The Windows BUILD event is going on through the rest of this week. It’s an event for Microsoft Windows developers so while the target audience is relatively small, it’s still a platform where Microsoft details the latest features of Windows 8. The new operating system is still in pre-release status so things aren’t quite stable and lots might change still. Getting developers involved early means that a lot of applications will be able to take advantage of the new features at launch.
The Windows BUILD event keynote was given by Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky to kick off the Windows 8 launch to get developers involved. Windows 7 is nearing 450 million purchases and was kicked off 3 years ago at another developer conference. Windows 8, today, is going to keep evolving while still being able to operate on any computers that are able to run Windows 7. The OS is backwards-compatible for Windows 7 hardware, actually requiring less resources than Windows 7. The performance efficiency of Windows 8 has improved over Windows 7 and 7 SP1 by using less RAM with fewer processes.
What is being called the “Metro style” start page is the biggest change between Windows 7 and Windows 8. A bigger question of adaption of Windows 8, in my opinion, is the question if those Windows 8 apps will run on Windows 7. As exemplified by Windows XP’s tenacity to hold on, the same concern must be made for newer versions of Windows with the more frequent release cycles.
You can stream the keynote speech on the Build Windows website. It’s about a two and a half hour video that covers 4 topics with the afternoon sessions of the conference getting into the topics deeper. The touch aspect, developing and the Windows App Store, new hardware and form factors, and embracing the cloud with Windows Live synchronization were given pretty detailed introductions in the keynote.
For developers, the operating serves the purpose of allowing their applications to run on all sorts of form factors like desktops, notebooks, and mobile tablets and to abstract the hardware away, no matter if it’s running on an ARM or x86 processor.
Along with presenting the keynote today, Steven Sinofsky also blogged about the features at the Building Windows 8 blog. Beyond that, I also took some notes of some of the cool new features were shown off throughout the keynote:
Picture password – Touch or swipe points on a picture to enter a password on the touch-centric Windows 8. For example, the presenter touched on her daughter’s nose, lemonade and swiped along the rope to input her password.
We’ve seen the Start page before from the preview but we were able to see the tiles for applications in motion and very fluid with horizontal swipes.
You can zoom out and organize groups on the Start screen to arrange them how you like them.
There are ‘Charms’ on the right side of the screen that allows you to access other functions related to an application.
A new version of Internet Explorer, IE10 will be shipping with a Metro style that offers a Chrome-free browsing experience. “I can’t think of anything better than a Chrome-free browsing experience.” – Steven Sinofsky
There will be a new version of Visual Studio.NET that tailors to Windows 8 and developing Windows 8 apps.
There is also a new version of Expression Blend to edit XAML and styles of applications.
The Metro style apps architecture (in green) differs from the traditional OS layers (in blue) but both are integrated into the Windows 8 platform to allow you to run classic and new applications.
The Windows App Store was built with the same developer tools and…
is like most other app stores. It has an app description page. It does have some nice features for developers to see the vetting process of their apps as they’re approved.
Getting into the new hardware…
UEFI, replacing the BIOS, allows a Windows 8 computer to boot in 8 seconds.
It also features security to prevent booting an infected USB. There is also a new Windows Defender more capable of securing the computer.
A new low-power state with instant on is introduced called Connected Standby. It allows the computer to consume nearly zero power, then power up instantly. It also returns to that near zero state while still saving states and accepting requests.
DirectX 11 and hardware-accelerated graphics across the board make real use of the graphics cards.
A 1 pixel boundary around the edge is reserved for the system to recognize user interaction.
Resolutions of your displays will change what you’re able to do in the Start screen. A 1366×768 display is required for the side-by-side snapping feature of simultaneous multitasking.
Hardware for mobile devices are featuring 3-axis accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope. It’s also packing NFC capabilities to further interaction with the outside world. It can also use USSD for small data transfers so it doesn’t affect your bandwidth consumed.
Intel is calling a new type of laptop ‘Ultrabooks’. This is pretty cool, in my opinion. The laptops are packing full processors while being super thin. The majority of its composition is the battery for a longer battery life. By integrating everything into the motherboard. They actually had to bump out the laptop in order for the VGA and RJ-45 jack to fit, the laptop is that thin.
5000 Samsung Developer Preview PCs were given to the developers attending the conference.
Along with the picture password and traditional pass phrase, you can sign in with a 4 digit pin.
You can refresh or reset your PC at any point in the control panel. If you need to clear out some clutter, you can refresh without losing your settings or files. You can also reset it to wipe everything and get a standard PC that is ready to be handed off to a friend or to charity.
A cool thing about the refresh PC state is that you can set your baseline at any point and then restore to that.
Windows 8 includes Hyper-V for virtual machines and you can mount .vhd files like a normal drive to access files off a virtual hard drive.
Explorer windows have the ribbon interface like Office.
They have restored the ‘Up directory’ button to Explorer (missing in Vista and Windows 7 – Pro-tip: use Alt+up arrow)
They demoed an HP Print app works with the metro style and adds a lot of functionality to general print templates.
Using multiple monitors on Windows 8 now has an option to stretch the background across multiple monitors and icons in each monitor’s task bar reflect which monitor they’re running on.
There are tons of new keyboard shortcuts to work smoothly in the Windows 8 Start screen despite being so touch-centric.
There’s a metro style of the Remote Desktop application, of course. It enables a function similar to the Aero Peek where you can see what is running on a remote session by hovering over the pane.
You can sync PC settings across Windows 8 computers by signing in with Windows Live ID
All Windows 8 and Windows Phone users have SkyDrive accounts (and 25 GB of online storage), developers can access it like the local file system – embracing the Cloud.
The sync also works across Windows Phone.
There’s a feature called Camera Roll that is like the Google+ auto-upload for photos.
But wait, there’s more!
So Windows 8 is at the Developer Preview stage and they’re going to be providing updates while in the preview both for their own testing of updates and to fix bugs and add features. After that, it will go into Beta and then Release Candidate. Following that comes release to manufacturers and finally general availability.
Tonight at 8PM Pacific Time (10PM Central Time), the developer preview will be available for download at http://dev.windows.com/. It will come in two varieties including the developer tools and their sample apps or just the apps. It won’t require activation.
I liked what I saw. There was a lot of cool features explained. The hardware is really exciting and any anxiety I had about their touch-centric start screen has largely been put at ease because it still works quite well with a mouse and keyboard. Honestly, the touch demo at the beginning worsened my fears because it was very unimpressive (“Remember it’s pre-release software.” was given as a reminder during the demo.). Fortunately, I’ll be able to use a keyboard and mouse and interact far more smoothly than the touch seemed to work.
Besides the Touch aspect, it also brings into question system administration. There will have to be new group policies and preferences released to manage these new features. I don’t think I’ll want somebody signing in with their Windows Live account on my domain and then having all of their family photos and personal files syncing over to the company computer. This part will be interesting to see how it comes along. Right now, Windows 8 looks very much geared for the home user. I’m the type of guy that turns of Windows Glass and Aero so that no performance is being wasted on “pretty” visual rendering. Can you customize Windows 8 and switch things back like the Classic Control Panel or Classic Start Menu? We’ll have to keep our ears open for the IT conference for Windows 8!