Windows 8 is likely less than a year away, and it can best be summed up as Windows in the post-PC era. That’s not to say that desktop computers and laptops won’t be a major part of the system, but this will be the first version of Windows designed with both computers and portable devices such as smartphones and tablets in mind.
Starting with the basics, Microsoft has confirmed that the sequel to Windows 7 will indeed be called Windows 8. This isn’t so much a lack of imagination as a belief that Windows 7 was much better received than its predecessor Vista: Microsoft wants to convey the message that the sequel will continue that success. As for a release date, there’s been no official word, but the timing of releases (both official and leaked) of in-development editions is, consistent with an Autumn 2012 release.
Over the years Microsoft has generally followed a pattern on alternating between a new version of Windows that starts from scratch (such as Vista) and one that is based upon its predecessor but has key usability and feature improvements (such as Windows 7.) Windows 8 looks set to fall into the former category and it’s the user interface that is the biggest change.
Previous attempts to produce low-specification netbooks and tablet devices with Windows have proven unsuccessful simply because it was primarily designed for desktops and laptops. Windows 8 changes that with the Metro user interface which is designed to work equally well on traditional monitor/keyboard/mouse setups and touchscreens.
There’s also a major overhaul to the basic look of Windows. The default setup replaces the familiar desktop with small icons and then the taskbar at the bottom. In its place is a new customizable start screen with larger tiles that take the user directly to commonly used applications; some tiles can be set to display information updated in real time such as weather or sports scores. Users can switch to the traditional set-up if they prefer.
The Metro system also means a big tweak to Internet Explorer. The default version of the browser will run in HTML 5 and won’t support any plug-ins such as Flash, which is already blocked on Apple’s portable devices. There’ll be a separate version of the browser accessible through the traditional menu system that does support plug-ins.
While full details aren’t available yet, it does appear Windows 8 will reflect the growing interest in cloud computing by which not only is some data stored online, but some processing work by remote computers rather than by the device itself. One confirmed change from this is that users will be able to use a Windows Live ID to log-in, such that they can go on any machine and access settings and files.
The biggest change “under the bonnet” comes with support for ARM processors for the first time. To date Windows has only supported Intel x86 processor system, which is used in the vast majority of PCs. ARM is far more common in smartphones and tablets and works in a way that uses far less power, thus extending battery life. If all works as planned, this should mean Windows is much more effective in portable devices than before.
Note: Windows 8 Developer Preview is a pre-beta version of Windows 8 for developers and it may not be stable, operate correctly or work the way the final version of the software will. It should not be used in a production environment. The features and functionality in the prerelease software may not appear in the final version.