent into Desktop Mode, which, like I explained earlier takes you back to a Windows 7-like experience. I assume most major applications like Microsoft Office will be given an immersive version, and most active Windows developers will begin creating immersive versions of their applications as soon as Microsoft release an SDK.

Fear not, however, because entering Desktop Mode does not close the Start Screen, it simply hides it. You can even run a Desktop Mode application alongside an immersive one, using a powerful feature called Snap:

Snap can also be used to run two immersive applications side-by-side. This means that Windows 8 tablets will be the first tablets that will provide the possibility to do two things at once. Forget switching between apps – this is real multitasking:

Windows 8 will be a hit on tablets because you will be able to continue to use the applications and programs that you know and love from your PC. They will be nicely built full screen apps (that will be downloadable from a built in applications store) that will have been optimised for Windows 8, and for the odd occasion that you need to use a classic-style Windows application, you won’t mind briefly entering Desktop Mode.

On PCs, it will work the other way round. Desktop Mode will be your primary working space, and the Start Screen will serve as your application launcher.

Windows 8 is the bridge between a tablet OS and a desktop OS. The first ever operating system that will work on both forms of device. The simplicity of a tablet and the productivity of a PC. If someone buys a Windows 8 tablet, they could get rid of their PC because... they both do to the same thing and both run the same operating system. This is where tablets can actually become our main machines, rather than just leisure-time devices.

So, that’s brilliant. Windows 8 on tablets. But that is not Microsoft’s only focus for Windows 8 – desktop users need and deserve new features as well. Here are just some of things they are getting:

Enhanced Windows Explorer
This is the main change: Windows 8 will include majorly reworked version of the Windows Explorer, Windows’s built-in file management application. Firstly, they are doing away with all of the toolbars and drop-down menus in favour of “Ribbon” interface, similar to the interface that has been in Microsft Office for over four years now.

Microsoft claims that 84% of the functions that users use are included in the "Home" tab. Although this will take much getting used to for many users, it is a feature that will surely enhance the way we use Explorer. What this will do, is display features in an organised manner, instead of locking everything away in complicated menu systems. With the new Explorer, you will be able to be more productive. And as a side note, the “Up” function that allows a user to move up a directory has made a comeback having been booted in Windows Vista.

It will feature native support for disk images. Users can now mount ISO and VHD disk images and view their contents natively, without using third party software.

The new explorer will also include a simplified way to manage duplicate files. Currently, when you are doing a copy-over and have a duplicate file, you are presented with a windows asking you if you want to replace the file. This is fine. But if you have more than one - you are going to be presented with many Windows asking if you wish to replace, causing everything to get very confusing.

Microsoft’s solution to this is the Conflict Resolution Dialog. In English: a “Choose Files” dialog that lets you compare all duplicate files, and choose the one that you want to keep. Simple, but powerful.

Refined Overall User Interface
Aside from the new tablet interface that Windows 8 will include, Desktop Mode will also be getting an update. The standard “Aero Glass” interface (introduced in Windows Vista) is expected to be replaced with a more square, flatter interface derived from the Metro user interface used in the tablet mode.

Other small changes will be present, such as icon changes, new desktop background, but these are things that won’t have a massive impact on the overall user experience.

USB 3.0 Support
Microsoft have built support for USB 3.0 right into the OS. USB 3.0 is the third revision of the USB, and it up to ten times faster than it’s predecessor, USB 2.0.

Bear in mind that the new features listed above are subject to change, and many more will probably be added, as Windows 8 is still at an early stage in it’s development. Microsoft has stressed the fact they value user feedback greatly. They are expected to be releasing a public beta in the coming months - so anyone will be able to test it out and provide feedback.

I’m convinced that Windows 8 is a great starting point for Microsoft in the tablet industry. They have a lot of catching up to do if they are to become a major figure in that field, but this is the first and biggest step forward towards that dream. Microsoft will holding a press conference next month where they will reveal more information, so we will have to wait and see what else they have up their sleeve.

You can read about Microsoft’s progress on building Windows 8 at their official blog:


Jonathan Ross said...

Excellent article. I'm personally looking forward to somehow getting my hands on a prerelease / alpha version even to install on a virtual machine. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Interesting view. but I think youve missed the point. The boat has sailed, the Microsoft monopoly has been broken, people now realise how badly engineered an OS Windows is, hence the continued rise of Apple.

John Harris, UK said...

I have just realised something about the live tiles idea, it is an idea taken from Nintendo Wii. Although it may not look anywhere the same, they both have the same sort of style of presenting information. If you have internet on the nintendo wii, you will notice that on the Nintendo Wii home screen, the weather and news channel buttons change to show new information, and ain't that the same with these Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 tiles?

Mike Hucker, Texas said...

I think Microsoft are certainly making a giant leap forward for touch, and I think I would prefer it to all of the previous windows versions, but I know that I will still use iOS on an iPod or iPad or iPhone and Mac os on my iMac as my main OS's. The main reason is that Macs and iPods are still more ease of use, because the multitouch gestures make it such a time saver.

Mark Baines said...

My first look was very positive but now considering matters in a little more detail I'm not quite sure. Harmonisation across platforms is all very well (Tablet, PC, Phone) but at what cost, in processing overhead, etc. The motto of 'all things to all men' worries me. On the face of it it looks like Windows 7 with two new UI's. The 'tiled' etc interface and the touch interface. Again the processing cost could be quite high, seeing benchmarks will be very important. I'm also worried about the suggested link to one processor alone this could be a real negative. This would also bring its own problems in application software compatibility.

Idit Poran said...

The computer world is currently a huge R&D machine hosted by ourselves. The manufacturers are all vying with each other to find out what we all want by producing acres of alternatives.

Anonymous said...

It seems infantile and cartoonish to me. Lots of bright colors and big blocky text. Retrograde step for adults.

Simon Fink said...

I like what I see so far... I hope they succeed... it's certainly original.

Russell Halter said...

The whole thing is nothing more than a shell with Windows 7 hiding in the background­. I'll stick with my iPad.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft is not Apple or Google or Adobe - no matter how hard they try to be. Microsoft is the OS you find at your accountant­'s office or the patient's software your dentist uses. The bank uses it to check your IRA. Business doesn't want fancy .. they want reliable. They don't want interestin­g .. they want easy to understand and use.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article - Thanks!!!
Zev J

Raphael said...

Great article. You have made some critical bold points to prove that Apple, for now, is not much better than anyone else. Well done!

Rakhi Dave said...

Great Article - and you definitely have taken it with a positive spin - which I'm pleased about. A lot of 'anonymous' comments being negative - now to me that's just ANTI- Microsoft!! Fair enough, your article has made me want to check it out - no more home PC!!! or Laptop!!! Yay!!! for people like me who are on the road :) Keep up the good work!!

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