After months of rumors, speculation, sneaky peeks, and anticipation, Windows 8 will have its first truly public outing this week at Microsoft’s BUILD conference in Anaheim, California.
BUILD replaces Microsoft’s previous PDC developer event. Though PDC was most often held in Los Angeles, the move to Anaheim is a historical reference to 1993’s PDC event: 18 years ago, Anaheim was where Microsoft first showed Windows 95 to the world. Windows 95, with its radical new UI, revolutionized Windows and became the product that enabled Microsoft to attain a nigh unassailable monopoly on desktop computing. Microsoft hopes that Windows 8, described by the company as its “riskiest” product yet, will be just as important a milestone. Windows 8 will be the platform used for desktops, tablets, TVs, and beyond.
So what can we expect to see out of BUILD?
Details so far are scarce. The company has kept very quiet about Windows 8, saying only that all will be revealed at BUILD, though we do know a few bits and pieces. The new, Metro-styled, touch-first, finger-friendly user interface is chief among those. It was briefly demonstrated earlier in the year at D9, but so far, that’s all we’ve seen of it. With BUILD, we should finally get the opportunity to see how it works not just in on-stage demos, but in practice.
Even further information has been published on Microsoft’s Building Windows 8 blog. The company has been careful not to talk about the “big picture,” instead focusing on individual features. These include improved boot times, the inclusion of Hyper-V in the desktop operating system, confirmation that the operating system willsupport USB3, native support for mounting VHD and ISO disc images, and a few looks at some changes made in Explorer: a new user interface for file copying and handling of name collisions, and a new ribbon toolbar.
The last of these was met with some amount of surprise and confusion. The ribbon interface is busy, perhaps even cluttered, with lots of buttons packed in. The contrast with the clean lines and square edges of the Metro touch interface is stark. But getting too hung up on aesthetics at this stage is unwise—the appearance may change before release—and while the ribbon certainly can’t be described as minimal, it makes features very easy to discover, which is arguably more useful.
Key to competing with other tablet platforms, Windows 8 will almost certainly include an App Store. The ability to run Windows Phone applications on Windows 8 would also give it a valuable leg up in the tablet space, and there’s speculation that this will be confirmed at BUILD.
We also know that not every part of Windows 8 will be shown off this week. Media Center will be missing; its absence had been noted by users of leaked builds, and was later confirmed by Steven Sinofsky, President of Windows and Windows Live at Microsoft. However, Sinofsky said that this absence was merely temporary; Media Center hasn’t been killed, it’s just not ready at this time.
Though the new interface is essential to Microsoft’s plans to bring Windows 8 to the tablet, BUILD is primarily a developer conference: attendees are here to learn how to write Windows 8 applications. After the D9 demo, many developers were concerned that Windows 8 would force them to discard their existing skills and knowledge in favor of a new HTML5-driven development model. We argued that this was not the case, and that Windows 8 would make software development for Microsoft’s ecosystem more streamlined than ever before. The full situation will be revealed in the next few days, but the banners that Microsoft has erected all over the Anaheim Convention Center should prove reassuring: the refrain found on every one of them is “Use what you know. Do what you’ve always imagined.” Clearly, throwing away existing skills isn’t on the agenda.
Still, HTML5 is sure to get a mention, and there’s an outside chance that we might see an updated version of Internet Explorer 10. Windows 8 will include Internet Explorer 10, and Platform Preview 2 of the browser was released at the end of June. Redmond has said that it plans to produce a new preview every 12 weeks or so, so a new preview this week would be a couple of weeks early—but if the company is going to continue to beat the HTML5 drum, this would certainly be a good time to release an update.
Some discussion of Visual Studio 2012 (or whatever the next version will be called) seems likely, as a natural counterpart to the operating system changes. A new focus on C++ development is also expected.
Server Windows will also receive a mention. New features, including Hyper-V live migration, were announcedearlier in the year, and we’ll learn more about what the new version has to offer this week. A new management interface, thousands of new PowerShell capabilities, and data deduplication are all likely.
Full agendas for BUILD are still unavailable. Microsoft may have more to announce—but BUILD is all about Windows, and non-Windows topics will play second fiddle, if they get a mention at all. And to be sure, one thing that won’t be talked about this week is Windows Phone. While an eventual unification of Microsoft’s phone and desktop platforms is likely, it’s not happening this week.
This is the week in which Microsoft stakes its claim on the future. It’s not make-or-break—the company’s server, office, and even desktop businesses will remain healthy and viable regardless of Windows 8’s reception—but it’s nonetheless essential to Microsoft’s desire to move beyond the conventional PC. If it gets Windows 8 right, the company’s “Windows Everywhere” will finally come to fruition. If it doesn’t, that dream will be dead for good.
As seen on arstechnica.com