Windows 8: what we know September 2011
Windows 8: what we know
The current version of Windows, Windows 7, was launched in October 2009 as a replacement for Windows Vista, and is now the standard operating system installed on new PCs. Two years into its product lifecycle, Windows 8 is now in the pipeline, so we’ve taken a first look at some of the features that will make an appearance when Windows 8 launches.
This article, Windows 8: what we know, was last updated on 30 September 2011 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Technology articles.
Microsoft has carried out a very small-scale release of an early version of Windows 8. We got hold of a tablet running this early version of the much-anticipated operating system, and answer some key questions about the future direction of Windows.
When will Windows 8 launch?
Back in June 2011 Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8, running on tablets, smartphones and desktop PCs, at the D9 conference in California and Computex show in Taipei.
Several months of development and further test versions will pass before the full consumer launch, possibly towards the end of 2012.
What's Windows 8 like?
Our early version of Windows 8 is very fast to start up, noticeably faster than other versions of Windows. It features a tiled interface, similar to that of Windows Phone 7, with each tile representing a different app. Many of these tiles are 'live', and display up to the moment information, be it the latest weather, share price info, social network updates or whatever the app in question is.
Tiles are designed to be touched and opened, but Windows 8 is as much a PC-based operating system as a tablet one and as such can be used with a physical keyboard and mouse also.
The familiar Windows Explorer file management system is easily accessible from behind the tiles, here you can sort and access your files like any other Windows operating system. Additionally, you can access these files from within the app you are in - you can find a photo to post from within the Twitter app, for example.
Although not yet operational, there will also be an app store for indows 8, similar to the App Store on Mac computers. From here, you'll be able to download all sorts of apps including Microsoft Office and ones that are more suited to tablet use - games for example. Apps will be developed in the coming months.
Is it better than Windows 7?
On tablets, we think it's a massive leap forward from Windows 7. Windows 7 tablets suffer from short battery life, are sometimes bulky, and using them without a stylus is very much a hit and miss affair.
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft stated that Windows 8 will support mobile ARM processors and system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices. Traditionally Windows has only supported processors based on what's called x86, a type of technology used by Intel and its rival chip maker AMD. ARM technology is far less power hungry on small, portable devices like tablets.
With the iPad and Android tablets leading the tablet market, it’s likely then that Microsoft will ensure the next version of Windows is competitive when it comes to being ideal for use on portable, touchscreen devices.
What other features does Windows 8 have?
Here is a list of features that Windows 8 is rumoured to include in the final version, based on our test version, leaked development files and Microsoft demonstrations:
- Consistent visual interface across all platforms - phones, tablets and PCs
- 3D support - there’s some evidence that Windows 8 might support 3D
- Windows 8 app store - Windows Phone 7 already has a mobile app store, and it’s quite likely that a desktop web apps store could make an appearance on Windows 8
- Windows 8 on USB - it may be possible to put a bootable copy of Windows 8 onto a USB memory stick or portable drive, allowing users to carry their operating system with them and use on multiple devices.
- Cloud syncing - a new cloud synchronisation tool to let users sync files and folders from their PCs to a cloud-based service- possibly Windows Live SkyDrive.
- Ribbon interface - the controversial ribbon toolbar which debuted on Office 2010 looks set to come to Windows Explorer
- Snap gestures - to view multiple apps side-by-side on the screen
- Tile-based Start screen - replacing the Windows Start menu
- Live tiles with notifications - giving real-time updates from apps
- Modern Reader - a PDF reader replacement for Adobe Acrobat
- Modern Task Manager - an updated version of the Windows 7 task manager application
- New themes - the Basic Windows Theme has been tweaked from the Windows 7 version - specifically the ‘close’, ‘maximise’ and ‘minimise’ window buttons have been removed, with just the symbols remaining
- New Welcome screen
- Window colours - a new setting to automatically adjust window colour to fit desktop wallpaper
- Internet Explorer update - a stripped-down 'immersive' version of Internet Explorer, similar to the mobile version
- Faster startup time - Windows 8 is slated to boot faster, using a new feature called ‘log-off and hibernate’. A faster start-up time will make Windows 8 a viable rival to instant-on tablet operating systems
Under the bonnet
- ARM support - Windows 8 will run on devices which contain ARM processors, meaning it’s more likely we’ll see Windows 8 tablets and smartphones
- Kinect - whether Microsoft’s X-box motion-controlled gaming accessory will be supported by Windows 8 remains to be seen
- Location awareness - Windows 8 could be designed to take advantage of built-in GPS
- A new packaged application model based on Silverlight
- Face recognition - Windows 8 could allow users to log in using facial recognition
Is Windows 8 the final name for it?
While it's currently being referred to as Windows 8 by Microsoft, the company has said that this is just a codename and hasn’t yet confirmed what the OS’s name will be when it’s finally released. Although it will follow sequentially from Windows 7, internally it is reportedly being called 'Windows.Next'.
Will Windows 8 run on my PC?
Windows 8 should run on any PC which is designed to run Windows 7.
More Windows 8 news
We'll update this guide when additional Windows 8 news emerges, and bring you a full review as soon as the final version of Windows 8 is ready.