Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Windows 8 unveiled with a focus on Metro

Windows chief Steven Sinofsky unveiled Windows 8, well some of it anyway, to the world today and put most of the focus on touch and the new Metro interface that we’ve seen previously. He made a point of saying that there are ‘hundreds’ of new features in Windows 8 and we’ll find out about them either as they’re found by people who download the developer preview, and then reported online, or blogged about directly by Microsoft.

Today’s keynote however was all about Metro and selling Windows 8 tablets to the world. It was a keynote at a developer show so there was a large focus on developing Metro apps for Windows 8. Now these apps will only run on Windows 8 and will be designed for the new tablet UI, so we can assume that they’ll only ever be used by a finite number of actual Windows users. Sinofsky said there would be 400 million users of Windows 8 in short order but how many of these will want to use the traditional desktop as their main OS interface?

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Of course the stance taken by Microsoft today is completely understandable for the following reasons. When Windows 8 launches the company needs to have achieved the following two things. They need to make a big splash in the tablet market and they need a critical mass of Metro apps available at launch as, unlike Windows of old, tablet Windows 8 will live or die on the quantity of apps available.



So the company kicked their BUILD conference off in bold style with a Metro extravaganza. There’s a great deal more to Windows 8 though and business users shouldn’t at this point be concerned. What Microsoft did today is no different than launching Windows embedded and touting Media Centre for a new set-top-box market when most people will run it on thin clients. Tablets and mobile computing is a market that Microsoft must go after aggressively and right off the bat.

So what about everyone else? Do we need to be concerned that our Windows of old is gone? Well in some ways, most notably the removal of the Start Menu, it is gone and that has to be faced realistically. Other changes to the interface will impact on businesses and professional users as well, and some people who just don’t want an interface of two-inch high icons on their big desktop screen but this is just Microsoft’s focus for the moment.

In the coming weeks we’ll hear many more details about Windows 8, indeed there will now be a steady stream of feature blog posts. Here the company will detail support for legacy apps, virtualisation, Windows Server integration and more. For buusiness and professional users the traditional way of working with Windows will still be there, it’s not going anywhere for years to come, so you don’t need to worry about retraining staff, expensive software rewrites, using a perhaps unsuitable interface or skipping Windows 8 completely.

So why am I saying this? Well it’s certainly not because Microsoft have asked me to. As with all beta products, and remember Windows 8 won’t go on sale for over a year, which is a lot of development time, much will change. What we see in the Developer Preview will change organically over the coming months. Some features will be added and some will be dropped completely. Other features will change radically or organically.

It’s important to remember that during Microsoft’s surprisingly open development process, not only that what we have now is by far from a finished product but that there is much more to Windows 8 than just a funky new interface that Microsoft need to plug. I’ll be downloading the developer preview myself and will report back here on what moving to Windows 8 will really mean for the average IT user, it’s what I’m here for after all. Tonight though I can’t help but thinking it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall at Google and Apple today.

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