The Windows 8 beta release is out there, and its presence is allowing the Windows faithful to have their first look at Microsoft’s next operating system.
But what do we really know about Windows 8, and how is it shaping up for tablets? Let’s have a look at the recent Windows 8 leaks, and see if we can make some sense of it.
When Steve Ballmer took the stage for the Microsoft keynote address at CES 2011, I was anticipating Steve to blow the lid off Windows 8 for tablets. Unfortunately, all I got was another look at Xbox Kinect, with little by way of tablets or Windows 8.
All Ballmer did at CES was tease us with some Windows 7 tablets, and announce the upcoming Windows 8 System-on-a-Chip (SoC) architecture. The ball stopped rolling there. What a snooze fest.
Since that boring keynote address, however, the Windows world has been rejuvenated. The Windows 8 beta release wound up in select hands recently, and although most tablet-centric features are entirely locked down, we can make some educated guesses about what’s to come based on the information that is presently available.
Let’s break it down for our Winpad freaks out there.
The Birds Eye View on Windows 8
Without getting into the bits and the bytes of Windows architecture, one thing is clear: Windows 8 will scale across all platforms. Desktops, notebooks, phones, and tablets. One operating system with a standardized application architecture.
This is the only move that would make sense for Microsoft considering how heavily invested they are in the cloud, enterprise, and with new unified communications solutions for business.
The word is not official yet, but we’re confident about our feelings. Mark our words, Windows 8 will be scalable across multiple platforms.
Windows 8 and AppX
AppX is a new specification for Windows 8 which defines how applications are packaged and installed. AppX will be the standard application architecture for Windows 8, and is said to closely resemble Windows Phone 7 application packages.
Present rumors suggest AppX is capable of supporting native Win32 applications all the way up the chain. If Windows 8 will indeed be a scalable platform, this would make sense.
The New Windows 8 Welcome Screen
Although I feel this one is a little bit sketchy due to the fact it was released on April 1st, sources close to Microsoft suggest this is the real deal, and that this is the welcome screen for Windows 8.
Yes, we know the background image itself is old and from Windows 7, however, backgrounds are changeable – as was always the tradition.
In line with our thoughts about Windows 8 being scalable across multiple platforms, Windows 8 is expected to have different welcome screens for different platforms.
For example, the above welcome screen would be more consistent with a desktop Windows 8 platform, noting ye old faithful CTRL + ALT + DELETE to log on. This log on method would be different on a tablet, of course, and would certainly leverage touch to make the move.
Windows 8 and Multiple User Interface’s
I expect Windows 8 to include several UI’s depending upon the platform which you are using. For example, the term “Windows 8 Immersive” is being attached to the locked features of the Windows 8 beta, which are allegedly specific to tablets.
Upcoming AppX applications are said to be more “immersive”, and Microsoft will be sticking to the “immersive” theme when marketing Windows 8.
This is an indication the Windows 8 design will accomodate multiple platforms, already clearly having separate feature sets for desktops and tablets. Windows Phone 8 will be in the mix too, no doubt about it. When you drill it all down, it’s the same nuts and bolts, just presented in a different way.
Windows 8 and Ribbons
Ribbons are back, and we’re not talking about those cheesy Blue, Red, and Green ribbons you used to get at field day when you were a kid. We’re talking the return of an extremely controversial user interface introduced by Microsoft with Office 2007.
The Windows 8 beta release shows an unrefined Ribbons user interface at the top of the screen. What seems to be missing right now are icons and fine details.
Ribbons may be useful if implemented across platforms. It is by nature friendly for point-and-click, and it could be touch-friendly with more refined and robust icons. Ribbons are either going to land in the desktop Windows 8 arena, or scale across platforms. For some reason it feels like it will stay grounded with the desktop workhorse. We’ll see what Microsoft makes of it.
Windows 8 Immersive Internet Explorer
One of the shining examples of the Immersive UI for Windows 8 can be found in the Internet Explorer. This is certainly tweaked from the traditional desktop IE flavor we’re all accustomed to, and is more in like with Windows Phone 7′s IE Mobile.
Internet Explorer for Windows 8 Immersive is going to be simple to touch. That’s fairly evident by the oversized icons in the black bar, and the icon style history boards. Some refinement should be expected.
Windows 8 PDF Reader
Wowee PDF reader! This is a cool little feature said to be included with Windows 8. Microsoft crafted their own PDF Reader, and is one of the first known applications to leverage the new AppX architecture.
The new Windows 8 PDF Reader is a clearly designed for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The side-by-side page view really screams tablet. Expanded screen space and the ability to flip pages. Yeah, that sounds about right.
Other tablet friendly features of the Windows 8 PDF Reader include the page number bars on the right-hand side of the screen, in addition to incognito back and forward buttons popping up when they are needed most.
Microsoft is Doing Big Things with Unified Communications
Because Microsoft partnered with Polycom to offer seamless integration between Office Communicator, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Lync, and enterprise products like video conferencing systems and data sharing applications, there’s just no way Microsoft is going down the path of slicing up their future.
There will not be a divide of operating systems. Windows 8 will change this and bridge the gap. The only clear and logical move to address the big picture and protect Microsoft’s major investment in business applications is a unified approach. It’s honestly the only way to remain relevant, connected in the cloud, and in-tune across all platforms. To deliver a true Unified Communications (UC) experience, there’s no other road to travel but with standards.
As a great example of what Microsoft is doing with high level integration across UC infrastructure and Windows 7 slates, check out Michael Gannotti’s video demonstration. This is a good example of where things are headed with business and tablets.
Windows 8 Release Date
You’re bugging! There is no finite release date for Windows 8 just yet, but the Microsoft road map puts it somewhere in 2012. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on all Windows 8 leaks, and keep you apprised to the latest and greatest as they relate to tablets.
Photos and Windows 8 leaks courtesy of Rafael Rivera & Paul Thurott.