Sunday, June 5, 2011

Windows 8 is a Major Leap Forward, and Here's Why

Credit to Paul Thurrott of the SuperSite for Windows for the images.

Last Wednesday, Microsoft began to unveil Windows 8, the next version of the Windows desktop operating system. However, this version of Windows has promise that the previous versions did not. Steven Sinofsky, the man “responsible for Windows”, according to Paul Thurrott, introduced a very interesting interface for Windows 8 that appears to be all too similar to the Windows Phone 7 “Metro” UI. In Windows 8, they have engineered a special interface designed for multitouch tablets that packs the functionality of traditional Windows and a brand new experience for tablet owners.

As a part of Windows 8, this new interface for tablet devices is a big deal. The new user interface packs true multitouch designed from the ground up for tablets. The first thing you will notice about the interface is that it looks very similar to Windows Phone 7’s “Metro” user interface. The idea of bringing live and interactive content to small or large tiles was originally brought forth in Microsoft Windows Phone 7 platform, and is now coming to the desktop in a similar fashion with Windows 8. With Windows 8, you can have applications that bring interactive content, straight to your tablet. A great example would be social networks like Facebook. You could have a tile on your screen that has live Facebook content that is refreshes at certain intervals. Or you could choose to setup a photo slideshow tile, which displays photos of your family and friends, retrieved from various sources like Facebook and Google, as well as photos stored locally.

It is important to note that the new Windows 8 experience for tablets isn’t the only option. You could still choose to run the traditional Windows desktop experience. I believe that the traditional Windows desktop is the default interface, but you could turn on the new Windows 8 UI. You might ask why someone would turn off a gorgeous new interface. Well, it’s quite simple. The majority of Windows PCs running right now are not tablets with touch screens. Since the new interface is really more designed for touch screen tablets I would like to see Microsoft integrate some of the innovative new interface features of Windows 8, into the traditional desktop experience so that even if you were using the old desktop shell, you could still receive some of the benefits of the new UI. There is no word currently on whether Microsoft will do that or to what degree they will do that.

There were some concerns addressed at this unveiling. Microsoft did address the issue of compatibility with applications and the integration of Windows 8 in businesses. The user will still have the ability to run conventional Windows applications, and you can still run the new tablet interface at the same time. So you won’t be stuck with only the new applications that will be designed for the new tablet shell. The major software giant also made note that they are designing Windows 8 so it will not be difficult for businesses to adapt it. Microsoft plans to offer businesses who subscribe to Windows in their business, the ability to switch their Windows 7 licenses to Windows 8 free.

It wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but the more I think about Windows 8 and the future of Windows on desktops and tablets, I believe this closely resembles Bill Gates’ dream of the perfect tablet PC. Windows 8 seems to have mastered the perfect touch interface for tablets, but still maintains backwards compatibility with traditional Windows applications and systems.

This unveiling of Windows 8 seems to be pretty close to what the final product will look like. And even Microsoft is confident that there shouldn’t be any more major revisions to Windows 8. There seems to be a consensus that Windows 8 will launch in mid-2012. And to backup that up, Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying that Windows 8 should ship in 2012. All we can do is hope! But from what we’ve seen so far, Windows 8 will be a dramatic step forward for Microsoft and for the Windows brand.