Windows 8: What to expect?

Windows 7 is barely out of the door and already Microsoft is hiring staff to start building its successor, Windows 8. Although most industry commentators are not expecting Windows 8 to be released before 2012, Microsoft is clearly eager to kick start Windows 8 development and give itself enough time to build a suitable successor to Windows 7.

The 2012 expected release date for Windows 8 is based on the usual cadence of Windows releases which typically sees three years between major releases. Excluding Windows 2000 and Windows ME, the major releases of Windows have been Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP (2001) and then, a little out of sync, Windows Vista (2006/7) and Windows 7 (2009). Another five-year break between Windows 7 and 8 is highly unlikely as the pace of innovation is now very high and most competitors, from Apple, to Linux and Google, are rolling out new releases in short order.

When Vista was released to consumers in January 2007, Microsoft quickly shifted its focus to Windows 7 (back then called Vienna) and within four or five months of the Vista release was already working hard at Windows 7. This time is no different and already Microsoft is hiring Windows 8 developers [http://www.codenamewindows.com/?p=1042#more-1042].

What to expect

Right now it’s hard to tell exactly what Microsoft will do with Windows 8. The shift from XP to Vista was a fairly abrupt one while the changes from Vista to Windows 7 were relatively smooth, more of an evolution of Windows Vista than a wholescale overhaul of the operating system. Windows 8 may well need to be more than just an evolution of Windows 7 if Microsoft hopes to keep up with the competition. Already Google is previewing its Google Chrome operating system while other Linux makers are looking into the “cloud” for future direction.

By 2012 the world of operating systems will very likely be nothing like what we have today. By then most users will be using their mobile phone as a major part of their online connectivity, broadband will (hopefully even in South Africa) be more affordable and more widespread and data storage will very likely be wrapped up in online repositories. An old-school desktop operating system will just not be enough.

128-bit

The one thing that does seem to be on the agenda for Windows 8 is support for 128-bit architectures. A senior Microsoft researcher recently posted details on LinkedIn regarding his day-to-day work at the company. [http://blog.eightforums.com/windows_8/windows-8-x128-the-next-pc-revolution-has-is-begun/] Among the details were indications that Windows 8 would include 128-bit support. Adding this to Windows 8 makes sense in terms of the evolution of hardware, even though most current users are still on 32-bit machines.

A 64-bit version of Windows XP Professional was first released in May 2005 and subsequent releases have all included a 64-bit version. Despite this 64-bit uptake has been relatively slow.

A 128-bit version of Windows 8 may well be overkill – 64-bit versions are still mostly under-utilised at this point – but in the long-term view it could become standard issue. If rumours are true that Intel and Microsoft are working on the 128-bit project together then Windows 8 and 128-bit processors could well suddenly start appearing around 2012.

Interactive

The other area likely to be high on the Windows 8 agenda will be voice-to-text and text-to-voice functions. Obviously this is not new and has been widely available as third party applications for Windows for many years now. But with portable devices and mobile computing becoming increasingly popular, new ways of interacting must be key for Windows 8 developers. Windows 7 already has touch-input capabilities but Microsoft will want to go beyond this for Windows 8 when touch-interfaces will be commonplace.

Obviously Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, will be  a key part of Windows 8 as will the need to develop context-aware applications that will make connectivity seamless. Also on the hardware side, even if Windows 8 doesn’t include 128-bit support, it will certainly have to be built to support multi-core technologies. Already six-core processors are in use in high-performance computing and over the next couple of years will filter their way down to consumer PCs. At its heart Windows 8 will have to take advantage of this.

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Windows 8: What to expect?