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Windows 8 – A Fresh Start or a Last Gasp?

A Windows 8 Tablet - Microsoft Launch Event

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s most technologically adventurous operating system since Windows 95. Yet despite receiving rave reviews from phone and tablet users, the preview releases were consistently panned by the traditional desktop PC community. So what is the verdict? Why did Microsoft decide to serve both desktop and mobile users with one solution?

I headed to Microsoft’s Launch Event in South San Francisco form my own opinions on Windows 8. A few hundred developers were in attendance for the jam-packed day and the technical sessions were unexpectedly illuminating. Here is what I learned:

Content Before Chrome

This is the primary tenet in Microsoft’s new-found religion. Simply stated, applications should minimize (or eliminate) all non-content related GUI elements. Familiar components like title bars, close buttons, system menus, scroll bars and search boxes that have always featured prominently in Windows have been declared “second class citizens” and are drastically minimized in Windows 8. For example, here is Internet Explorer on Windows 7:

And here it is on Windows 8:

Not only are the screen-stealing bars at the top gone, but the back button has been replaced by a subtle arrow that only comes up when you hover over the left side of the screen. The end result is more pixels dedicated to the web page. Very nice.

Of course, Microsoft did not “invent” this approach. User interface gurus like Edward Tufte and Don Norman have been preaching for years, but it is exciting to see that their common-sense ideas have infected Redmond!

Live Tiles – Icons on Steroids

Boring static icons may be a thing of the past. Live tiles (which have the power to give you a “quick look” at your information without having to open the application) seem to offer a huge potential…

The Start Button is Gone (but you’ll probably get used to it)

I still fault Microsoft for banishing the revered Start Button. Why didn’t they keep it there to ease the transition for desktop users? In any case, since learning how to bring up the powerful Charm Bar by swiping in one of the right corners I haven’t felt as outraged.

(By the way, there are already a few utilities that restore the Start button.)

C++ is Back!

After years of hawking C# as the language of choice, Microsoft has added C++ (along with Javascript) to the short list of preferred languages. Old-timers steeped in C++ can hold their (our) heads up again 🙂

Interesting note: The core of Windows 8 is implemented in C/C++ and COM…

Windows 8 is Beautiful on a Tablet

While my Windows 8-on-a-PC experience has been distinctly bipolar (with lots of switching between the tiles and the traditional desktop), it took only four minutes for me to appreciate the new OS on a Samsung tablet. The clean UI and proactive/”living” display were especially appealing. If Microsoft can deliver on reliability (no crashing!) I think they have a winner.

Really, it’s all about Leveraging Windows

Whenever Microsoft feels threatened, it uses its Windows monopoly to defend itself. For example, just as Netscape started to be come synonymous with Internet, that young company was squashed when Internet Explorer was bundled with Windows. Now Microsoft is hoping that all of us using PCs will fall in love with the new mobile-centric features in Windows 8 and will ultimately purchase Windows devices as we evolve away from the traditional desktop. Windows 8 is simply the “gateway” to a much more lucrative market. If the past is any indicator, Microsoft’s plan just might work.

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