Microsoft's Windows 8: Here's what we now know (and don't)

Microsoft's Windows 8 developer conference kicks off on September 13. Here's a cheat sheet of what we now know and don't going into the four-day confab.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is kicking off its Windows Build conference on September 13. I spent Monday, September 12, in a day-long deep dive on Windows 8, where Microsoft officials shared a preview of some of its planned content for its Windows 8 developer show.

Here's a list of what those of us press and analysts in attendance know about Microsoft's Build messaging going into the four-day Build show. Some of this info is brand-new; some of it is confirmed as of the September 12 event. During the opening Build keynote on September 13, Microsoft will be revealing additional information, and I'll be updating this post with it accordingly: What we know

Microsoft showed us the Windows Developer Preview (Build 1802 8102 -- my mistake), which is one of its recent pre-beta "Milestone" builds of Windows 8 client. The focus was of what we saw was the x86/x64 build of Windows 8. But Microsoft officials are still maintaining that the ARM and x86/64 builds are evolving in lockstep and provided no indication that the company planned to deliver the x86/64 ahead of the ARM version of Windows 8.

Want to see the Windows 8 Developer Preview up close and personal? My ZDNet colleague Ed Bott has a load of new Windows 8 screen shots and hands-on information.

Microsoft plans to provide Build attendees with this same build of Windows 8. Other interested parties will also get the bits later this week for download on the Windows Dev Center.. (I'll add more details to this once I am out from my non-disclosure agreement today). The bits will be available for download as of 8 p.m. PT on Tuesday, September 13. Windows 8 will work on any PC that can run Windows 7, whether it is a touch-enabled device or not.

Windows 8 still supports stylus/digital ink and voice-input. Even though it is "touch-centric," Windows 8 will enable user input using keyboards and mice. The pen is optional and not a requirement. The user experience default is the tile interface that looks and feels a lot like the Windows Phone one. The "legacy"/desktop experience is accessed via a Desktop tile on users' Windows 8 systems. There are not two different Windows 8 "modes" or user interfaces. The tile interface is the only interface and the "classic" interface is available as an application.

HTML5, JavaScript and CSS aren't the only way to develop Windows 8 apps. Developers can still use Visual Basic, C, C#, C++, .Net, Silverlight and XAML to write both "modern" (or what is now officially known as "Metro-style" apps) and line-of-business "Desktop" apps. The emphasis at Build -- and going forward at Microsoft, in my view -- is on Metro-style apps, however, preferably written in HTML5 and JavaScript.

There's going to be a Windows Store that will be populated with new Metro-style apps, alongside existing desktop apps. In the store, some apps will be directly downloadable; others will be links that redirect to app developers' own sites for download

Microsoft is adding new/more HTML5 tooling support to Visual Studio "11" (a k a Visual Studio 2012) and the coming version of its Expression Blend design tool.

Microsoft will make Windows 8 available on a USB stick. This new "Windows to Go" capability, rumored for years, is aimed at business users who need to deploy Windows 8 on numerous PCs.

What we don't

The official beta/final timeline for Windows 8 (though there is next-to-no one out there who thinks it won't ship in 2012 in time for holiday sales

How many different Windows 8 packages, or SKUs Microsoft plans to ship and how much Windows 8 will cost

How much tweaking Windows Phone 7 app developers will need to do to their apps to get them to run on Windows 8. (It seems it is possible to reuse some of the Silverlight code written by phone developers; I am not sure how much XNA code written for Windows Phone games can be saved.) How/when/if Microsoft will support PHP, Ruby and other non-Microsoft languages and tools for those who'd prefer to use them to write Windows 8 apps What Microsoft Office "15" will look like so as to enable it to run on both x86/x64 and ARM hardware. ARM-based systems won't support legacy "desktop" apps, the Softies reconfirmed this week. That means Office 15 is going to be a "Metro style" app. We don't know for sure if that means it will be some kind of HTML5/JavaScript Web-app or if Microsoft is rewriting it as a native C++ Windows 8 app.

Whether Windows 8 will feature built-in Kinect integration. Microsoft is set to talk about new kinds of sensors that Windows 8 will support (ambient-light sensing, etc.) but no word going into the keynote whether Kinect integration will be baked in from the get-go.

What's coming with Windows Live Wave 5 -- the set of consumer services designed to complement Windows 8. Beyond the fact that there are next-generation Mail, Calendar, Photo, People (Messaging) and SkyDrive applications/services, we don't know much of anything

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