Microsoft gave developers and the public the first in-depth preview of Windows 8 last week at its BUILD conference. Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live Division, delivered a fast-paced show full of color and connection, and wooed the audience with a free Windows 8 Samsung tablet loaded with the OS developer preview.
But as the pixie dust settles, unanswered questions emerge. What's the big Windows 8 promise for small businesses? If you've upgraded to Windows 7 in the last year or so, what will make Windows 8 a must-buy decision (or not)?
See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review
Several of the features demonstrated had to do with speed, efficiency, and connectivity. The demo showed a lightning-fast startup from a cold boot; the computer launched into life in the same amount of time it took to turn on the monitor. Still, that alone isn't going to persuade you to charge Windows 8 to your company credit card.
One big efficiency feature shown was the way in which Windows 8 manages power while multitasking; although you can have many different applications running in Windows 8 at any one time, only those displayed on your screen should draw any real power. The rest are suspended in what Sinofsky called a "freeze-dried state", not drawing any processing power until they are made active again.
The Windows Task Manager is also getting a makeover that provides more insight into the way your computer uses its processing power, so you can identify potential power hogs or troubleshoot a process that's hanging things up. You can use the App History tab to find out more about the applications used on your computer or network, and sleuth out potential energy drains there.
Although the difference in the draw on processing power was clear and impressive and the tools seemed easy to use, we don't yet know how this kind of power savings extends throughout Windows 8, and there's no word on power management features--similar to those in Windows 7--to increase the efficiency of your systems while reducing your power bill.
The keynote suggested that Windows 8 will help you stay connected to people, Web apps, and cloud services like SkyDrive, but I was left wondering how businesses will use these new features. Social media is big, sure; but how much social networking do you encourage in your small business? Maybe you're using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social sites to promote what you do, but chances are that one person in your group managing those accounts is enough. For non-work hours, social media is great, but where does your small business draw the line between collaboration and contact overload?
Another interesting efficiency feature showed how Windows 8 will help your apps "talk to each other", so that you can access files from various sites, or share files that are stored in the cloud through secure tunnels made possible by logging in to Windows Live. You might use this, for example, to access from work the files you accidentally left on your home computer, or to share pictures you've saved in an online album with other applications either running on your computer or live on the Web.
This single sign-in may make it convenient, but of the 542 million Windows Live users Microsoft counts each month, how many of those are using Windows Live for business-related tasks? We may have to wait and see what Windows Live connectivity can offer small business as we learn more about Windows 8.
Katherine Murray is a longtime tech writer specializing in Microsoft Office and related technologies, as well as green tech. You can reach Katherine through her blog, BlogOffice, or follow her on Twitter at @kmurray230.