At an event in The Netherlands today Microsoft executives offered an in-depth look at some of the key features of the upcoming Windows 8 OS. Here's our deep dive into the features of Windows 8.
Six Microsoft executives today briefed technology professionals, analysts and IT journalists at an event called Exploring Windows 8. The event ran alongside Microsoft's TechEd conference here in Amsterdam, and Microsoft focussed on the Windows 8 experience, native apps, the way the code affects hardware, and how Windows 8 will work with businesses. See also: Windows 8 Tablet review. For more on the changes in Windows 8 and how to use them visit Windows 8 Advisor. For detailed advice on installing Windows 8 Release Preview, read our article: How to install Windows 8.
Windows 8: performance
Bill Karagounis, Principal Group Program Manager for the Windows 8 Fundamentals Team took to the stage to claim that startup times were 40 percent faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware, and that the memory footprint of the new OS is '10 to 20 percent better'. He said that the Windows code base comfortably scales on all devices from tablets right up to workstation PCs, and demonstrated Windows 7 and Windows 8 running on similar laptops, with relatively low specifications (including just 1GB RAM). (See also: Windows 8: the complete guide.)
According to the demonstration, Windows 7 uses 389MB of system memory, Windows 8 only 330MB. And this in an operating system that includes more functionality, including built-in security software (of which more later).
Karagounis also showed how an older Asus UltraBook with a second-generation Intel chip could boot from cold in just 8 seconds. However, he said that Windows 8 was intended to be what he called 'always on, always connected'. 'You don't boot and shut down Windows 8', he said. Further, he suggested that the OS was designed to be always running switching on and off instantly like a smartphone. He demonstrated the power draw of an Intel-system on a chip Windows 8 slate, using virtually no power in sleep mode, with only the occasional tiny peak when it checked for or received data.
The device was, he said, connected to the web, working in the background in a mode he described as 'connected standby'. Karagounis sent an IM to the slate, at which point he power draw peaked and the device set off an alert. This status applies to Windows RT PCs, and Intel SoC PCs . In the demonstration the power draw goes up instantly something then happens, and then drops off quickly when so-called connected standby kicks in.
Windows 8: security
Karagounis then moved on to security, saying that Windows 8 'essentially bonded the hardware and software together from a security process'. He said that anti-malware is always the first app to load once the OS kicks in, meaning that net nasties cannot sneak in before the security system is up and running, and said that 'secure boot' is a firmware process that validates the OS as it is loading, to ensure that the boot loader is legitimate. He also said that if Windows 8 or the hardware detects something wrong with the boot path, it automatically enters repair mode. Karagounis also emphasies that Windows Defender now has a full anti-malware real-time scanning engine built-in - in essence, Security Essentials.
Other features Karagounis was keen to emphasise with a security bent including the ability to refresh or reset a PC straight from the settings. Head to settings, general, and 'Refresh your PC without affecting your files' and you can reinstall the OS, but keep data and settings. The process also keeps any apps installed from the Windows Store, and removes any third-party apps, while listing them so you can reinstall any you choose to. Choose another option: 'Reset your PC' and apps and files will disappear, settings too. In essence this is a factory reset; you can simply remove files or even scrub the disk. Once the process is complete you must accept the licence terms again and you have a brand new PC.
Windows 8: tools for power users
Karagounis spend some time showing off Windows 8's new Task Manager. It looks a lot more simple inthe default view, being simply a list of logos of apps via which you can choose to end apps that aren't working. An advanced view shows all running apps, their status, and resource use via a heatmap - it's very clear. A Performance view shows graphically what is going on, App history shows how much cellular data, network time, and CPU useage an app has ever used. This is also displayed as a heatmap. The Startup tab shows exactly what is going on when you boot the PC, pinpointing any resource hogging apps.
NEXT: Native apps and the Windows Store >>
Microsoft today offered an in-depth look at Windows 8 today. Here's an overview of the features of Windows 8.
Windows 8: native apps and the Windows Store
Ted Dworking, Partner Director of Program Management for the Windows Store team took to the stage to talk about apps and the Windows Store. He said that right out of the box Windows 8 contained the essentials for communication, content and entertainment, each app with native cloud support and connected to services that matter to you - including Facebook, Twitter and - intriguingly - third-party webmail providers.
Describing the Windows Store, Dworkin said it would be 'Front and centre on the start screen, and included in every version of Windows 8'. He said Microsoft's 'ambition is to create the single greatest economic opportunity for developers, ever', and that it would do so by creating a store with a massive audience, and good economic terms. To that end app developers can enjoy a 70 percent revenue share for apps that they create - a figure that goes up to 80 percent if they make $25,000.
Showing off the Windows Store interface he said it was designed on the Metro design principle, to be a 'totally scalable' store with heuristically populated lists of apps, app categories, and the smalled possible gap between an apps listing, and the user downloading that app
Displaying an app page on the Store, he said that each page would show off info on the app's capabilites, a marketing descriptionan and an age rating. He said that every app would be reviewed for appropriateness and technical issues, and stressed that the purchasing process had to be made as simple as possible.
Native apps include Mail, Calender, People, Messaging and Photo. Each enjoys native OS cloud support via Skydrive. Each page of the Mail app, Dworkin said, contains only the minmium, most important commands, although others can be found by swiping to the bottom of the page. So the main page of the Mail app contains the commands for new mail, reply and trash, for instance.
Dworkin showed off the unified inbox, adn demonstrated a simple two-step process to add a new account, from a third party service such as Gmail. In this case native cloud support means that attachments can be saved and viewed from SkyDrive, and you can send attachments via SkyDrive, so that the receiver can view a file from their own SkyDrive account without having to download it.
Using the Calendar app you can swipe from month to month, or select day, or week views. theday view is split so you can see today and tomorrow. As with other apps, settings can be accessed via swiping in from the side, and you can slide in and out further information, such as birthdays of friends sourced from social media, or work appointments from your business calendar.
Dworkin described the People app as a 'digital rolodex'. It includes all your contacts from any number of apps, including social networks and email accounts. The relationship to you, means of contacting them, and most recent contacts are shown within the app. You can choose to connect via any social tile, pin individuals to start screen, and find them via search. Using the Messaging app you can start a conversation using whatever system of messaging or email that you utilise to commune with that contact.
The Photos app contains local images from your Pictures library, images in your SkyDrive folder, and then those from other services such as Facebook and Flickr. You can download the SkyDrive app to another local machine, and access all the photos on there from any other Windows 8 system.
The Music app contains 16 million songs, which you can preview and buy. Any songs you buy or store locally can be played out via an Xbox. The Video app also has the built-in ability to project to Xbox, and allows you to buy or rent movies, as well as view previews. Again, you can store and view local files, including home movies. The Game market placelet's you purchase games, and includes a notification of if any of your friends have played a title - you can message them to find out if it is any good. You can demo on the PC any Xbox game available, and view your own Xbox Live avatar, as well as those of friends.
Bing apps use Metro style design and customisation to present a world of data, Dworkin said, and include News, Finance and Maps. With rich images on news sections, News app settings allows you change language, and the 'My news' option lets you select sources, subjects, and lets you pin sources to your Start page. Bing Finance lets you check stock prices etc, and set up a watch list of individual stocks and markets. These can all be pinned to your Start screen, as can world markets, currancy, and so on. Bing Maps pinpoints exactly where you are, and shows real-time traffic data.
Windows 8: the experience
Principal Program Manager of the Windows 8 User Experience Team Chaitanya Sareen said that Windows 8 is a reimagining of Windows 8 from the chipset to the experience. He said that computing, from the web to the Windows 8 UI, is better without what he called 'Chrome'. Not literally a dig at rival Google's browser and OS (although we suspect the term is no coincidence), Chrome in Microsoft parlance means extraneous icons, input fields, add-ons and buttons. Windows 8, he said is 'fast and fluid', 'connected and alive' and all about 'consumption and creation'.
More importantly, he said that Windows 8 was were true convergence happens: 'why bring two devices when you can bring only one [Windows 8 tablet]?' he asked.
NEXT: WIndows 8 Start screen
Here's our deep dive into the features of Windows 8, with input from key figures atMicrosoft.
Windows 8: Start screen
Using a Windows 8 tablet, Sareen showed the now familar splash screen, replete with live data. He used a picture password to access his device, and showed off several live tiles - email, weather, appointments, photos (featuring images stored locally and in the cloud), news and sports. Each added information to what Sareen described as a 'digital dashboard' without him having to boot an app. He demonstrated what he called 'Semantic zoom', via which a user pinches down to zoom out, via which they can traverse the entire list of apps.
This is not just an optical zoom, as it reconstructs the data in such as way as to be useful to the user. The Start screen offers fast, instant customisation - you can drag and drop apps, users and more as live tiles. And the number of tiles adjusts to make best use of the screen real estate, Sareen said.
Windows 8: controls and search
The Windows 8 browser is, Sareen said: 'fast and fluid just like Start'. Again he said 'there's no 'Chrome'', using Microsoft's internal names for taskbars, add-ons and so forth: 'we think the web is better without Chrome', he said, in what may be a very thinly disguised attack on Google.
Describing Windows 8 Charms, Sareen said they represent a 'promise to customers and developers' that the controls will be the same everywhere. Demonstrating a Slate running Windows 8, he showed how the Start menu is the in the middle of the Charms bar under the users' right thumb, which certainly looks intuitive (to righthanded folk, anyway). Sareen demonstrated other touch controls: in the browser swiping from the top brings up controls, swiping from the bottom brings up controls, and address bar etc.
The Windows 8 browser, Sareen said, is a plugin free experience, with Adobe Flash built-in. He also demoes HTML 5, showing the way that five finger touchpoints can be registered. He also showed the way that recent pages are displayed as tiles, and showed how swiping back and forth replaced back and forward buttons in the Windows 8 browser. Intriguingly, where website editors have split up articles into multiple pages Windows 8 will allow users to swipe through to the next page - or Flip Forward.
Sareen cited the Share icons in the browser Charms as an example of what Microsot calls the 'Windows 8 contract'. By this he means that certain features can be put into all apps, third party or native, and will work in the same way from the same part of the interface. Thus simply adding in the code to share content from any app will mean the same 'Share' icon in the same place, in all apps. Back to the browser users can pin pages to the Start screen, as indeed they can pin aspects of apps. He described the ability to swipe through recently used apps from the left 'like alt-tab for the masses'. In Windows 8 you can pull up a list of recently used apps from the left of the screen, and apps are automatically suspended when you stop using them - you don't have to close apps they will ve automatically suspended. To close them, just swipe downwards.
You can take any app and snap it to the side of the screen by simply grabbing and moving it - the app will also relay itself so that it looks at its best. To this end app devs are given two optimal sizes, Sareen said: 'website' and 'phone'. Sareen demonstrated the native Mail app, showing how if you click an attached document, opens in the 'desktop' app. The desktop is, in effect, a Metro app - it can be snapped to the sides, resized and so on, but legacy apps running in the desktop run in windows in much the same way as they do in Windows 7.
Key to all this, Sareen said, was that Windows 8 is designed to be used by touch, keyboard and mouse - whatever is most appropriate to the task in hand. He said that in certain circumstances nothing beats the power of a keyboard, and that Microsoft was 'not going to design one UI, and force people to use it'. He said that the corners of screen are easy for mouse, which is why the Start 'button' has disappeard, and in order to get to the Start menu you simply mouse to the bottom left. Similarly, for mouse users 'back' is top left, and to get to 'Charms' you have to go to the right and swipe.
Keyboard navigation has been similarly adjusted. To get the 'Weather' app, for instance, you simply type 'weath...' and as you type the options will reduce until the Weather app appears. Meanwhile, page up, page down and so on work as they do now.
You can access search from anywhere, and the results are listed via the icons of the apps in which they appear. Simply click an app to choose results from that application. A search from anywhere combs the entire machine. Similarly, you can access all your files from every app, Sareen said.
He demonstrated using Windows 8 on a Samsung Series 9 laptop. This device doesn't have a touch screen, but does sport a touchpad. Sareen used the pad like a touchscreen, utilising gesture control. He also showed off a desktop system using multimonitor technology on which there were different wallpapers on each display - the taskbar span both displays, is duplicated by default,but can be adjusted to be contextual to what content you have on each screen.
NEXT: Windows 8 for business >>
Here's how Windows 8 is shaping up for business, based on the thoughts of key Microsoft execs .
Windows 8 for business
Determined to slay the idea that Windows 8 tablets are no good for business use, Dustin Inglis - Partner Group Program Manager for the Windows Core team - said that Windows tablets could
be great enterprise tools because they could display live business information such as pending invoices, recent updates, and stock prices, running as tiles in the Start screen. He showed off a means of running a Windows 8 enterprise management workstation from a memory stick. Windows To Go is, Inglis said, an IT managed, BitLocker protected enterprise workstation run from external storage. He showed how you could run Windows To Go from a USB stick: simply boot from the stick, enter your BitLocker password and your enterprise version of Windows is physically running on your PC's processor, graphics, and hardware, but using software that is entirely separate from the host machine.
According to Inglis, Windows RT is also a useful business platform. He said the ARM OS has a trusted platform module, a network level VPN tool that lets you work with enterprise level protection. There's also means of sideloading apps from your company network, bypassing the Windows Store entirely. Windows RT also includes remote devices management, via which you can reboot, locate, and wipe smartphones and tablets. He also showed off means of running X86 Windows apps on a Windows RT tablet using 'RemoteApp' - a virtualised way of running X86 apps on RT.
Windows 8: the rationale
Earlier, Antoine Leblond, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President for Windows Web Services opened up the event by stressing the unique opportunity that Microsoft feels Windows 8 offers. He said that Windows offers unprecedented scale, with what he claimed was more than 600 million Windows 7 licences sold, and a PC users base of more than a billion people.
He said that everthing that is good about Windows 8 represented changes in the world of computing since the launch of Windows 95, citing the shift from desktops to laptops, and admitting that "tablets will probably outsell laptops next year [in certain areas]" over the next year. He said that Windows 8 PCs had to take account of the way that power sources change the way we use technology: when you have infinite power you use the CPU as much as possible, but as these days battery life is crucial, Windows engineers have worked to put devices to sleep at every opportunity, even between keystrokes, in order to save battery life.
Leblond also cited touch as an example of how tech has changed. He said that five years ago touch was niche, but now every smartphone was touch enabled, and tablets, and laptops were touchscreen devices. Connectivity is now ubiquitous, and we expect to be able to access and share all our content, wherever we are. Meanwhile the line between home and work has blurred.
Thus, Leblond said, the aims of Windows 8 were to take the best of Windows 7, look forward to the way people use PCs and will use PCs in the future, adding in what he called a 'beautiful, fast and fluid user interface' that is 'designed for the broadest range of devices'. He said that Windows 8 is simply a better Windows than Windows 7 - and we'll find out soon!