Following a post on Microsoft's Dutch website hinting that Windows 8 is some two years away (post has now been edited, but you can find the relevant quote on Zack Whittaker's iGeneration blog), there has been a LOT of chat about what this new OS should bring to the table.
The original post, which ironically was supposed to draw attention to Windows 7's first birthday, said that Microsoft was busy working on Windows 8 but that this next release was about two years away.
OK, first off, the idea that Windows 8 (or whatever it ends up being called - for the sake of argument lets call it Windows 8) would land in 2012 is hardly news. A release every three years or so is to be expected, especially since Microsoft never wants an OS to stick around and gain as much user traction as Windows XP did.
As you can imagine, we don't know an awful lot about Windows 8 at this point. There has been some leaked slides which suggest that Microsoft is happy to crib off pay homage to Apple's model. These leaked slides also hint at tighter integration with OEMs to get integrated cameras onto systems as a standard. Also mentioned were faster startup times and even an app store (!).
When Microsoft CEO spoke at the Gartner Symposium last week, he was asked what was the riskiest product bet for Microsoft. Ballmer said it was the next version of Windows. Not slates. Not Windows Phone 7. Now, perhaps he chose the next version of Windows as an answer because it's far enough away for this comment to be forgotten (after all, calling slates or Windows Phone 7 risky might have set off alarm bells). In fact, it's hard to see much in the leaked slide deck (fast startup, face recognition, app store and so on) as being "risky." Maybe banking on OEMs to integrate things like cameras into new systems will take work (and likely push prices up), but none of this is really risky. Kin was risky (too risky). Zune was risky. Xbox was risky. Bing was risky. I find it had to see Windows as a risky move. As badly received as Vista was, there was little risk for Microsoft since customers fell back to buying XP instead. Given the popularity of Windows 7, even if Windows 8 sucked whole lemons, I still find it hard to label it risky.
The question I'm more interested in is this - should Windows 8 be evolutionary or revolutionary? In other words, should the next incarnation of Windows be a follow-on much like Windows 7 followed on from Vista, or will it be a radical shift in direction, like Windows 95 was compared to Windows 3.1?
Personally, I think that everything currently points to Windows 8 being evolutionary. Everything points to that at present. And anyway, it's the least risky move.