On Tuesday, Microsoft opened the annual BUILD developers conference with a preview of Windows 8, the next iteration of its popular operating system. As one reporter on scene noted, "[Windows 8] isn’t a minor tweak with a new name," but a "a complete overhaul." And the most interesting part of that overhaul is the Windows 8 Metro interface, which runs on desktop PCs and laptops, and also tablet computers.
Microsoft, of course, is best known as a purveyor of desktop software – and according to the New York Times, Windows business remains "huge and immensely profitable." But the computer market has been transformed mightily in recent years, first by the emergence of powerful, computer-like smartphones and then by the rapidly swelling tablet market (currently dominated by Apple; more on that later).
The team at Redmond needs to keep up, obviously. Thus the appearance of "touch-centric" Windows 8 Metro – an OS that does double-duty on regular ol' PCs and new-fangled tablets. Over at Reuters, Bill Rigby reports that Microsoft has distributed 5,000 sleek Samsung tablet computers to developers, all of them running a test version of Windows 8 – an effort to gin up excitement around the new OS.
"Kids today are seeing more Apple logos than Microsoft logos, and Microsoft needs to change that if they are going to continue being the force that they have been," Michael Silver, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner, told Rigby. "If you look at where Apple is successful, it's from consumers who have more power to bring in what they use at home to the business. That's important for Microsoft to go after, to get this fixed."
So what does Windows 8 Metro bring to the table? Well, ZD Net's Ed Bott took a test spin on a tablet machine, and he describes the experience as a more tactile version of the traditional Windows interface.
"Swipe in from the right side of the screen to display the vertical strip of 'charms' (that’s the official name) shown here," Bott writes. "The five icons replace the Windows Start menu and allow quick access to commonly used functions. A Windows button in the center returns to the Start screen (mimicking the action of the equivalent hardware key with the Windows logo on it)."
Sounds intuitive enough. But James Kendrick, another ZD Net writer, has his doubts.
"There are so many unknowns about Windows 8 that it is impossible to tell how it will do in the race," Kendrick writes. "The problem is the race is already in the latter stages, and is ongoing right now. Microsoft may think the race is a marathon, but it is in full sprint mode already. What we’ve seen today of Windows 8 looks really nice and it may be a contender, but it’s so far in the future it’s too early to call."
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