Windows 8 Walkthrough

Microsoft has released a Developer Preview of their next operating system. We take a look at what it means for CIOs planning for the next couple of years.

You have to hand it to Microsoft. While it's true that they sometimes miss some of the biggest changes in the industry or completely misread what's coming (the Internet and Bill Gates' book "The Road Ahead" spring to mind) their capacity to realign and shift course is quite remarkable for such a large company. While they've had some misses along the way, like the Zune, it's unlikely that they'll make huge errors with their flagship product, Windows.

It's clear that Microsoft is targeting a different type of computing experience in the coming years. And that means that CIOs will need to consider hardware and software use-cases that are different to what happens today.

We installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview to an Acer Iconia tablet. We suspect that this style of device will become increasingly popular. The 11-inch screen is a good size for working with traditional applications but offers a good compromise with respect to portability. It also offers a keyboard dock so that the tablet can revert to a notebook style form factor as a portable slate. As the Iconia lacks an optical drive - an increasingly common omission - we created a bootable USB stick from the ISO file using the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool.

As a Developer Preview, Windows 8 hasn't even reached the beta stage yet. However, we've seen enough to be able extrapolate and make some predictions about what CIOs need to be ready for.

1. The Start button is dead
The initial user screen that confronts Windows 8 users uses the same active tile arrangement that users of Windows Phone 7 are familiar with. It's quite a jarring difference for those that have moved from Windows 95 to Windows 7. The familiar Start button is gone as well. If you tap or click the "Desktop" tile you don't get the Start menu - you're returned to the new Start screen with the tiles.

2. Touchscreens will become standard
Navigating through Windows 8 is possible with a mouse but it's much easier with your fingers. Swipes and taps feel "right" with Windows 8. It's true that once you delve past the front layer of Windows 8 that the familiar look and feel of Windows 7 isn't far away but there's enough promise to see that Microsoft is capable of revising the user interface all the way through to make it touch friendly.

3. The Ribbon is here to stay
When Microsoft introduced Office 2007, one of the most derided features was the Ribbon that replaced the menus and toolbars. By the next release of Office, the Ribbon was refined and pushed into even more applications. In Windows 8, the Ribbon has made its way into Windows Explorer. While that brings further consistency into the user experience, it will also mean some extra training will be needed with users.

4. Get ready for shorter product cycles
One of the good things to come from the debacle that was Windows Vista (and Windows ME if it comes to it) is that Microsoft is has changed its product lifecycle. The gap between Windows XP and Vista was so long that many couldn't make the shift. However, Windows 7 came just two years after Vista in contrast with about six years between XP and Vista. Those shorter cycles are both a boon and curse. Shorter release cycles mean that changes are more gradual but the pressure to keep up increases. What's interesting is that Windows 8 has both a substantial change to the UI and a short release cycle.

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