Home Your Tech Home Tech Windows 8 will be wonderful - even if it's pretty late

Windows 8 will be wonderful - even if it's pretty late

A developers' conference is something similar to a meeting of evangelistic Christians or Islamic fundamentalists - no non-believers or sceptics are around, the cheers are raucous and come without prompting, and all the focus is on the man on the stage. Listening to nearly three hours of spiel on the web from the Microsoft BUILD developers conference this morning reminded me of this.

That a number of the presenters - Steven Sinofsky, Chris Jones and Antoine LeBlond - were all in turtle-neck sweaters didn't escape attention either. This is the favoured attire of one Steve Jobs. It looked eerie.

But let me not digress any further from the subject at hand, dear reader - this is a conference to present Windows 8 to developers, in all its present glory. Given that this is pre-release software, there were a few little glitches here and there, but I'll gloss over that.

Sinofsky, the president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, who bears some resemblance to Ben Kingsley, took the assembled through the features of Windows 8; while the classic Windows interface will be available if needed, the new version is more geared towards what is called Metro-style, which resembles a mobile phone interface.

In truth, given that even free software projects like Ubuntu GNU/Linux and GNOME have already come out with similar interfaces, Microsoft is a little late in advertising the wonders of Windows 8.

The interface is very nice, a radical departure from what one recognises as Windows and the focus is on touch. There is a link to everything possible on the desktop. Of course, this is old hat to anyone who has been using an iPad for the last four months as I have. It looks like a desperate attempt to catch up - and remember that it will take anything from a year to two for Windows 8 to arrive.

And I wonder - would anyone with a new PC, stretch out to use their fingers? Would someone with a new laptop that supports all the wonders of Windows 8 use their digits either? Or is it only the man or woman with the pad device who would do so? Food for thought, indeed.

Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, has claimed that 2012 will see the arrival of Windows 8 but that seems over-optimistic. For one, it is only now that Windows 7, which was hurriedly rushed out to mask the disaster that was Windows Vista, is coming into its own. Sinofsky said that 450 million copies had been sold to date and that consumer usage had for the first time exceeded that of Windows XP, the venerable workhorse that people are clinging to.

This means that the business market is still largely holding off from Windows 7 and if they were given a sniff that a radical new version of Windows was a year away, then chances are that a goodly number of Windows 7 subscriptions plus all the attendant digital and hard-copy media would have to be thrown into the Atlantic. Or the Pacific, take your choice.

More importantly, if all the wonderful features that Sinofsky and his colleagues mentioned are to function properly, it is going to take an awful lot of work before one goes public - my guess is 2013 at the earliest.

There was one sleight of hand trick that Sinofsky did to convince those present of how slimmed down Windows 8 will be - he showed the system running on a machine that has 1GB of RAM and the task manager showed that it was taking up 281 MB of RAM in its quiescent state (29 processes) as compared to 404MB for Windows 7 (32 processes). But as one is aware, the overhead in Windows comes when it runs applications, especially third-party applications, and Sinofsky did not offer this perspective to his listeners. This did not deter the audience from cheering.

The specs of the demo machines - a dozen or more - were not provided at any stage, hence one can only guess at how much grunt will be needed to run Windows 8 at an acceptable speed. I have a new laptop with an i5 processor and 4GB of RAM and Windows 7 is annoyingly slow on it.

Windows 8 will implement a lot of the features that Apple already has and it is also trying to be stylish in the process. But given that Microsoft only wields control over the software, that is not going to be very easy. Windows hardware is generally clunky by comparison but it is cheaper.

Applications which are written for Windows 8 will interact with each other. But here again, Microsoft is behind the pack - Apple and Google are miles ahead with iOS and Android and to catch up will take precious time. Metro is a new platform so existing applications will have to be rewritten to work as demonstrated.

One rather remarkable thing noticeable at the presentation is that Microsoft seems to be leaning towards HTML5 and Javascript though it says XAML and .NET will have access to the same features.

Plenty of hardware was demoed as well, with much being made of the fact that Windows 8 will run on devices powered by the ARM processor. A few ARM notepads were shown but then again, this is a little late in the game. The iPad is in iteration 2 and if you sneeze at a big computer show, chances are that your spittle will fall on an Android device trying to muscle in on the iPad market.

Developers will be able to code using a choice of languages as there is a new Windows 8 Runtime that gives them this flexibility. HTML5 and JavaScript, or XAML, C#, C++ or Visual Basic are all usable.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Hopefully that will be possible soon and we'll be able to tell you a little more about the Windows 8 build in its current state and how it performs on older hardware.



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.