Microsoft has given a preview of its next-generation Windows operating system, which includes a new user interface optimised for touch-driven devices.
Microsoft has given a preview of its next-generation Windows operating system, which includes a new user interface optimised for touch-driven devices. Photo credit: Rafe Needleman/CNET News
The platform, currently codenamed Windows 8, has been redesigned to deliver a better experience on touchscreen devices. For example, Windows 8 does away with the traditional start button and program icons, replacing them with a refreshed UI that looks similar to the Windows Phone 7 interface.
Instead of application icons, Windows 8 provides a series of tiles directly on the desktop for accessing programs. These can display live information, such as weather updates, eliminating the need to open the applications to perform certain tasks.
"What we tried to do with Windows 8 is really re-imagine how to work with the PC," Sinofsky said in an interview with Walt Mossberg for AllthingsD before the announcement. "We looked from the ground up at how you interact with Windows, the kind of programs you can run [and] how you get those programs."
However, Sinofsky was quick to point out that, under the new look, "it's still Windows" — meaning that the new OS will run the same programs as Windows 7, and can be used with the same external peripherals that are compatible with Windows 7.
For Windows 8 to be successful, it is vital to ensure backwards compatibility, Al Gillen, system software analyst at IDC, told ZDNet UK on Thursday.
"As far as I can see, all Microsoft has done is to introduce some visual demos, but that does not include any technical details for what incompatibilities may exist — although, as a rule, Microsoft tends to downplay incompatibilities as much as it can, and leaves it to customers to figure those things out on their own," said Gillen.
"However, at the end of the day, yes, it is critical for Windows 8 to be Windows 7 with a new UI, because if Windows 8 is totally disruptive to Windows 7 and earlier applications, it would be a disaster for Microsoft," he added. "Think of the Windows XP Professional versus Windows 2000 Professional comparison."
Previously, updates to the flagship Microsoft platform brought upgraded hardware requirements, but this is not the case with Windows 8, according to Sinofsky. A change in the way the company drives hardware requirements allows Windows 8 to run on tablets as well as desktop PCs and laptops.
"At some point we reached a plateau," Sinofsky said. "We were doubling the system requirements for a base-level Windows with every release, which turned out to be every three or four years. We looked at the ARM processor and what was available and we looked at the Windows codebase [and realised] they were in sync. When you look at the RAM usage, number of processes or disk blueprint, those are all the same as what you see on the current crop of slates."
"We have an approach that is different, but it also builds on the value of the 400 million PCs that will be sold in the year that we release this product. All of those PCs will accrue the benefit of the work that we are doing," Sinofsky added.
I don't see it as a deal-changer for the PC segment; this is more about making Windows work better on a media tablet form factor. – Al Gillen, IDC
Microsoft's one-size-fits-all approach contrasts with rivals such as Apple and Google, which provide different versions of their platforms for mobile and desktop devices. Apple is expected to unveil the next version of Mac OS X, called Lion, during its Worldwide Developers Conference 2011 in San Francisco between 6 and 10 June.
IDC's Gillen is sceptical about Windows 8's likely impact, in both the mobile and desktop markets.
"[The UI] looks interesting and fun to use, but I don't see it as a deal-changer for the PC segment; this is more about making Windows work better on a media tablet form factor," he said.
"The demo seems to make me immediately think of iPhone — and as such, it suggests Microsoft is once again taking a followship position to Apple creativity. The tiles work nicely on a large screen, but I'm concerned that the idea may lead to crowded screens, and a fast consumption of available real estate on small form-factor devices," he added.