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Microsoft BUILD: what we expect to see about Windows 8 this week

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 Though PDC was most often held in Los Angeles, the move to Anaheim is a historical reference to 1993’s PDC event: 18 years ago, Anaheim was where Microsoft first showed Windows 95 to the world.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.

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Although Windows 8 is not slated to hit the market before 2012, we’ve already begun to see glimpses of what we can expect from Microsoft’s next desktop operating system. The latest post on Microsoft’s blog demonstrates a dramatically improved boot time in the next iteration of the OS.

We’re talking about 8 seconds from the moment the machine is turned on until it’s fully booted — a vast improvement over most machines running earlier versions of Windows today.

Of course, the boot time won’t be this fast on all machines. Having a fast PC with a lot of RAM and an SSD instead of a HDD will help out tremendously.

Still, it’s nice to see that Microsoft is working to reduce long boot times, which is one of the most annoying aspects of computing for many users. Microsoft’s own data shows that 57% of desktop PC users and 45% of laptop users shut down their machines instead of putting them in sleep mode.

Microsoft provides a very detailed breakdown of how, exactly, the engineers did it — it’s a hybrid between traditional cold boot and resuming from hibernate.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 XboxThis limited edition Call of DutyModern Warfare 3 Xbox 360 makes me drool. It may not be quite as nerdy as the limited edition Star Wars one, but it’s certainly just as cool.

Announced yesterday by Activision, this custom-designed console is a 320GB model and comes bundled with two wireless controllers — which also sport the same Modern Warfare 3 design. But it’s not all hardware: the bundle also includes a copy of the game, a one-month subscription to Xbox Live Gold, and some exclusive avatar items.

It’s set to launch on November 8 — the same day the game hits store shelves — and U.K. retailer Game has already begun taking pre-orders, with the package priced at £270. The estimated retail price for you guys in the U.S. is $399, according to CVG.

If you’re a fan of the awesome Modern Warfare 3 design, but you don’t want to fork out for a new Xbox, you’ll be pleased to hear you can purchase the custom wireless controller separately. This will begin shipping, along with a custom wireless headset, on October 11, priced at $59.99/£34.99 and $69.99 respectively. A U.K. price for the headset is yet to be announced.

With the limited edition Star Wars Kinect Xbox bundle now delayed until 2012, there’s a good chance the MW3 console will take its place on many a Christmas wish-list. That is, of course, if you’re willing to wait 8 weeks after the game’s release for old Saint Nick.

What do you think of this limited edition bundle?

[via TechRadar]

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When you look at the combined 70 percent smartphone market share of Android and Apple in thewindows8screen U.S. compared to Microsoft’s measly and shrinking 6 percent, it seems like it’s game over before it really began for Windows Phone. Windows Phone is a decent mobile OS, evenpromising, but so far it has failed to capture the hearts and minds of developers or consumers. Can Microsoft do anything to change that and will it involve tying Windows Phone more tightly to its next desktop operating system, Windows 8?

There are some clues that this is exactly what Microsoft is planning to do. When we first saw thepreview videos of Windows 8, with its touch and tile-based interface, people thought immediately of Windows Phone, which has a very similar looking interface. Instead of app icons, both use tiles which can display data and images from the underlying apps without opening them. The tiles themselves become a dashboard displaying the realtime data behind every app.

Windows Phone and Windows 8 are two separate operating systems. But what if Microsoft made it really easy for Windows Phone apps to run on Windows 8 PCs? Right now, most mobile apps on Android or Apple’s iOS devices live in their own separate world from the desktop (porting apps from iOS to OS X is possible, but doesn’t seem to be a very popular practice). The link to the desktop today is usually done via the web. If Windows mobile apps had counterparts on the desktop that synced up and presented themselves as a Windows 8 app tile, that could give Windows phone an advantage currently lacking in its rivals. It also would be in line with Microsoft’s classic embrace and extend strategy, whereby it uses its dominance of the desktop to extend to other areas. That strategy may no longer work in the post-PC era, but it is still worth a try.

We will probably see all of this come together with Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft’s upcoming developer framework for Windows 8 called “Jupiter.” Just as the god Apollo was the sun of Jupiter, so too is Windows Phone 8 (codenamed Apollo) related to Windows 8. As our own Sarah Perez wrote about Jupiter:

Jupiter may end up being the “one framework” to rule them all. That means it might be possible to port the thousands of Windows Phone apps already written with Silverlight to Windows 8 simply by reusing existing code and making small tweaks. Or maybe even no tweaks. (That part is still unclear). If so, this would be a technical advantage for developers building for Windows Phone 8 (code-named “Apollo” by the way, the son of “Jupiter”) or Windows 8.

As I noted above, even if this strategy is successful in creating a ton of cool cross-platform mobile-PC apps, it is not clear that will be enough to make a difference for Windows Phone. But it definitely points to the mobile and desktop worlds converging in the not too distant future, and not just on Windows. All your mobile apps should also be available in some form on your desktop. Not the exact same apps, of course, because mobile apps are built for touch interfaces, location, and to take advantage of your phone’s hardware such as cameras and accelerometers. Desktop apps, in contrast, still need to be designed for the mouse and keyboard. But the underlying data can feed native apps on both platforms.

Over the past decade, desktop apps have given way to the web. Wouldn’t it be ironic if their popularity makes a comeback thanks to mobile apps?

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Based on its history, you probably wouldn’t expect to see Windows Phone take off like a rocket. But apparently that’s what it’s going to do. Research out of Gartner and IDC says that Mango may grab a

whopping 20 percent of the market by 2015, with the help of hardware partners like HTC and a little extra effort in the marketing department.

Thus far, Windows Phone hasn’t had the best reception. In some ways this is deserved, as many of the big features on the Windows OS were rolled out much later than they were on rival platforms. Even the carriers seemed to discredit WP7 in store — a trend Microsoft was definitely not cool with.

Windows Phone head of marketing Achim Berg said yesterday that IDC and Gartner’s 20 percent market share forecasts are actually conservative (shocker!), and he expects even greater success out of the platform. And the road to such success starts in Europe, with the launch of the HTC Radar and Titan on October 1. Microsoft has hired “hundreds of salesman” to help demonstrate the power of its newly refreshed platform, and plans to target the ladies and the youngsters to nab that 20 percent share.

If you passed elementary math, you know there’s only so much market share to go around. If Windows Phone goes from a 4.3 percent share to control 20 percent of the market, that means another platforms growth is sure to slow. According to Gartner, Apple’s iOS will be the one to do so, growing from a 16 percent market share in 2010 to just 17 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, Android is poised to maintain control with growth from a 23 percent share in 2010 to a massive 49 percent in 2015, reports Bloomberg.

What will make or break windows will be its app selection. HP’s decision to halt production of webOS devices will likely help with that, as a fresh batch of developers have just been abandoned. Still it’s got a long way to go to match the 425,000+ App Store apps that made the iPhone what it is today.

Past that, hardware is also key here. Microsoft will have the support of big name hardware vendors like HTC and Nokia, along with Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE. That same divide and conquer strategy has obviously worked splendidly for Android, and with the promise we’re seeing out of Mango, WinPho is sure to do the same. Since iOS appears on only one phone — an incredibly popular phone, but one nontheless — it’s at a significant disadvantage going forward.

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We’re live from Microsoft Windows president Steven Sinofsky’s keynote at D9, and there’s something rather exciting on stage — a pair of experimental Windows 8 dev boards running an OS that looks very much like Windows Phone 7’s Metro UIAll Things D actually sat down with the man earlier today and got a sneak peek at what to expect starting with the live tiled screen you see above — and yes, like Windows Phone 7, this OS is designed for touch.

There’ll be two kinds of applications for Windows 8, one that runs in a traditional desktop, and the other pseudo-mobile apps based on HTML5 and Javascript, but both environments — rather, the entire OS — have been designed from the ground up for touchscreen use. Keyboard and mouse will still be options for both sets of programs, but there are multiple virtual sets of keys for different form factors, including a split keyboard for vertical slate use. Multitasking is simply a matter of swiping running apps into the center of the screen, and you can pull windows partway to “snap” them in place alongside other windows — even mixing and matching traditional desktop programs with web apps simultaneously (like Twitter alongside your spreadsheet). There’s a new version of Internet Explorer 10 (which runs Silverlight) and an app store built into the touchscreen interface, along with integrated services like Office 365. Microsoft says the new OS will run on laptops, tablets and desktops when it appears — whenever that might be.

All Things D didn’t have any details on when we’ll get pricing or availability, but we’re looking at some Intel Atom-based demo units on stage right now, and Microsoft says it will have ARM designs (the OS will support NVIDIA, TI and Qualcomm) viewable on the Computex show floor, and more will be revealed at the Build Windows developer conference in September. We should note that “Windows 8” is just a codename for what we’re seeing here — “we’ll figure out the real name in due time,” Sinofsky told the crowd — but we don’t see much harm in calling it Windows 8 for now.

Gears of War 3’s downloadable content has yet to be revealed, but Microsoft knows you want it, and is already letting you preorder it. The Gears of

Gears of War

 War 3 Season Pass hooks players up with the first four DLC packs as they become available. The first is scheduled for November, and the next three are scheduled to release “over the course of the next year”. Epic stated that the packs would contain both multiplayer and campaign content, but has yet to go into specifics about them. 

As seen on IGN.COM

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