Your questions about Microsoft’s latest operating system, answered.
Microsoft showed its first public demo of Windows 8 on Wednesday, and it’s not at all like the Windows operating systems you’ve come to know over the past 25 years. The next version of Microsoft’s operating system (“Windows 8” is just a codename) is a radical departure, designed around touch screens.
If this revelation is making you weak in the knees, worry not. Here’s a handy FAQ on the early Windows 8 build that Microsoft demonstrated:
What Windows 8 features did Microsoft demonstrate?
Essentially, Microsoft showed how Windows 8 will work on both tablets and traditional PCs. The operating system’s home screen is filled with big, touchable panels, like the live tiles in Windows Phone 7, and from there you can tap and swipe your way to other touch-based applications. But underneath that touchy layer is plain old Windows, with a task bar, file manager, app icons–everything.
Swipe across to multitask. (Click to Zoom) How does the touch interface work?
From the start menu, which shows basic information like time and unread e-mail counts, users swipe upwards to reveal the home screen and its tiles. As with Windows Phone 7, apps can show some information within the tiles–users needn’t click on the weather app to see the current temperature, for example. Swiping from the right bezel brings up a menu that can take users from an app back to the home screen.
Users can multitask between open apps by swiping across from the left bezel. And therein lies the coolest-looking feature of Windows 8: When swiping in a new app, users can snap it in place next to the app that’s currently running. This allows users to view two apps at the same time–something that no existing tablet OS can do.
Windows 8 Weather App (Click to Zoom) How will Windows 8 apps work?
Legacy apps and new apps can run side by side (Click to Zoom) What about existing Windows apps, such as Office and Photoshop?
But what about Windows PCs running on ARM chips? Will legacy apps run on those devices?
It’s conceivable that ARM-based Windows devices will be restricted to the touch-centric user interface in Windows 8, but Microsoft hasn’t made any announcements on that front. In fact, Microsoft recently denied claims made by an Intel executive about which apps will run on ARM-based Windows machines. Intel’s Renee James had said to expect at least four versions of Windows for ARM processors, and that none of these versions would be compatible with apps from Windows XP, Vista or 7. Microsoft said these statements were “factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading,” but didn’t clarify the matter with any details. In other words, the question is still unanswered.
When’s the Windows 8 release date?
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that Windows 8 will launch in 2012, but the company hasn’t been any more specific than that. Expect more details on Windows 8 in September, when Microsoft will hold the BUILD conference for developers. For now, check out Microsoft’s first video of Windows 8 in action.
Six Big Windows 8 Features for Small Business
With Microsoft’s big BUILD conference right around the corner on September 12, people are buzzing about the Windows 8 news that’s sure to come, and for the last couple of weeks, Microsoft has been parceling out information. So far, the features we’ve seen look colorful, fast, flashy, and flexible—but how much of a difference will they make for small business users?
Let’s take a look at the Windows 8 features that have already been revealed and see what kind of an impact they could make–for better or for worse.
1. That Metro Experience
The first thing you’re likely to notice in a Windows 8 demo is the new Metro style and the fluid movement on the screen. Designed to be similar to the beautiful Windows Phone 7 interface, Windows 8 uses live tiles to surface need-to-know information right from the start. Live tiles are small, tap-able color blocks that display specific information–such as how many email messages are waiting for you or what your next appointment in town is about.
To launch a program, you can tap the tile that represents it, or flick from the right edit of the screen to display the controls, then tap a button to launch the program you want to use. Once you’re finished with that task, flick it away–or move it up to the corner of the screen out of the way–and tap a different program tile to open it. This means you can open and close and rearrange pieces of information on your desktop in much the same way you would on your physical desk.
The Start screen in Windows 8A Windows 7 feature called Snap enables a side-by-side workspace experience. For example, you can add new customers to your contact list while watching a demo of a new sales training video, all using the same simple gestures as on your touchscreen smartphone.
2. It’s Keyboard and Mouse-Friendly, Too
If you’re a holdout with a mobile phone without touch capability, or you’re using a notebook that doesn’t support touch, you may worry that Windows 8 won’t work for you. The design of Windows 8 is driven by an OS that’s supposed to run seamlessly on touchscreens and smart devices–with a fluid design for ultraportables, easy adaptability to mobile technologies, and an always-on, always-connected approach.
There will be old and new keyboard shortcuts.However, your keyboard and mouse should still work the way they always have. Familiar keys like PageDown and PageUp will work; the Windows key still brings up the start menu; and you’ll be able to navigate through programs and apps using the same point-and-click method as in Windows 7.
The flexibility of Windows 8 should enable you to switch easily back and forth between the Metro and the desktop views, so the way you interact with your PC will depend on what you want to do and what feels most natural. You might, for example, use Metro while you browse the Web, watch media, preview a presentation, or check email–but switch to Desktop view when you want more precise control of files, folders, or data.
3. Faster Boot, Faster Sleep
Another potential perk in Windows 8 is that it’s meant to enable your computer to launch into life almost as soon as you push the power button. Microsoft Vice President Mike Angiulo said in a demonstration in June that startup times of 6 or 7 seconds should be possible.
Additionally, when you wake your sleeping computer, it should return from sleep instantly–which would be a relief after the horrors of Windows Vista and the improved but still lagging wake-up rate of Windows 7. When you’re on a client visit, for example, your computer can be a more natural part of the process. You should have fewer delays when you want to show off a new design, share a proposal, or demonstrate a Web app once you open your notebook.
4. Smooth Data and App Sharing–in the Cloud and Out
While Windows 8 developments are unfolding, Microsoft has been taking big steps in the online realm by launching Office 365, a new cloud computing service for small and large businesses. It’s also promoting Office Web Apps, SkyDrive, and Azure as ways to collaborate in the cloud and reduce your IT overhead and hardware investments.
Working in the cloud means you and your team can work together virtually using the online version of tools that keep teams running smoothly in the face-to-face world: real-time communication, team meetings, task assignments, project management, file libraries, and workflow and reporting options.
We don’t yet know any specifics about Windows 8 features that engage the cloud directly, but the OS will support app-to-app sharing (think of how your Twitter posts show up in your other social media accounts), so the convergence is likely on the way.
Windows 8 will also natively support USB 3.0, which should allow you to access and transfer files up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. And that hopefully means a little less time standing in front of the room waiting for your presentation to load.
5: A Windows Explorer Makeover
Over the last week or so, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live division, has written on the Building Windows 8 blog about some of the changes we can expect to see in Windows Explorer. In Windows 8, you should be able to copy, move, rename, and delete files–especially large groups of large files–faster and with better control. You should see the status of multiple file operations and even pause the ones that are slowing things down.
The new Windows Explorer ribbon is part of Windows 8.Another hoped step toward improved efficiency comes when Windows 8 finds a naming conflict while you’re moving or copying files. If you try to drag a group of files to a folder that already contains files with those same names, Windows 8 will prompt you–and show a smart Choose Files dialog–to click the files you want to keep.
The big improvement appears to be that you will see a number of the conflicts in a single dialog box, along with the information needed to make the choice. And if you’re still confused about which logo file you want to use, you can click the thumbnail to open the file and find out for sure.
What’s not clear is what will happen when you have, say, 20 file conflicts in the same operation—will the dialog box have tabs? Will you still have to click through multiple choices (similar to Windows 7)? That remains to be seen.
The menu and toolbar in Windows Explorer will be replaced with a ribbon layout, similar in style to the one in Office 2010 and the Office Web Apps. Depending on whether you love or hate the ribbon toolbar, you may like (or not) having the ability to touch your way through the Home, Share, and View tabs. Similar to the ribbon in Office 2010, the Windows Explorer ribbon includes contextual tabs to help you find the tools you need based on the tasks you’re performing. And in case you just can’t deal with the ribbon or prefer to stick with the keyboard, developers are adding something in the neighborhood of 200 new keyboard shortcuts.
6. Is There an App for That?
The Windows 8 App Store has lots of folks speculating. Is it real? What types of apps will it include? Windows 8 is designed for ultraportable and always-on computing, and to be truly competitive in a mobile and ever-evolving market, a Windows 8 App Store is a must.
Even though we’re still working with early information–and much more will be revealed at BUILD–the Windows 8 features we’ve seen so far have appeal for small businesses. What’s not to like about faster processing, a sleek touch-driven interface, true multitasking, seamless and quick file management, and easy app sharing? If these features deliver as promised, they will make common computing tasks more fluid and natural, freeing you up to focus on the work instead of the technology.
Details about Windows 8, Microsoft’s newest operating system expected in 2012, have been leaking out thanks largely to Microsoft previews and a stream of blog posts on the company’s Building Windows 8 blog.
The new OS is said to be Microsoft’s biggest Windows refresh since Windows 95, when desktop PCs reigned supreme and most laptops cost nearly $3000. Now, Microsoft wants to update Windows for a consumer technology world that is obsessed with online services and touch-centric devices such as the iPad and Android smartphones.
Windows 8: TL;DR* (*Too Long; Didn’t Read)
So far, Microsoft has detailed a brand new touch interface for Windows 8 with the traditional desktop UI hiding underneath. The new OS also will run on both ARM and Intel processors, opening up a range of Windows 8-powered devices such as desktops, laptops, and tablets.
Windows 8 also is expected to have an OS X-style Mac App Store, and should include further integration with Microsoft’s growing range of online services such as SkyDrive, Office 365, and the free Office Web apps. Other improvements include USB 3.0 support and an overhauled version of Explorer, Windows’ file management tool.
Here’s a look at everything we know so far about Window 8.
Get in Touch With Windows 8
The most dramatic change for Windows 8 is Microsoft’s emphasis on a new Windows Phone 7-inspired touch interface. Windows 8’s new start screen has large panels that are ideal for touchscreens, but that also can be manipulated by a mouse.
ARM and Intel
Windows 8’s touch-centric interface may give traditional mouse-and-keyboard desktop fans the chills, but the new UI could help Microsoft compete in the tablet arena. Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft will design its operating system to work not only with Intel’s x86 chip architecture, but also with ARM processors. ARM chips are very popular in the mobile device market and should help Microsoft’s partners put Windows 8 on a range of so-called post-PC devices such as tablets.
An ARM processorThe big question, however, is whether people will be willing to give ARM-based Windows devices a chance. Apple’s iPad is the most dominant device in the new generation of one-panel touch tablets. And the consensus among critics and device makers is that people are looking for slates running mobile operating systems such as iOS, Android, and the QNX-based OS on the Blackberry PlayBook. Can Microsoft succeed in the tablet arena by offering Windows with a new touch overlay? I guess we’ll find out in 2012.
You can expect to see an integrated app store in Windows 8 that should let you download new software for your device with just one click. Earlier in August, Microsoft revealed on the Building Windows 8 blog the details of various engineering teams working on the new OS, and the list included an “App Store” team. It’s not clear what the app store team is working on, but chances are it will be a product similar to the Mac App Store available for Mac PCs running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and 10.7 (Lion).
Speaking of Apps, some Microsoft partners are already hard at work designing touch-based apps for Windows 8 tablets. ZDNet uncovered a purported early design for a USA Today Windows 8 app that has a very Metro UI look and feel to it.
A mock-up of a Windows 8 appAnother Windows 8 mock-up shows an app presumably designed with in-flight entertainment consoles in mind that offers access to news, weather, and videos.
Clouds in Windows 8
Also part of Microsoft’s list of Windows 8 engineering teams was a group called “Windows Online.” It’s not clear what that team might be doing, but there are a large number of online services that Microsoft could integrate into Windows 8, such as Office 365, Office Web Apps, Windows Live and Azure. Some integration with these so-called cloud services already exists, but there are still annoying shortcomings in Windows such as an easy way to mount your SkyDrive as a local drive accessible via Windows Explorer. Dropbox can do it, so why can’t Microsoft?
USB 3.0 Support
USB 3.0 promises data transfer speeds that are up to 10 times faster than the current USB 2.0 standard, and USB 3.0 also uses less power than its predecessor. You can already take advantage of speedier USB 3.0 ports in Windows 7 thanks to third-party drivers. But starting with Windows 8, Microsoft plans on including native support for USB 3.0.
Windows Explorer: File Management Basics
The new interface for file copy information in Windows 8Microsoft has spent a fair amount of time recently talking about its overhauls to Windows Explorer for the next iteration of Windows. The new Windows Explorer will improve its file management basics such as copy, move, rename, and delete functions, which make up 50 percent of Explorer’s usage in Windows 7.
The new interface puts all your basic file management functions into one window instead of having separate windows for each function. This will make it easier and more efficient to handle moving around several large files at once, such as photos and videos.
If you’re copying or moving files, you can also get an expanded view to see throughput graphs and how many bits have already been transferred. Microsoft also claims its time estimates to completion will be more accurate in Windows 8.
Finally, Microsoft has improved the filename collision dialog to make it easier to figure out which files you’ll be overwriting when a new file has the same name as a file already sitting in your destination folder.
The Windows 8 version of Explorer is also getting Microsoft’s ribbon interface in a bid to make the file management tool more touch friendly, efficient, expose useful commands, and to reintroduce popular Explorer features from Windows XP. Microsoft has also optimized the new Explorer for widescreen displays and will add about 200 keyboard shortcuts for power users.
Explorer gets the ribbon interface in Windows 8.The new Windows 8 Explorer will have three main tabs–Home, Share, and View–along with a File menu on the far left side. Explorer’s primary Home tab in Windows 8 includes 84 percent of the commands users employ most often, Microsoft says, such as “Move to” and “Copy to” for moving and copying files. Microsoft has also exposed the command “Copy path” for people who want to paste a file path into another Explorer window to access a file quickly or email a link to a file sitting on a corporate server.
The Share tab offers one-click access to the “Email” and “Zip” commands, as well as other options such as “Burn to disc,” print and, in a nod to the 1990s, fax. The new Explorer will also show you who has access to a currently selected file on your HomeGroup or enterprise network.
Explorer’s new File menu gives power users quick access to the command prompt as well as an option to open the command prompt as an administrator. Both options open a C prompt with the file path set to your currently selected folder such as My Documents or Desktop.
There are also contextual menus in Windows 8’s Explorer that only show up when you are doing specific tasks. If you open up Explorer to look at photos, for example, under the “Manage” tab you’ll see options to rotate the currently selected photo, start a slideshow, or set a photo as your background.
Opening up an Explorer window to look at your computer’s connected drives will give you options to format, optimize, and clean up your hard drive, eject an external thumb drive, or activate Windows’ Autoplay feature. Windows 8’s Explorer will also include XP’s ‘Up’ button that allows you to move backwards through your file directories.
That’s all for now, but Microsoft is expected to reveal more details about Windows 8 during the company’s BUILD conference that starts September 13 in Anaheim, CA. We’ll keep an eye on Microsoft’s blogs for more Windows 8 news.