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Windows 8

Reviewing Windows 8 Developer Preview

By: Arie Slob

Last September (at the BUILD developer conference) Microsoft took the wraps off its next generation Windows OS. Currently known as Windows 8, the software which is scheduled for a 2012 release is largely seen as Microsoft's answer to the thread from Apple's iOS and Google's Android platform.

Microsoft referred to the Windows 8 project as "reimaging Windows." The need for a complete overhaul is clear: today more than 60 percent of computing devices are mobile (laptops, netbooks, notebooks, tablets, slates, etc.). Nearly all of these devices are capable of wireless connectivity. Screen sizes range from under 10" to wall-sized screens. Storage has jumped from megabytes to terabytes and also starts to include "cloud based" storage. The increasing popularity of smartphones with the touch-screen capabilities they bring, have changed the way users view computing. Most of all, computing is much more focused on applications and on people than on the operating system itself or the data.

Windows 8 is designed to run well on these mobile devices, but should also run great on the more "traditional" desktop/laptop PC.

To facilitate these two distinct environments, Windows 8 has two distinct user interfaces: The new "Metro style" Start screen with its full-screen apps, and the "classic" Windows desktop which will run the legacy Windows applications.

Microsoft's stated goal is to make both user interfaces (new Metro and classical Desktop) work together in the most harmonious way possible.

You can move back and forth between these environments at ease, and you will have to if you run even a single Windows legacy application. Some users describe moving between the two as "jarring", but I can't say I noticed it (see the video below where I launch Word 2010 from the Metro start screen. I also show you the somewhat quirky way you'll have to switch off your PC: You'll have to point to the left-hand bottom of the screen, select "Settings" from the popup menu, then click the "Power" icon and select "Shut down" from its menu.)

There is an animated effect when you switch (maybe some users call this jarring), and it can be switched off (uncheck Performance Options > Visual Effects > Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing). This will make the switching look more instantaneous:

Another first for Microsoft will be that Windows 8 will support ARM microprocessors, the low power CPU design currently found in the majority of smartphones and tablets. Current information suggests that when running on ARM designed processors, only the Metro language will be available, which means that current x86-based applications won't run on devices running the ARM designed processors.

Since this build of Windows 8 is only a "Developer Preview", I'll just show you a few things and mention some quirks I've run across. I've seen mention that if you're a Windows phone user you'll "get" the new Windows interface, as it looks & feels similar. I wouldn't have any idea, as I'm sure most users wouldn't: despite what Microsoft might say, only a tiny fraction of people are using the new Windows phone right now. Depending on which 'independent' survey you believe, estimates run from 2% (Q2 2011) to 5% (Q4 2011) of the smart phone market (pretty anemic compared to Apple at 25-28% and Google at 38-44%).

So I'll look at this from the standpoint of a long time Windows user. I'm not opposed to change however; I definitely welcome it if it makes me more productive. In recent history, the move from Windows XP to Vista was a 'challenging' one, I only felt comfortable recommending Vista once Service Pack 2 was released. Windows 7 is a different story. I'd go from Vista to Windows 7 in a heartbeat. I do recognize that people still running Windows XP who want to change/move to Windows 7 will be in for a steep learning curve, but once you get past that, Windows 7 should be more easy to use. The same will hold true for a move from Windows XP to Windows 8.

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