Published September 13, 2011
Watch your back Apple.
At the Build developer conference in Anaheim, Calif., Microsoft finally pulled the cover off its next-generation operating system, Windows 8 -- a drastic overhaul of the Windows platform -- as the software company looks to refine its focus towards touch-centric devices to compete with Apple's iPad tablet.
"Things are pretty different from 1995, the last time Windows went through a pretty significant evolution," said Steve Sinofsky, president of the Windows division at Microsoft. "Everything that was great about Windows 7? We took that and made it even better in Windows 8."
The company faces an uphill battle when it goes to sell its new product, however -- something not expected to occur until fall 2012. FoxNews.com revealed last week that businesses are likely to pass on the update.
Consumers are almost certain to enjoy Windows 8, however: Most PC manufacturers will probably adopt the software for future computers, meaning that new laptop you buy in 2012 might be running it. And the company thinks its new OS will power the tablets of the future.
So what will your next PC look like?
"We're going to re-imagine Windows," Sinofsky said, from the fundamental basics including how the system uses memory and interacts with the processor "all the way up to a brand new user interface."
That interface is called "Metro." It will run on top of the operating system and is clearly intended to work not just with all those computers but also with the emerging world of tablets that have taken consumers by storm. The new UI will displays applications as tiles for quick and easy access while allowing toggling between a classic Windows look.
This represents a complete overhaul of of the Windows interface -- something you certainly don't see every day.
User interface changes include a new "lock screen" for the operating system that gives far more information at a glance than the current iteration of Windows. The operating system also includes pervasive touch input controls -- a signal that Microsoft will be focused on devices that emphasize touch -- namely tablets.
"The minute you use a touch device with Windows 8, I promise you'll go back to your computer and you'll be hitting the screen," Sinofsky said. The company has built a pop-up keyboard into the operating system, and touted spell-check throughout the entire OS as well.
Modern tablets -- notably the industry leading Apple iPad -- feature instant on features and consume very little memory. To demonstrate that Microsoft can compete, Sinofsky demonstrated a Lenovo laptop with an Intel Atom processor and 1Gb of memory running Windows 8. Windows 7 used 404MB of that memory, he said. Windows 8 uses 281 MB of memory, leaving far more free for applications.
That extra memory is "free for you to use with your applications and your software. That's quite an accomplishment," he said. He also showed off computers that boot up in mere seconds.
The main challenge the company faces in the tablet world: those gizmos rarely run on the standard Intel or AMD chips that power the vast majority of ordinary desktop computers. To enable WIndows 8 to run on the ARM chips that power most of them required the company to rewrite the operating system to support them. The company did.
Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 8 working seamlessly on an ARM-based tablet device -- proof that the company has made progress on that front.
His presentation was at a developer conference, of course, so Sinofsky's speech included plenty of information about how applications themselves are written.
"We had this bold notion that apps should work together as a web of apps so when you add an app, the system gets richer and richer," he said. Microsoft is launching its own app store which will include both Metro-style apps as well as classic Windows 32 programs.
It's far too soon for Microsoft to put a price tag or a release date on the new OS. Heck, it's too early to say when we'll even get a beta version enthusiasts can play with -- although developers at the event were given a pre-release version to begin testing applications with.