Windows 8: Microsoft may actually be competitive again

Windows 8 gets a major interface overhaul and learns a few tricks from Linux

By - June 2, 2011
Windows_8_Touch_the_future

Despite unparalleled OS dominance, Microsoft has long been seen as lacking in insight and the ability to innovate. Competition is starting to flare up in terms of interface design thanks to simple streamlined mobile operating systems such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Has Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer finally put the brakes on the downward spiral of Microsoft’s design innovation?

Windows Phone 7 was nothing like it’s failed predecessor, Windows Mobile. For Windows Phone 7, the designers and developers were given a completely open slate for creating the new mobile OS. Without the hurdle of backward compatibility, creativity flowed and Microsoft managed to produce an operating system that is a worthy competitor to iOS and Android.

The design of Windows 8 is based closely on that of Windows Phone 7.

With the latest version of Ubuntu, Canonical have unified their client operating systems in order to create an OS capable of being scaled to any device. Microsoft have taken a leaf out of Canonical’s book for the development of Windows 8 and have built one client operating system for all devices, ranging from tablet PCs to desktop PCs.

Clear, uncluttered, simplistic; these are design decisions that would previously never be attributed to a Microsoft product. Touch has also become a primary form of interaction for Windows 8, with keyboard and mouse as a secondary option.

Based on Windows Phone 7, the Windows 8 interface is simple and colourful, with some smooth Meego style animations. Windows 8 finally incorporates some degree of multiple workspaces, a feature which has been present in Linux based operating systems such as Ubuntu, Meego and Android for some time now. On a technical level, the Windows 8 interface is built using HTML5 and javascript technologies.

The idea of using web technologies for a desktop interface first emerged with the Jolicloud OS, and was eventually incorporated into Gnome version 3. A number of Linux based OSs will use the Gnome 3 interface, notably Fedora 15 which is already available for download. This is a very good move for open standards on Microsoft’s part, but ironically, Internet Explorer is still the least HTML5 compliant browser, even with the release of version 9.

What’s the catch?

As is the case with Windows Phone 7, applications are going to have to be built specifically for the new OS. It’s seems as if once again backward compatibility has been taken out of the equation in order to accelerate innovation. You will still be able to run legacy applications, but it seems like this will have to be done in a classic Windows desktop environment. This can be compared to how DOS (command prompt) can still be run in Windows.

It is unlikely that the classic Windows environment will be able to run on tablet PCs and in-vehicle-infotainment systems due to the high system requirements, so this could mark the end of Microsoft’s near flawless backward compatibility streak. It is not yet clear whether the classic Windows environment will be included in all versions of Windows 8 by default, or if it will be a separate additional feature.

Windows 8 Applications

The Windows 8 applications shown in the above video seem to be very information/media consumption focused; these could therefore be ported Windows Phone 7 apps. One can’t help wonder if content creation – which has always been the primary function of Windows PC’s – could possibly take a back-seat in Windows 8.

This is not necessarily a bad thing since users are quickly becoming information consuming machines. Google docs is sufficient for the casual user, but as for the rest; it’s difficult to imagine Photoshop or Excel running in a Windows 8 environment without having to resort to the classic Windows desktop. Perhaps these features are yet to be revealed, or perhaps they are going to resort to running content creation applications in the classic Windows environment.

Microsoft may have finally broken their monolithic desktop paradigm, but is that classic Windows environment going to come back to haunt them? Let us know what you think on the MyBroadband forums.

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