Microsoft Corp. unveiled a developer preview of its next major operating system release, Windows 8, at today’s Build conference in Anaheim, Calif.
Designed to fit both the desktop environment as well as mobile tablet usage, Windows 8 is designed with the same Metro user interface first seen in Windows Phone 7. It assembles applications, information, and Web resources into touch-friendly tiles, but also aims to offer the precision and complexity that traditional desktop applications contain. Microsoft says that for users, this will be the biggest paradigm shift in experience since Windows 95 was released.
Microsoft armed developers attending Build with a Samsung-built tablet showcasing the Windows 8 prototype. “I like to affectionately call this ‘not an iPad,’” said Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows Live division at the Redmond-based software firm. “It’s a full-on x86 PC.”
Running an Intel Core i5 processor with 4 GB of RAM, a 64 GB SSD hard drive, and offering ports including USB, micro SD, HDMI and a dock, this 11.6-inch tablet can showcase what Windows 8 is meant to be – the best of both worlds between a desktop computer and a portable tablet. But what is so different about this OS compared to Windows 7?
You’ll live in the Start menu
Instead of living on the desktop as users have since Windows 95, the desktop becomes merely an app launched out of the new Start menu home of Microsoft’s OS. Tiles on the start menu give the user access to the things they use most-often on their device, quickly.
The design is about being flexible with different user work styles, says Iain McDonald, partner director of program management for Windows.
“Users have got to be able to get to their stuff,” he says. “The operating system is not the most important thing, it’s the stuff and the apps.”
In the developer preview, apps launched from the Metro style interface expand to take up the full screen. But when digging into deeper settings, or launching desktop applications like Visual Studio 11 Express, the familiar desktop interface of Windows 7 is revealed.
Swipe to multi-task
Multi-tasking is handled by swiping in applications from the left side of the screen. The last-used application is dragged in and if done quickly, takes over as a full-screen application running. But if done slowly, the user can split the screen into different panes to view two different applications at a time.
Swiping down from the top of the screen causes the application to minimize and be similarly shuffled off screen, or relegated to a smaller pane. Swiping in from the right side of the device brings up a toolbar offering shortcuts to search, share, view desktop settings, see connected devices, or return to the Start page.
More details in Task Manager
Windows Task Manager still appears as a desktop app, but offers easier-to-read information about what applications are currently running on your computer and exactly what resources they’re using. Four columns indicate what percentage of the CPU, memory, disk and network your applications are consuming.
A new “Status” column also shows if the application is in suspended mode or not. This is Microsoft’s technique for restricting the resources used by applications running in the background.
Other tabs available in the Task Manager include “Performance,” which displays how well your computer’s hardware is running with a line graph of the last sixty seconds and a list of numbered statistics. CPU for example displays its speed in GHz, the percentage of utilization, the amount of cache used, and more.
An “App History” tab shows a clock for how long you’ve run installed applications, and the amount of bandwidth it’s used up. It’s part of Windows 8’s strategy to help users avoid going over the limit on their monthly mobile data plans, says Gabe Aul, partner director of program management for Windows.
“We’ve added a capability to understand if you’re on a metered network or not,” he says.
Install fewer drivers
Windows 8 will include class drivers for certain devices to allow for quicker plug and play capability, Aul says. For example, a storage class driver for USB3 devices will allow any memory plugged in through those ports to be recognized by Windows without the need to install drivers.
Microsoft has also designed a printer class driver that works with about 70 per cent of the printers on the market right now, Aul says. “We think being able to print is a fundamental part of the PC experience.
Log in with Windows Live
Windows 8 prompts users to create their profiles using a Windows Live ID, used for other existing cloud services such as Microsoft’s Hotmail and Skydrive. Though it’s not apparent in the developer preview, it’s likely that Microsoft will be building in more of its Web-based services to the OS as it nears release.
Users still have the option to create just a local account to work in Windows 8 too.