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New Start screen

Weather app

Split "thumb" keyboard

Julie Larson-Green, Corporate Vice President, Windows Experience  (Source: Microsoft)
Microsoft brings a little bit of Windows Phone 7 flavor to Windows 8

Apple's iPad may have a long head start in the tablet market, and Google is slowly starting to get its footing in the market with Honeycomb, but don't count Microsoft out just yet. The boys from Redmond today showed off what they've been working on when it comes to tablet functionality in Windows 8.

The entire Windows 8 operating system has full touch support and will scale from small screens (i.e. tablets), to notebooks, to desktops with their massive screens. Windows 8 can be interfaced using the traditional mouse and keyboard -- this is the "base" Windows 8 environment -- or completely through touch-based gestures.

But of course, everyone wants to know how Windows 8 is going to work with tablet devices, and Microsoft gave us a hint of that today at the AllThingsD conference. As previously rumored, the tablet-centric versions of Windows 8 have an interface that is modeled after Windows Phone 7's "Metro" UI.

The new Start screen includes "Live" tiles and allows you to swipe and flick your way through the interface like you would with Windows Phone 7 devices. Transitions are nice and smooth, and multitasking is accomplished by simply swiping your finger across the screen [video].

Windows 8 will be able to run traditional Windows applications that we've all come to know and love over the years, or more touch-centric full screen apps that are written in HTML5 and JavaScript. Microsoft plans to make tools available to developers to help kick start the app making process to ensure that Windows 8 doesn't have the dearth of optimized apps that plague the Honeycomb platform. 

Other tidbits that came out of today's announcement include the fact that Windows 8 won't require any more hardware muscle than Windows 7 to run properly according to Microsoft Windows president Steven Sinofsky. Likewise, the OS will be optimized for both AMD and Intel x86 processors along with the hard-charging ARM architecture

Internet Explorer 10 is fully baked into Windows 8 and is obviously touch optimized. A new on-screen keyboard is also available including a new "split keyboard" configuration to make typing with your thumbs easier on a tablet.

"And this isn’t just about touch PCs. The new Windows experience will ultimately be powered by application and device developers around the world — one experience across a tremendous variety of PCs," said Julie Larson-Green, Corporate Vice President for Windows Experience. "The user interface and new apps will work with or without a keyboard and mouse on a broad range of screen sizes and pixel densities, from small slates to laptops, desktops, all-in-ones, and even classroom-sized displays. Hundreds of millions of PCs will run the new Windows 8 user interface. This breadth of hardware choice is unique to Windows and central to how we see Windows evolving."

All in and all, it looks like Microsoft has made a valiant effort with Windows 8 for tablets, but it's still more of an "additional layer" plastered on top of Windows rather than a fully fleshed out, tablet-specific operating system like iOS or Android. However, this "quirk" allows it to take advantage of new HTML5 apps and still have access to the unparalleled catalog of existing Windows applications.

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RE: This is risky..
By snakeInTheGrass on 6/1/2011 10:46:46 PM , Rating: 2
The tiles metaphor for a 'normal' PC doesn't hold for me - it loses the entire flavor of having windows. Or Windows. At the same time, flipping to Office/Word/etc. in with the task bar is a bit odd if it's a touch screen - it gets back to the issues of mixing a Windows UI with touch and just running into problems. Guess we'll see.

But a bit less ambivalent here - that multitasking metaphor is terrible! I have the 4-finger-swipe to switch tasks on my iPad, and it's useless since I rarely remember what was actually run previously, and Microsoft basically chose the same poorly implemented function just from one edge of the screen. Blech. HP has the right idea there with the cards and ability to select the app/screen you want to focus on for a tablet UI anyway.

RE: This is risky..
By acer905 on 6/1/2011 11:13:40 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're somewhat missing the point. This is not about making a new toy for people to use, its about creating a true replacement for the PC. You have to envision something like the ASUS Transformer, with the Metro interface being the main UI when detached from the base, and the traditional desktop interface the primary UI when it is attached. If the two UI's are as smooth operating as the video, switching between the two would not matter to the end user.

As for the way it handles multitasking, its essentially just adding a finger gesture to the age old alt-tab that Windows users are used to.

Either way, if the Metro UI is included in standard x86 editions of Windows 8, it won't really change anything. There will likely be a way to change the default loaded UI to standard, and if people don't want to use it, they won't. If they do want to use it, it will make the convergence of desktops and tablets easier, because they are using not only the same UI, but the same OS.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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