Microsoft Makes Bold Move With Windows 8 Beta Introduction



After months of teasers that Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system, would be better than the developer version released last May, Microsoft delivered the goods on Wednesday {2/29/12]: not in Redmond but nearly halfway across the world, in Barcelona, where the company essentially poached the global crowd attending the annual World Mobile Congress to see its latest software.

It was as silky a move as Ichiro stealing second base.  Not only did the crowd attending the show visit the Nokia booth and see the introduction of several new Windows Phones—Nokia being the smartphone manufacturer most invested in the eponymously named mobile phone operating system (OS)—but people could tromp over to a nearby hotel and see Microsoft’s compleat (cq) vision of how all its product pieces fit together in a comprehensive manner that even Apple might envy.  Yes—Apple. 

The reception was loud and mostly positive in the press.  The New York Times’ David Pogue was “excited.”  CNN posed a Wired piece that calls it “actually innovative, and even cool.” 

Mashable’s Peter Pachal was complimentary, but raised a yellow flag [  ] :  “ I’m starting to wonder if the approach of one OS for all devices — desktop, laptop, tablet, touch screen and non — is fundamentally flawed.”  

TheNextWeb website reported that a consumer preview of Windows 8 was downloaded a million times in its first 24 hours.  Here’s a link [ ] if you care to join the early adapters.

We’ll get to Windows 8 itself in a moment, but it’s necessary to understand first what Microsoft is doing to distinguish itself visually and functionally from all competitors.

Its first step has been to pull off a neat trick: shaking up the look and feel of its major products—the Windows OS, Windows Phones and Xbox, as well as software applications—and giving all of them a uniform graphic language dubbed “Metro.”  If you grok (!) the Metro sensibility, you’ll be experiencing the same look and feel whether you’re using a Windows Phone, the Xbox gaming console or the new Windows 8—even though actual functions may be different.  No doubt that when the next iteration of Microsoft Offices comes out, it will reflect a Metro sensibility.

Metro, which owes much to Swiss-influenced print and packaging and transportation hub graphics, started as the new interface of Windows Phones and migrated to becoming the new face of Microsoft.  It has a spare look—a series of multicolored tiles on a one-color background—but the rectangular or square tiles can be portals to other services. The tiles let you see real-time data from applications like email, social media, and instant messaging.  Have 15 emails? Your mail tile with its little envelope symbol shows a number 15.

One tile, for instance can be for “people” and bring together all your social networks.  Another might be “store” which lets you shop for apps, music, movies, games, etc.  A tile can also represent an individual application: Windows Explorer, Evernote and Skype for example.

Each device handles the tiles in different ways: phones and Windows 8 allow tiles to be moved, pasted or sent back to the device’s app library; Xbox looks the same but the content and order are fixed.

While Windows 8 itself is built on Metro, Windows 7 sits right behind it. If you want to use any non-Metro application, an easily accessible menu takes you from Metro to a standard Windows 7 desktop.  Your application comes up looking and operating normally.

Microsoft sees Metro as a way to simplify and speed up the process of helping you do your computing faster and easier, a more seamless approach than anything Microsoft or its competitors have done before.

There’s another less visible side of Windows 8: its ability to mesh seamlessly with the touch capabilities of Windows tablets, once they actually come to market.  As noted by analyst Anurag Agrawal, CEO of Techaisle in Business Week, Windows 8’s primary purpose is to “extend [Windows] capabilities to the ARM child and various movie devices,” not necessarily to change its status in the PC market. 

Given, however, that Microsoft’s hegemony in the business world is being heavily challenged by Apple computers and tablets—a Forrester Research reports indicates that Apple could have a 20 percent share of the business computer hardware market in the next few years—Windows 8 is a key to further staving off iPad encroachment in the enterprise.

Much has been made of Microsoft’s failure to produce a satisfying porting of Windows to ARM chips, which some speculated may have led to Microsoft’s delay in producing a tablet competitive to the iPad and new Android-based systems.

At the Barcelona unveiling of Windows 8, however, Intel may have made the controversy moot.  A tablet running Clover Trail, a new Intel ATOM-based processor, was one of four devices used to demo Windows 8 on tablets.  The other three were ARM-based units from NVISIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. 

A writer from the Anandtech website who attended the demo noted, “Of the four supported mobile . . . platforms, only Intel's Clover Trail will offer a full Windows [d]esktop experience as it can run all existing [Intel] applications. The ARM based devices will have a limited Windows [d]esktop experience, although both . . . will support Metro.”

Does the Intel processor mark the end of the ARM tablet dilemma? Stay tuned.

A few warnings if you test-drive Windows 8:  Be sure to pay attention to the compatibility check of your software and accessories that precedes actual installation.

Second, Windows 8 IS different.  It’s intuitive, easy to understand and fun to experiment with, but be prepared to spend some time getting into it.  Or grokking it, as it were.

Related Content

Xuchen Yao and Guoguo Chen were interns at Google working on language-processing technology when Amazon introduced Echo, the media-streaming device equipped with a voice-activated intelligent assistant, which is triggered when the user says the hotword “Alexa.”  

When it comes to taking on global warming, few ideas are as audacious as the one put forward by Mark Anderson, the Friday Harbor-based CEO of Strategic News Service who has a knack for identifying technology trends.

Juno Therapeutics has recruited former Genentech researcher Sunil Agarwal to head up a revamped research organization, according to an article in Endpoints, a biotech newsletter.

Ever since his school days on Mercer Island, Jake Rubin has dreamed of creating a holodeck like the one on the Star Trek television series — a virtual reality experience so immersive that it is perceived as real.