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Microsoft Lifts The Lid On Windows 8

David Gilbert


Windows 8

If you think about what Microsoft is trying to do with the next version of Windows, it is pretty radical. Not only is it making it compatible with x86 and ARM architecture, it is also giving it the largest visual overhaul we have yet seen.

Microsoft has finally given us a look at the next version of Windows, tentatively code-named Windows 8 at the moment. Microsoft will be targeting everything from 7in tablets to powerhouse desktop PCs with the new OS and it is clear from the start that the design team has taken a lot of cues from the Windows Phone 7 interface. Starting up the new Windows, you will get a series of tiles, the same as those seen in WP7, which have replaced the Start menu. This will all be customisable and each tile represents an app on your system. Apps will be web-connected and web-powered and built using HTML5 and JavaScript and work alongside traditional Windows programs.

Windows 8 tablet start screen

Windows 8 tablet

Information from these apps can be seen in the tiles, including weather, tweets, stocks etc. Choosing one app takes you to a full-screen version and to switch between apps, a simple swipe from the left will bring you to your next open app. A swipe from the right will bring up a menu to let you navigate back to the start screen. The UI is completely designed around a touch interface and while it will work with a mouse and keyboard too, it is clear that Microsoft sees touch devices as the main use for the Windows 8 platform.

Windows 8

Of course one of the advantages of working on a PC is the ability to do a couple of things at once and Microsoft has built in a system, called Snap, to allow you to do this. While you are in one app, swipe from the left until the other app appear and if you pause for a second, it will snap in place next to the open app. You can dynamically change which app appears bigger by simply sliding your finger across. For web browsing, Internet Explorer 10 will come with Windows 8 and has a “touch-first UI” allowing for easy panning and switching between tabs. One new innovation from Microsoft comes with the touch keyboard. The guys over at Redmond noticed that on some tablets typing can mean straining your thumbs to try and reach the keys at the centre of the keyboard. So Microsoft has come up with a “thumbs layout” which is more ergonomic and apparently “really natural to use” by splitting the keyboard in two.

Windows 8

But what of my existing Windows programs? Well they seem to sit alongside the new Windows 8 apps, and once open can be used alongside one of the new apps. “The full capabilities of Windows continue to be available to you, including the Windows Explorer and Desktop, as does compatibility with all Windows 7 logo PCs, software and peripherals.” While this is certainly a first-look at what Windows 8 will bring, we are excited about the radical new look. It is a statement to all the nay-sayers who believe Windows would not work on a touch device – albeit the platform won’t be available until at least 2012.

On the hardware side of things Steve Ballmer announced at CES in January that Windows 8 would support ARM-based chips as well as x86 chips from Intel and AMD. Today Qualcomm is the first to announce details of its dual- and quad-core chips which will work with Windows 8. First up is the dual-core MSM8960 Snapdragon, which will have integrated 3G/LTE support with speeds of up to 2.5GHz possible. This will be followed next year by the quad-core APQ8064 Snapdragon processor. Fellow ARM-licencees Nvidia and Texas Instruments will also be bringing out chips for Windows 8, though no details are available yet.

So there it is folks, Windows 8, Microsoft’s first touch-enabled UI and we have to say that on first viewing it is certainly appealling, though whether it will appeal on non-touch devices we’ll have to wait and see. Microsoft will be giving us a lot more information at its BUILD developers’ conference in September.

For all the latest news and articles on Windows 8, head to our Windows 8 topic page.

Source: Microsoft


June 2, 2011, 3:19 pm

It's fantastic to see Microsoft trying to do its own thing and not simply aping Apple. A hHaving this ready for next year seems a tad ambitious, though. I hope they take the time to get it right, rather than stripping out features as they did with Vista and WinPho 7. In particular, I really really hope they don't decide to drop support for things like inking. A hybrid touch / pen / keyboard device could work very well on the desktop as well, if they get the interface right. After all, that's more or less the combination one uses when working with paper documents.

Glenn Gore

June 2, 2011, 3:25 pm

If anyone threatens to touch my pristine monitor screen with a greasy finger, they had best prepare to lose that finger. If this monstrosity does become the default method of interaction in Windows, my best recommendation is to buy LOTS of stock in Windex or other glass cleaners! This is ridiculous.


June 2, 2011, 3:55 pm

@Glenn Gore - Most people use windows for simple tasks, like internet browsing, email and Facebook. This interface is all they need. If you want to have the normal windows experience, just click on "Desktop". I'm sure they will allow you to turn this off and go directly to the normal desktop anyway.


June 2, 2011, 5:03 pm

This is what I've wanted from MS for a long time, it's basically what I feel should have been released already as "Windows 7 Touch Pack", although I release the integration goes deeper than something like HPs' Touchsmart.

It looks great though, the more I see of Metro UI the more I'm tempted away from Android and towards a WM7 phone. If this all integrates well then I can see myself getting my first Microsoft phone within a year (and my old X61 tablet will get a new lease of life). Its the best of both worlds (touch & mouse/keyboard) and the fact you'll be able create & consume on one device; not need an iPad and a notebook is ideal. For a while the iPad and Android will have a great time on tablets, but I can't see that continuing once this is released.


June 2, 2011, 5:28 pm

"It is a statement to all the nay-sayers who believe Windows would not work on a touch device" - My worry has never been the interface, it's the software applications. Two things:

1) How well will, say, Office work on a touch screen? How well does the very small landing area of individual controls designed for operation with a mouse translate to finger control? It's all very well being able to run full blown applications on a touchscreen but the user experience must be up to scratch as well.

2) How far does this redesign go? Part of the problem with touchscreen windows devices has always been having to go out of the touch environment for certain tasks especially when going deep into system settings and the like. The real test here will be if you can go through daily life without having to come out of that interface (and, for that matter, what level of maintenance the system will require in terms of updates, A/V software etc).

Very excited to see where this goes but really hoping MS remember that a LOT of organisations aren't going to want to run this interface and make it easy to turn it off and configure it to STAY off.


June 2, 2011, 7:28 pm

The video got me quite excited, until the user opened a regular app and hit the standard W7 desktop. It makes the new interface seem like nothing more substantial than a clever skin.

I certainly wouldn't want to use it on a tablet, because while I could technically use it to do "serious work" I just wouldn't want to if it meant returning to the touch-unfriendly desktop.

Couldn't they have made the touch integration run a bit deeper? Like removing the old desktop model entirely, and re-skinning all apps to fit the new interface, with bigger menus and buttons optimized for touch?


June 2, 2011, 9:02 pm

@BOFH & @pimlico: Don't you see value in having both tablet and traditional OSs in one? So when you are playing (video, games, browsing) you've a nice touch friendly OS and when you are working (Excel, photoshop) you have the detailed control of a mouse & keyboard.

It's not up to the OS team to make Excel touch friendly, that's the job of the Office team; and I'd say with this they needn't bother.

I'm sure for "daily use" all the under the hood stuff and fiddly menus will be further skinned to be made touch friendly or hidden entirely and made redundant with further versions. And things that are too fundemental to tweak, well you've still got your mouse/keyboard when you're not in tablet mode cos this will be running on laptops or your plug in a mouse if you've bought a dedicated tablet. For those that argue "I only want a tablet" well I guess they'll make it simple enough that if all you are doing is playing you won't need the mouse. We'll see, but for now I'm optimistic.


June 2, 2011, 11:19 pm

Guys let not forget that this is not even an alpha build. There is about year for them to sort out the base interface. I am sure that they will release office with two modes one for touch and one for work. My concern is what will they do to improve the business side of windows as that has largely remained unchanged for ages.


June 3, 2011, 2:27 pm

@HK: It just seems like a missed opportunity. It looks incredibly jarring, from visual and usability perspectives, to have two completely different UIs presented side-by-side, each one displaying and functioning in a different way.

It's like when HTC used to add their TouchFlo skin on to the Windows Mobile OS. It looked and worked great while it lasted, but when you went deep enough to uncover a vanilla WinMo menu, the illusion was shattered and it just felt ridiculous.

Seeing as MS now has control of both the underlying OS and the touch skin, it seems, as I said, a huge missed opportunity for them to really integrate them together and one one consistent, touch-friendly UI across all apps.


June 3, 2011, 4:07 pm

It's radical but is it tenable to continue charging people a $70 to run it? The lesson of the smartphone and tablet era is that people can get this sort of OS for nothing on rival devices.

Will people really pay to Windows 8 if they have less and less need for the legacy applications (Office) it also happens to run?


June 3, 2011, 6:59 pm

@pimlico: Well as @Andy says, it's still early, it'll be a year and a lot of testing before this comes out. Plus they often don't put all their UI tweaks into their builds, so i'm sure by the time it's released the UI will be a lot more seamless. Even like this though, I'd take it.

It's a tough one for MS, tweak it all to be touch friendly and old style Windows users are going to hate it on their desktop and non-touch laptops. Though personally I think a lot of these changes would work well even with a mouse. But, it's why Apple have gone the two OS route. I think it can be done right with one OS and I hope MS find that fine line where both sides are balanced cos I would love to have this best of both worlds on just one device. The potential is amazing.

Arctic Fox

June 5, 2011, 5:45 am

Can we not use a little imagination? Touch-ui on the go/reading in bed etc and docking station, large screen, keyboard/mouse when at the desk? They demonstrated at the conference that you can switch instantaneously between the touch ui and the conventional one, indeed they showed that you could display *both* at the same time. What about a two screen set-up? Touch on the one and conventional on the other? People will work out what suits them best - what is the problem? As long as they make it work properly of course!

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