September saw Microsoft’s Windows president, Steven Sinofsky, take to the stage at the Build developer conference to talk up Windows 8’s features and announce a publicly available Developer Preview. Although it’s rough around the edges, Microsoft has done enough to confidently let critics loose on the early build of its next operating system (OS).
Microsoft is to be applauded for its recognition of the fact that turning out yet another version of its venerable OS wouldn’t wash. Windows 7 isn’t all that different from Windows 95, which made Microsoft its fortune 16 years ago. But like any Sweet Sixteen, Windows has reached the age of maturity and ought to be ready to grow up.
The new Metro interface has been grabbing most of the headlines, since this is the part of Windows 8 that is most unlike Microsoft’s previous desktop OSes. We like its ability to glide items in and out of view and have them play in isolation and continue playing as you push them elsewhere onscreen. The ‘chrome-less’ windows and web-browsing experience is also welcome: why sacrifice the use of the edges of your screen if you can have context-based menus appear as and when you want them to? The fewer distractions, the better.
It also makes sense to offer an alternative to all this glorious gliding about, should you want to get back to the business at hand and start entering strings of numbers into a spreadsheet or finessing the structure of an important report. In its non-Metro guise, Windows 8 will cater to the traditionalist user like me, who sees nothing wrong with existing keyboard and mouse input methods.
- Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview (64bit)
- Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview (32bit)
- Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Preview (64bit w/ developer tools)
How good a marriage the two sides of Windows 8 enjoy remains to be seen, but it’s a necessary partnership. Intel x86-based PCs can’t run the Metro interface, while the ARM processors that will power new Windows 8 devices aren’t compatible with programs written to run current Windows versions.
Thus, Microsoft is at a crossroads, looking forwards by focusing on platforms for which it’s previously paid little more than lip service, while being at pains to keep current customers on side by reassuring them there’s no cause for alarm.
With the bright Metro interface and focus on touch and portable devices, it’s finally staking a claim to the new rather than the status quo. This is a far more palatable approach to leaving behind its formative years than marketing messages about heading ‘to the cloud’. Perhaps the geeks really are growing up.