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Since mid 2010 when early alleged ‘confidential’ slides leaked with Windows 8 information, the hunt has been on for more about what Microsoft is planning for the successor to Windows 7 which has done exceptionally well in the marketplace and continues to do so. Microsoft has a lot to live up to because of the high expectations set by its current release.
What is Windows 8 though? Windows 8 or what Microsoft has referred to as Windows vNext is presumed to be the next client and server release of Windows that follows Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Windows 8 which is currently in development started immediately after Windows 7. Windows 8 promises to introduce radical improvements to the Windows desktop experience while supporting a variety of form factors. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2011, Microsoft previewed early development Windows 8 code running on prototype hardware and System On a Chip (SOC) architectures from ARM Holdings plc, Intel and AMD. Based on early leaked information, Windows 8 will feature a heavily influenced Windows Phone design with a rumored dual interface with certain tile based influences adapted from Microsoft’s mobile smartphone operating system.
SoC architectures consolidate the major components of a computing device onto a single package of silicon. This consolidation enables smaller, thinner devices while reducing the amount of power required for the device, increasing battery life and making possible always-on and always-connected functionality. With support of SoC in the next version of the Windows client, Microsoft is enabling industry partners to design and deliver the widest range of hardware ever. Source
The information written in this article is gathered from around the Internet from sources that have gotten ahold of early builds that are still under development. What you will see is mostly is prototype work that is still under heavy development. A lot of what is seen might not even make it to BETA or the final RTM (Release to Manufacture) build of Windows 8. Lets get right into things!
Before you use a new version of Windows, you have to install it, the iterations of Windows that have introduced major new setup experiences include Windows XP, Vista and now Windows 8, but not much. The Windows 8 installation features more aesthetics adherence with the popular Metro UI style, look and feel familiar to Windows Phone 7 users.
As you can see, the setup program moves away from the old take over your screen approach, featuring a simple everyday program like installer. Ever since the release of Windows Live Essentials 2011 and Internet Explorer 9 I see that Microsoft wants to move away from these ‘it’s a big deal’ look when installing a program, its about keeping things minimal as possible. The aim is to indicate that upgrading to Windows 8 is an effortless, quick, fun task that should not take much out of your day. I commend Microsoft for that, the thing is, and will the philosophy actually apply in the real world? Upgrading your operating system is still a big deal, especially when it comes to drivers, programs and the migration from one OS version to the next. A few things you can notice in the new installer is the horizontal indicators at the top: Preparation, Compatibility, Install, Configure.
This is a little bit wordier than Vista/Windows 7’s One, Two steps (Collecting Information, Installing Windows). During Windows 7’s development, Microsoft explained that part of Windows 7’s deployment experience was to let the user know more about what’s going on and I believe this is a continuation of that. I hope Microsoft works on the legibility of the font too, it’s kind of too pale and a bit too thin, and this is a critical part of setup that users should not experience any problems.
During Windows 7/Vista’s
setup process, you are given two options, Upgrade or Custom.
Upgrade – If you have a previous installation of Windows and you would like to preserve your personal files, settings and installed applications, this is the logical choice.
Custom – If you want to do a clean install and don’t save anything, this removes your existing installation along with personal files, settings and applications and moves them to a folder called Windows.old. Custom Advanced options features options for formatting the drive and partitioning it if you wish along with the option of selecting another partition if you would like to install Windows somewhere else other than C:\ drive and create a dual boot installation.
The above screenshot features more options than previous versions, these include:
Keep user accounts, personal files, and programs – This is analogous to the in place upgrade option.
Keep user accounts and personal files – A new option, this allows you to delete programs, but keep your accounts and personal files. This is convenient if you would like to avoid compatibility issues and install a new set of applications after setting up Windows. So for instance, if you have Office 2007, Adobe Creative Suite 4 installed, but you bought upgrades to Office 2010 and Adobe CS5, and you plan to install them after, you can simplify things and remove the programs from early on in the setup process instead of uninstalling manually from now or after installation is complete. This saves you a lot of time and convenience and provides a clean slate for you to work with, definitely a smart option.
Don’t keep anything – This obviously is analogous to a Custom Clean install.
I don’t see a custom option for choosing whether you want to install somewhere else such as another hard disk, partition, or even create a partition. I hope in addition to offering these options when you run setup from within a running version of Windows, you also get this option when you boot from the Windows 8 media especially for a non-working previous Windows installation. I hope Microsoft also use this as a better way to smoothly migrate from 32 or 64 bit or 32 to 64 bit or vice versa, it would be so beneficial. In fact, I believe, with the option to Keep user accounts and personal files Microsoft could probably re-add the option to do in place upgrades from Windows XP again, its obvious, the lack of in place upgrades has turned a lot of Windows XP users off. I think this option would provide a better method of migrating making it an enticing upgrade path to Windows 8 from XP, Vista or Windows 7 with little trade off. Please note, not because a person is running Windows XP means they are running it on 10 year old hardware. Please remember that.
Overall, the installation remains consistent with Windows 7 while adding some welcome improvements that should make upgrading Windows even easier. I just hope, custom advanced options are not dumbed down. Windows needs to offer better detection tools and guidance information when persons encounter problems during setup with common suggestions for what a user should do, what might be preventing setup from completing. Also, issues with hangs at 62%, 27%, 57%, 70%, unusual hang ups or periods of inactivity during setup, Windows should know that something is wrong why its 12 hours into the installation and still not at OOBE and gracefully recommend a rollback with no issues or alterations to the system with a easily identifiable log with information the user can use and understand to resolve the matter if possible.
I am not sure if this is a stationary mock image of Aero or if Microsoft has managed to bring the Aero Glass UI earlier into the Out of Box Experience which is the Configuration phase of setup. One of the things I love about Mac OS X is the consistency in the user experience from setup to finish, you see Aqua the the minute you boot from the Mac OS X DVD to the to end and at the desktop. I hope Microsoft can achieve this.
Remember Windows XP’s welcome screen? It displays information like the amount of Unread Email. I don’t think that was of any use, but there is more to Windows 8’s Welcome Screen. Windows 7/Vista were very simple and of course, who needs more, when you reach the Welcome Screen, the first thing you are going to do is log on and start using Windows, this is not something you stare at. Windows 7’s Welcome featured a very human, nature design that made Windows more friendly and refreshing.
Windows 8 seems to be continuing that, in particular, it also is about cohesiveness and familiarity across platforms and devices. If you have ever used a Windows Phone 7 device, you will see a similar layout on the lock screen. The man in the image is displayed from one of the desktop themes included with Windows 7 called ‘Characters’. What this means is, Windows 8 is getting more personal, there are personal issues here too, especially in public/work environments. Companies that deploy Windows let users be personal, they can change wallpaper themes, window color and so on. I hope, there will be a Group Policy options to turn this off, since, some random guy in the work place, might have a wallpaper theme of boobies and buttocks set as both his theme and lock screen sideshow that nobody might not want to see or might be considered offensive to others.
Overall, I think its nice, but rather redundant, when I lock my screen, I am not in front of it, and it also means, I don’t want anyone near my computer, this is likely to invite people to come and look at your computer and mess with it. Its nice though, especially the Date and Time, but I am ‘not’ gonna be in front of my computer to see this, and the few seconds I spend at the log in screen each morning, makes this just seem pointless but I can understand the philosophy. I consider it a aesthetic gimmick.
I notice that CTRL-ALT-DEL is up on screen, if this is a Tablet device, I honestly hope Microsoft does not make CTRL-ALT-DEL the method for secure log on. Instead, a gesture would be recommended based on Windows Multitouch technology. So, a simultaneous swipe and tap would make it more interactive, natural and just plain cool!
The Windows 8 Desktop is not much different from Windows 7, in fact, its basically the same, but if you look closely, you will notice one minor difference. See it yet? Look in the Notification Area, there you will see a User tile, which you normally see when you want to log into somewhere, whether its Windows or a service.
This screenshot taken from Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows reveals more info, in fact, its your Windows Account which is even more accessible. In Windows 7, its located on the Start menu. In Windows 8 the User tile when clicked reveals options such as My Settings, My Look, Switch User, Log off, Lock PC. All more conveniently accessible than ever before. I guess Microsoft has seen that operating systems such as Linux (using the Gnome based environment) and Mac OS X makes this very easily accessible. I hope there is more to it than just this, such as the ability to simultaneously log into your desktop and Windows Live services at the same time, especially services such as Windows Live Skydrive and Sync.
Microsoft is adding some personality to User tiles such as animated images that change. You can know them by the Media Player emblem.
There is still some heavy work taking place with Windows 8 though, and this evident by a new Windows theme called Aero Lite. Windows 7 includes several themes such as Aero Glass which is the highest tier, this supports a minimum 128 MBs of video RAM. The next theme is Windows Aero Basic, which is targeted at low end to mid range hardware and older systems such as Netbooks which might carry discrete graphics or use shared graphics to render the desktop. Windows Classic is the next theme which displays the familiar Windows 2000/95 interface with beige, boring experience. Windows also includes several high contrast themes for persons with visual disability.
Aero Lite is very similar to Aero Standard, looking at the interface, you can see the familiar non-transparent interface you find in Windows 7 Home Basic which lacks the semi-transparent effects. There are some minor changes throughout and I honestly hope this is a work in progress. Window widgets such as minimize, maximize and close buttons minus the 3D look with a simple metro style. The Start menu is drab white with little difference from current Aero. Of course, there is a more flat design; possibly, this is what you get when you run Windows 8 on less capable hardware, leaked Office 15 screenshots seem to apply a similar style to their interface too in early prototype code. Personally, I will look at this as a work in progress right now.
This should come as a surprise to many; the Ribbon is now a part of Windows Explorer. Well maybe not yet since these are prototypes, but its an interesting addition. The Ribbon was first introduced with the release of Office 2007 which turned out to be a very innovative approach that fixed years of issues with the classic drop down menu Office interface suffering from over 1,500 commands hidden away deep down in menus. Ribbon made it easier to discover and find commands and its contextual aware tabs made it particularly easier to do logical task, whether it was editing text, pictures or objects.
Microsoft was so pleased with the results, that they further implemented it in other products such as Windows Live Essentials 2011 and Windows 7 components such as WordPad and Paint, two programs I believe have benefitted from it too. Now, the question is, does Windows Explorer need the Ribbon. Its debatable, but I will say this, ever since the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft has dumbed down Explorer to a near death experience and a lot of the power you once had in Windows XP became annoyingly hard to find in Windows 7/Vista.
The Ribbon in Windows Explorer I believe will add some serious power to organization and file management. Its just that it’s a bit jarring looking at it and I believe my mind has been programmed to see it in a productivity tool or a photo manager but not this type of environment. As someone noted, its taking Office or work with you everywhere now. I believe by default, it should be minimized and not opened by default since it will come across overwhelming and confusing. Let it be user discoverable. In fact, I think it should be activated on call when you need some serious power for working with files. Kind of make it like Clark Kent, who does his simple every day reporting and journalism, meaning, you still have the classic command bar for everyday task, but when duty calls, Windows Explorer puts on the cape, (Ribbon) and you have access to that power. I hope it’s customizable too, would prefer to have the navigation controls at the top.
Don’t worry though; you can minimize it when you need to. Back in January, I saw some pictures of from the Press Workshop where Microsoft unveiled Windows on ARM, once of the things I clearly noticed was the Internet Explorer 9 OneBox Search/Address bar, it doesn’t seem to be coded into this build, but one of the things I definitely saw in that picture are in this build. That is the new Status Bar toggle buttons which adjust the view and layout of the window.
In Windows 7 they are currently located on the command bar at the upper right corner. I guess the logistics of having the Ribbon caused the need to rethink where some of these badly needed options should go. I personally change window views often when I am managing and organizing files, as much as I love the Ribbon, it would hold me back for something I should do on the fly. The Question is, why not make them be a part of the Quick Access Toolbar though, I think it would be more convenient and logical to have them there while maintaining consistency? It seems the Ribbon in Windows Explorer on Windows 8 adheres more to the one in Windows Live Essentials instead of Office.
Windows includes a variety of Recovery and Backup tools, these include: System Restore first introduced in Windows ME, Backup and Restore, System Imaging, Startup Repair and System Recovery. The latest addition is System Reset. The beauty of this new recovery tool is its best of both worlds approach; it does a reinstall without you needing to do a reinstall. Meaning, you can restore a Windows 8 installation to a pristine out of box state without booting from a DVD and the great thing about it, you don’t even have to look for a driver disc. Another sweet option is, you have the option of keeping your personal files, user accounts and settings. How great is that? I think this addition is based on strong feedback from what Microsoft is seeing and hearing in the marketplace.
System Reset can also remove everything if you wish to start a clean slate, just like that, you won’t need to reinstall Windows from scratch anymore. This should particularly help with diagnostics issues caused by programs or malicious code. I assume this employs some form of a hidden recovery partition to pull this off. The above screenshot shows System Reset in action.
Last year Microsoft launched a program called Signature PC which focused on optimizing PC’s bought from OEM’s such as DELL and HP by removing a lot of the bloat these OEM’s tend to preload on their systems at the factory. When you carry your brand new Windows 7 PC to the nearest Microsoft Store, you can have them remove all the junk and just have a clean Windows 7 installation with just the essential stuff, such as drivers installed, not unnecessary programs or software that will expire. Some of the apps Microsoft installs as part of a Signature PC include Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft Security Essentials, ZUNE Player, Internet Explorer 9, really just the bare essentials anyone needs.
System Reset obviously builds on that and I am sure it will make it easier for you or even the persons who configure Windows Signature PC’s to quickly configure a new system for a customer. Its giving back users a lot of power, trust me, if you were to do what System Reset does manually, it would take at least the better part of a day, now its all automated. I would of course love to have the option to keep a few programs though, who knows, its still early days yet. The more down time you minimize by having to avoid the need to do any reinstallation is more than Welcome.
In certain editions of Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Previous Versions built upon its Volume Shadow Copy Service which was first introduced in Windows XP Professional. Previous Versions keeps a versioning of your file, so as you make changes to it, it takes a snapshot of each change and allows you to easily revert to a previous version of say a report or a picture you made changes to. Its very handy and allows you to undo mistakes, especially in the case of images the original file is never affected and you can revert back to it at anytime.
History Vault builds on this foundation by allowing you to backup those snapshots with the option of selectively restoring them. Its similar to the improvements made to system restore in Windows 7 where you can now backup even System Restore points to an external hard disk and have a significant amount of restore points to return to if the need arises. History Vault supports Network Attached Storage devices along with External hard disk and you can also share the storage target for these snap shots with your HomeGroup.
Windows 8 seems to be changing Regional and Language Settings from the mouthful it is to just ‘Language’. This new Control Panel seems a bit more simplified, but based on the screenshot provided, there is not much to say, it does say if it Microsoft will somehow simplify things like MUI’s, LIP’s which are exclusive features of premium SKU’s such as Enterprise and Ultimate. I do hope so, because its even confusing for me to explain to a use who needs to use or wants to change their language because they work in a multilingual environment.
This new Language Profile features a simple interface which seems to be based on Microsoft’s defunct Cardspace philosophy and Window Fonts Control Panel Item. The description notes that Windows will enable keyboards and other resources for the languages listed below. When applications offer choice of languages, Windows will use the order given below to determine your preferred language.
Microsoft is notorious for protecting their intellectual property. Windows 8 seems to be introducing some new experiences for users who might end up having a non-genuine Windows installation installed on their PC.
Its possible that Microsoft is using Genuine Center as the replacement for Windows Activation Status located under System Properties today in Windows 7 to better manage, diagnose and manage your Activation Status in Windows. As you can see in the screenshot, Windows 8 provides more details about why Windows might not be genuine, such as a key being blocked or mis-used. Genuine Status makes it very easy to Enter a new product key and convert your installation to genuine or even purchase a new product key. Its an improvement to a critical feature in Windows.
The new Auto Color button
A wallpaper dynamically changing its color scheme to match the wallpaper.
Microsoft is continuing to improve the personalization experience in Windows 8. Windows 7 Themes turned out to be a big hit, but Windows 8 adds more dynamics with a new feature called Autocolor, which dynamically changes the window, start menu and taskbar color based on key colors in your Wallpaper theme. Similar to the key color associated with open application icons on the Taskbar. So, if a color such as red, blue, green or yellow is prominently featured in wallpaper such as garden of red roses, or a blue sky, you will see the window, start menu and taskbar automatically change to match these elements. It’s a nice touch, but what I would love to see in Windows 8 is the ability to customize things like the key active and non-active window colors so its easier to switch between windows on screen. So, I could have blue as my default for foreground windows and red for my non-active windows. I also would like better browsing capabilities; there are unnecessary list boxes, dialogs and the ability to easily adjust settings. I created a concept for how I would like select wallpapers in Personalization.
This is just a tip of the iceberg and remember, what we are seeing here is still being coded and refined. As the next Public Developers Conference we should see a clearer picture of where Microsoft is taking Windows. The first beta should also be right around that time, which will give us a chance to experience what’s new and if it will actually work as intended in these screenshots in the real world. Windows 7 has been a major success and the real uptake is just beginning, I personally believe news of Windows 8 will not slow things down simply because companies need time to evaluate and test operating systems before deploying them. With Windows 7 becoming such a defacto standard world wide, I expect to see it being deployed and in use for year even after Windows 8 is released. I suspect, Windows 8 will be more focused on key markets such as Tablets where Microsoft has lost ground to competitors such as Apple and also focus on making Windows available to a wide ranger of device form factors than just traditional PC’s. This might be the first release of Windows that is heavily influenced, additional screenshots of Windows Explorer reveal syncing capabilities built in, I hope Microsoft focuses on areas of roaming and being able to have access to your data in a seamless way while also keeping it secure. I believe Skydrive has a lot of potential, but its not being exploited enough, hopefully Windows 8 fixes that by finally integrating it deeply in the OS. Overall, I like most of what I am seeing and I cannot wait to see more!