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Everything you need to know about Windows 8

Windows 8 Rumor

What we know about Windows 8 is still incomplete and unofficial – garnered from job postings, rumours and the slides allegedly leaked by a software engineer at HP responsible for OEM relations (available through the Italian Windows Ette site).

The films are a lot of marketing ideas, instead of technical details, they show that Microsoft had his eye on what Apple is doing to its operating systems is so popular and they agree to a work in progress.

Not only that each page that says “This is not a plan of record is, ” but the opening discussion contains the line “reality. There are more ideas than time to implement them, ” This is especially true when Windows 8 Publication Date As soon as we think.

Windows 8 release date

Windows 8, say the slides, will be available “for the holiday” – but not which one.

There’s a timeline that doesn’t have many dates; the one suggesting that the coding would begin in June is suspect when some sources say the M1 (milestone 1 build) is already done and there’s what we assume is a typo that we’d correct to say the third Forum (rather than the second) would be in July (there are several points where the slides are incomplete or confusing; for instance a pointed reference to “creating great Dell + Windows Experiences” in a deck that otherwise tips the hat – and appears to have been intended for – HP).

It puts the first beta of IE9 in August, along with the shipping date for Windows Live wave 4 which fits other rumours and positions them just after the third Forum.

That makes the forums three-to five months apart; assuming an average of four months – and assuming the chart is to scale and that the dates don’t slip – that puts Windows 8 beta release date a little before March 2011 and Windows 8 RTM shortly after July 2011 (a date suggested on the blog of a now-ex Microsoft employee which you can find preserved, with the boxed version following in the autumn – for the holiday).

We’ve said before that we expect Windows 8 in late 2011 or early 2012 and we don’t expect Microsoft to talk about a date until the Milestone 3 build, which would be around November 2010 by these calculations.

The fact that Microsoft hasn’t announced whether the Professional Developers conference (usually held in November and used to preview new versions of the OS) will happen this year makes this a little less likely and it could all be some months later.

There are several statistics (typical RAM, network connected TVs, mobile broadband penetration and 4G deployment) that talk about the specs that will be common – in 2012.

Interestingly, the timeline shows Windows Live Wave 5 with a short development cycle that finishes before Windows 8; that matches suggestions that Live will offer more cloud services for Windows 8.

UPDATE: On 25 October 2010, Microsoft Netherlands said “it will take about two years before ‘Windows 8′ [is] on the market.”

Windows 8 tablets are coming

The leaked slides are aimed at PC manufacturers who are interested in new form factors – and in getting a share of the iPad market – so it’s no surprise one of the key PC form factors is a 9″ slate (which Microsoft, having obviously got the point of all those iPad ads, is calling a Lap PC), optimised for web and media, casual gaming, reading and sorting email, IM and social networking.

LAP PC: Is that the HP slate? Using the Lap PC to read a magazine and play a driving game

Microsoft promises big improvements to the on-screen keyboard: it will be “easily launched, text prediction is more accurate, the UI is more usable, and throughput is increased for everyone”.

There’s also the workhorse PC (which is also referred to as a laptop, because Microsoft is only talking about consumers and not business users) and the family hub (an all-in-one touchscreen system that can go in the kitchen or the living room as a media centre) which is for casual gaming, web and media as well as more demanding apps like organising and manipulating media.

Key to making a successful Windows tablet is apps with user interfaces that change depending on the form factor (touch and gestures instead of keyboard and mouse), but Microsoft is also looking at stereoscopic 3D and high colour displays and natural input that uses touch, voice, 3D gestures (“on the horizon”), and facial recognition.

3D SUPPORT: Windows 8 will play 3D movies and games, but don’t ask Microsoft to pick its favourite format yet

Optimising “for smaller screens” will help netbook users as well; Windows 7 gets key dialog boxes to fit on a small screen but not all apps do.

Another app store

More than 30 app stores have launched in the last year and Microsoft isn’t the only company copying Apple here; Intel has its own app store for Atom PCs. PC makers like the idea – apparently at the first forum they commented that it “can’t happen soon enough”.

With an app store, Microsoft hopes to attract more of the type of developers who are currently building smartphone apps and it wants them to create apps that make Windows the best place to use web apps (a job advert last October claimed “we will blend the best of the web and the rich client by creating a new model for modern web applications to rock on Windows”.)

According to the slides, “Currently the indication is that app development will move to the Web. There is significant opportunity for Microsoft if hardware capabilities, and OS services and Web could be integrated into a hobbyist developer toolset.”

The ‘tailored experiences’ Microsoft talks about for Windows 8 sound like smartphone apps; the checklist includes fast installation and updates for engaging, social, extensible, ad-supported or ‘freemium’ apps.

If smartphone-style apps sound too simple to be worthwhile on Windows, Microsoft wants apps to be extensible so you can share information between them – perhaps using a mix of simple apps together. It sounds like the ‘mashups’ that we were all going to be making online until it turned out you’d have to learn to program.

The Windows Store will be branded and optimised for each PC manufacturer. Your settings will follow you from PC to PC, as will your apps (although some slides refer to this as a possibility rather than a definite plan) – but you’d need an HP ID to log into the ‘HP Store powered by Windows’ and get your HP-specific apps. Microsoft doesn’t plan to make money from the store; the slides call it “revenue neutral”.

Windows 8 multimedia

Windows 8 will have better media playback and recording, but it will balance using hardware acceleration to save battery life and using the CPU when it gives a better result.

Audio will use hardware acceleration more because that does improve battery life. There will be post-processing to take out blur, noise and shakey video filmed on a phone or webcam, and support for more codecs including AVC and as-yet-undetermined 3D video codecs (stereoscopic3D support is coming, for games and for 3D movies in Media Center, but there are format issues).

Microsoft talks about sharing ‘with nearby devices’; one way that will work is adding the Play To option currently in Windows Media Player to the browser for HTML 5 audio and video content, so you can play it on any device that supports DLNA, another is APIs to let other software do the same.

That will work with DRM content, if it’s protected with DTCP-IP (digital transmission content protection over IP) or Microsoft’s own PlayReady and hardware acceleration will speed up DRM decoding.

There’s also a new ‘remote display’ option that will let you send your screen from a laptop to a large monitor (which will use DirectX hardware acceleration and the same multimonitor interface that’s already in Windows 7, but for wireless displays as well, which could be an Internet-connected TV – Microsoft refers to 35% of TVs having network connectivity by 2012 and wonders whether to prioritise Internet TV over further improvements to broadcast TV).

Windows 8 features

The ‘fundamentals’ Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 8 include “a fast on/off experience, responsiveness, and a great level of reliability from the start”.

The ‘big three’ are boot time, shutdown time and battery life (“Windows 8 PCs turn on fast, nearly instantly in some cases, and are ready to work without any long or unexpected delays”) but Microsoft is also thinking about how long it takes to get things done – how long until you read your first email, see the home page in your browser or start playing media. PCs should feel like an appliance that’s ready to use as soon as you turn on the power.

FASTER STARTUP: Windows 8 will show you what slows down startup and if removing an app you don’t use improves it

Mobile PCs should resume ‘instantly’ from sleep (in under a second from S3 sleep), and booting up will be faster because of caching, with a boot layout prefetcher and the ReadyBoost cache persisting even when you reboot.

As only 9% of people currently use hibernate (which will work more quickly in Windows 8 because system information will be saved and compressed in parallel), Windows 8 will have a new Logoff and Hibernate combination that closes your apps like shutting the PC down does and refreshes your desktop like restarting does, but actually caches drivers, system services, devices and much of the core system the way hibernation does.

Turning the PC back on will take about half the time a cold boot needs (and the slides point out that on many PCs the power-on tests take longer than the Windows startup, so BIOS makers need to shape up).

It will be the default option but it won’t be called Logoff and Hibernate; Microsoft is debating terms like Shutdown, Turn Off, Power Down and thinking through how the other options for turning the PC off will show up in the interface.

You’ll be able to use an encrypting hard drive to boot Windows 8 and they’ll integrate with BitLocker and third-party security apps.

Improving battery life will be based on some deep changes to the kernel; removing an interrupt in the kernel scheduler completely and removing more of the timers that interrupt Windows when it’s trying to save power.

Windows 8 might get the same option for powering down unused areas of memory to save power that’s on the cards for Windows Server, it will block disk reads and writes and some CPU access when you’re not doing anything on your PC and PCI devices can turn off completely when they’re not in use (assuming the drivers for specific devices support it).

Windows 7 stopped laptops waking up automatically when they’re not plugged in; Windows 8 will get a new ‘intelligent alarm’ that can wake them up for things like virus scans, but only if they’re plugged in.

OEMs will get new test tools that check the performance, reliability, security and Windows Logo compatibility of the PC, as well as measuring performance in Outlook and IE. And depending on whether partners have “concerns” about it, Microsoft might give the same tools to journalists, IT pros and users.

Help and support is back

In Windows XP the Help and Support centre was a branded hub of tools and links; in Windows 7 it’s far more minimal. Windows 8 will go back to the branded experience, with integrated search for support forums run by your PC manufacturer but add the Windows 7 troubleshooters.

It will also link better with the Action Center, with tools that show more clearly what’s happening on your PC; what apps are running, what resources are being used (like Task Manager showing which apps are using the most network bandwidth), how and when things have changed and what they can do about it. It will also include an Application Management tool that will let you find what apps are causing performance problems and adjust or remove them.

IMPROVED TASK MANAGER: Task manager will make it easier to see why an app might not be performing; here the Zune software is using all the network bandwidth to download podcasts, so video in the browser keeps pausing. We hope the white on black isn’t the final design!

The Windows pre-boot recovery environment will be simpler, combining the safe mode and ‘last known good’ options into one interface. It will use what Microsoft calls ‘superboot’ to remove malware and rootkits

If you have to reset your PC, Windows 8 will restore “all the files settings and even the applications” although you’ll have to go to the Windows Store to download apps and get a list of apps that didn’t come from the store, so it’s not clear how automatic this will actually be.

Devices matter (almost) as much as PCs

One of the reasons that Windows took off in the first place was easier to work with equipment – in those days, printers. Support for a wide range of devices is one reason it’s hard for other operating systems on Windows challenge, but Microsoft wants to hardware manufacturers do more with the sensor platform and interface devices for days it introduced in Windows 7th

With Microsoft Windows 8 will see “PCs and sensors capable of a wide range of premium experience does not improve. users with complicated tasks charged that Windows achieve on its own. users are not annoyed by the actions or the PC will be disturbed. Instead, the PC-user behavior in the routine workflow is integrated. devices work faster and better on Windows 8 than on any other operating system. ”

The “current thinking” is for Windows 8 of your own to Microsoft’s Wi-site service Orion (50-100m accuracy in North America and Western Europe, but falls back to the situation with IP related addresses elsewhere, which can be as bad, include as 25km).

Orion will be in Windows Mobile 7 (as well as Hawaii, a Microsoft Research project to build Cloud-enabled mobile applications, the Orion is used as a “prototype service”) are used. Microsoft partnered with Navizon in March to its Wi-Fi and mobile networks to use location database, but say the slides that Orion is to buy a larger database than Navizon 15 million access points to it 40 million Google million 48 (no games compared to the 120 million Skyhook is the iPhone).Location will be available to the browser as well as to any app that’s written to use it (music players as well as mapping tools), and web apps will get access to webcams.

Microsoft is emphasising the privacy aspect of location and webcam use, with mockups of how apps can ask for location and users can choose to deny it or only allow it once. And it’s also asking PC manufacturers how many devices they plan to put GPS in and offering a Device Stage interface for using a PND like a Garmin nuvi as a GPS source for your PC.

LOCATION PRIVACY: Web apps can see your location and use your webcam – but you get to control that to protect your privacy

As we’ve said before, Device Stage will become the standard way you work with devices; Microsoft previewed the options you’ll get with a featurephone and a webcam as well as GPS.

Along with GPS, Microsoft is expecting PCs to include infrared sensors as well as the ambient light sensors that are becoming common, and the accelerometers that are in tablets with rotating screens.

Put that together and the PC could know which way up it is, whether there’s anyone in front of it – or near it and what the lighting is like in the room. So when you walk into the room your PC notices and wakes itself up so by the time you sit down the webcam is ready to recognise you – and no waiting or having to line your face up with a box on screen.

If this works, the camera will pick your face out of the room, like Photo Gallery finding a face in a picture (hopefully without thinking the face in a picture on the wall is you). When you walk away it goes back to sleep again.

We like the idea of rotation lock buttons on ‘Lap PCs’ so you can move them around to control a game without flipping he screen repeatedly; again, if you look away from the game, Microsoft envisages it pausing automatically and if you pass a slate to someone it will switch to their account automatically.

What’s in: USB 3, Bluetooth hands free and headset profiles (mono and stereo audio).

What’s out: Microsoft has no plans to support Bluetooth 3.0 + High Speed, 1394 might be deprecated and Microsoft seems to expect USB 2 ports to be phased out in favour of USB 3 within the lifetime of Windows 8.

What’s under consideration: Bluetooth Low Energy (from Bluetooth 4.0). What’s not mentioned: Intel LightPeak, although Microsoft does ask if it’s missing anything on its list of connectivity.

Windows 8 will know who you are

With better ways to log in to your PC, like your face, Microsoft is considering giving Windows 8 a way to “securely store usernames and passwords, simplifying the online experience”.

Your Windows account might connect more directly to the cloud than just having a Windows Live ID, logging into web sites on your behalf; there’s very little detail on this but it could revive the CardSpace technology introduced in Vista but not widely adopted.

FACE LOGIN: Forget passwords; Windows 8 will use the webcam to find and recognise your face (probably)

Put it all together and you get some welcome improvements. It’s impossible to say if Microsoft can come up with a simple enough programming system to appeal to the developers it wants to create Windows apps to rival Apple’s App Store.

Until we see some code in action it’s also hard to say if the ‘instant on’ and better battery life will transform the PC experience to compete with lightweight systems based on Android (or if Microsoft can deliver them) and make the PC scale from the tablet to the heavyweight systems we have today – which Windows has to do if it’s going to stay the dominant PC OS.

Everything else here is incremental – as it would have to be if Microsoft really expects to release Windows 8 by 2011, but it’s potentially disappointing if it comes in 2012 and there’s nothing else exciting in Windows 8.

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