For past several months, Microsoft has been busy building its new OS codenamed Windows 8, which targets a variety of devices ranging from tablet to desktop PCs. Initial announcement from Microsoft about the OS came in January 2011 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Even-though Windows is the most dominant OS on the personal computer front, recent times have seen a number of handheld devices running Android, Apple’s iOS surging the market. Hand held devices such as smart-phones and tables have become quite popular because of their ease of use, portability and the kind of applications they run. Post PC era has long begun and Microsoft till now has no solid OS or platform which capitalizes on this. With Windows 8 Microsoft is entering the handheld devices market.
What is cool about Windows 8?
Those who used the developer edition of Windows 8 have already opined that it’s a cool OS. In fact if you look at the legacy of Windows OS, form Windows 95 to Windows 7, there is a tremendous improvement over look and feel, functionality as well as aesthetics.
Microsoft has been raising the hardware requirements bar since its first version of windows OS. This is the first version of windows which runs on the same hardware requirements as that of Windows 7 and to some extent lesser. For example Microsoft quoted that Windows 8 can run on an Intel Atom based device with 1GB RAM and will run better than Windows 7. That is really nice because one need not dump an old netpad just to upgrade the OS. As of now there is no official citation of the minimum hardware requirements; we will have to wait and see.
Windows 8 runs on a variety of platforms starting from tables made by different vendors to netbooks, laptops PCs and servers. OS detects the hardware capabilities and then decides the functionality that are supported by such hardware on the fly. This avoids all the confusion about different OSs for different platforms and the cascading compatibility issues. Since one OS fits all, upgrading and maintaining will become very simple.
Here is a nice video from Computex 2011 which highlights the different devices supported by Windows 8
It has a touch centric start screen which can be customized as needed and provides necessary information such as weather, news etc. with the help of ‘live tiles’ as soon as you login. This interface will be more useful for hand held devices rather than a laptop or a PC that you use at work. The Start Menu which was introduced with Windows 95 has been completely replaced by the new start screen.
Once you boot a Windows 8 device, a nice lock screen with date and time along with couple of notification icons loads up.
Once you login, you will have greeted with the Metro-themed start screen. You can scroll the start screen left and right to scroll across tiles. Choosing a tile will open it up in full screen. If you have a touch enabled device, swiping the right edge of the screen loads a navigation bar called “Charms”. Swiping the left side of the screen will allow you to flip through the running applications. Swiping the top or bottom of the screen load up the navigation bar related to the current application which is running.
Now you can configure your Windows Live account and us to login to the device. Windows also allows you to keep your settings synced to cloud through your live account. If you are on the move and use multiple PCs or you have multiple devices running Windows 8, cloud sync will be really helpful. Google chrome allowed to sync only the browser settings such as bookmarks, themes etc. to cloud; now Windows 8 enables syncing all the OS settings such as test bar settings, app settings themes etc. This feature is termed as Roaming Profile, and it makes use of your Windows live account.
Windows boasts of its fast booting ability. Here is a demo shared by Microsoft recently which proves it.
Waiting for a PC to boot up and load the login screen has always been a concern all the users had and many efforts are done to provide faster booting capability. Since most of with users prefer hibernating a PC which loads up faster the next time and all the applications that were running will be available the next time as it is, Microsoft has leveraged on this to provide faster booting experience.
Performance of the OS was considered as primary criteria while developing the OS. In fact, Windows 8 has better performance than Windows 7. The OS makes optimum use of multi-core processors and virtualization to provide best performance. You might have noticed that earlier OSes were not optimized for multi-core processors, if a resource hungry application starts, it used to run on only one core instead of utilizing all the available cores. Applications start faster and take less time to be ready for you to use. The test manager has been redesigned to enable easy access to basic functions and advanced functions. You can even do start-up settings through task manager instead of going to msconfig.
Ribbon interface which was introduced with MS Office 2007 was used on applications such as Paintbrush on Windows 7. Now even Windows Explorer gets the ribbon interface. They are planning to make the ribbon interface a standard across all the applications that ship with the OS.
Building Windows 8
Windows 8 development team has a blog where in they post about some of the features of the OS and their internals. Building Windows 8 blog is a must visit if you wish to know more about the internals of the OS. If you want to grab a copy of the developer preview of OS and try it out, it is available at Windows Dev Center.