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.

2016 Tech Impact Awards: Tech Impact Champion

2016 Tech Impact Awards: Tech Impact Champion

Congratulations, Ed Lazowska!

Ed Lazowska, Ph.D.
Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington

When Ed Lazowska arrived in Seattle 39 years ago as an assistant professor, both the University of Washington and the region were very different places. In computer science, he was the newest of only 13 faculty members. The region’s tech industry largely consisted of Boeing, Fluke and Physio-Control. Microsoft at the time was still a dozen people in Albuquerque. 
Today, the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department rivals Stanford’s and Carnegie Mellon’s for attracting tech talent and major research — accomplishments that Lazowska helped bring about. As the university’s department chair, his effort to recruit leading data scientists included personally reaching out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who provided $2 million from Amazon to endow two professorships and personally met with researchers. A decade after leading fundraising to build the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, he is doing so again to build a new CSE facility that will help double the center’s capacity.
“Our job,” Lazowksa asserts, “is to provide socioeconomic mobility for bright kids in this region.”
Driving opportunities through research remains his passion, as his own studies in high-performance computing, multicomputer processing and big data science have proved. An early technical adviser on the formation of Microsoft Research and a member of two national advisory committees on science and technology policy, he has promoted private and public investment in “engineering things that one day in the future will be used in game-changing products.”
Lazowska believes big data and cloud computing “lie at the heart of 21st century discovery.” He helped found and now leads the UW’s eScience Institute, a cross-campus partnership that helps scholars in fields such as astronomy, biology and sociology take advantage of data analytics to enhance their research. Given the region’s far-reaching cloud expertise, Lazowska says, “This is an area that Seattle has the potential to own.”
Lazowska’s other initiatives include promoting K-12 STEM education and gender diversity in the UW program. He champions the notion that all students should study computer science to cultivate the “computational thinking” skills needed for the new century.
Lazowska marvels at the region’s transformation into a place “with distinctive and innovative activities in the broadest range of areas.” With his trademark enthusiasm for the UW and the local tech sector, this celebrated educator, researcher, adviser and booster has played an important role in that transformation.
Previous Tech Impact Champions
Tech Impact Champions are chosen not only for their achievements in technology but also for championing the region’s broader tech sector. Past inductees in Seattle Business magazine’s Hall of Technology Champions, previously called Lifetime Achievement Award honorees, are:
  2012: John McAdams, former CEO, F5 Networks
  2013: Jeremy Jaech, cofounder, Aldus and Visio, and chair emeritus, the Technology Alliance
  2014: Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft
  2015: Tom Alberg, cofounder, Madrona Venture Group