Microsoft will unveil Windows 8 to the world in exactly a week’s time, but what do we know so far?
ARM-based chipset support
The first official Windows 8 details came in the form of ARM support for Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky revealed that Microsoft is planning to support ARM chipsets during a speech at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. Microsoft is partnering with ARM-based manufacturers NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. The new ARM support will allow for better battery life and new form factors for Windows devices. ARM believes that Microsoft’s chipset adoption will see Windows expand further into cars and TVs in the future.
New “Immersive” Metro styled user interface – Start Screen
The biggest change in Windows comes with Microsoft’s new Start Screen and subsequent tablet optimized experience. The software giant first unveiled the interface at the D9 conference in June, revealing a beautiful and refreshing concept for all Windows devices. The interface is very similar to the company’s Windows Phone tiles concept. Windows 8 users will be able to take advantage of classic desktop apps alongside HTML5 web apps. The Start Screen contains a tile-based row of applications and web apps that replaces the Start Menu by default. The tiles include notifications and similar “live tiles” information support seen in Windows Phone. Applications can be snapped to the side of the screen to allow multiple apps to run seamlessly in the touch-optimized experience.
Internet Explorer 10
Windows 8 will include the company’s Internet Explorer 10 browser. IE10 will be at the heart of Microsoft’s new “immersive” experience, powering the browsing and HTML5 web apps that users will interact with in the Start Screen and new user interface inside Windows 8. Internet Explorer 10 will include further support for even more standards like CSS3 gradients, multi-column and grid layouts. Microsoft released its first Internet Explorer 10 platform preview in April and is expected to deliver an updated platform preview at BUILD next week.
New Windows 8 Start Button and Start Menu
Despite Microsoft’s new Start Screen interface, the company is still planning to support the Start Button and Start Menu in Windows 8. Microsoft has teased the new Metro style Windows 8 Start Button and Menu during a number of recent building Windows 8 videos. The new Windows Start Button appears to be more flat with pastel colors, reflecting the company’s adoption of the Metro design language it now uses heavily in its future products. Microsoft’s Windows 8 Start Menu has also been cut down in size with very basic options.
Windows Explorer Ribbon user interface
Microsoft has revealed that it plans to incorporate the famous Office ribbon inside Windows Explorer for Windows 8. The ribbon is designed to optimize file management asks throughout explorer by surfacing a number of easy to use buttons. The various tabs will allow Windows 8 users to quickly complete file tasks like moving, copying and pasting along with simple and quick access to sharing images and data via email, printing or faxing. The ribbon will remain power user friendly and include all of the normal Windows Explorer shortcuts.
Native VHD and ISO mounting
Windows 8 will natively support ISO and VHD mounting. The process of mounting ISOs is very simple in Windows 8. Users can simply double click a file to have it mounted in Windows Explorer. VHD support is similar too. VHDs will appear as a virtual HDD in Windows Explorer, giving end users simple access to their contents.
USB 3.0 support
Surprise surprise by Microsoft confirmed that Windows 8 will definitely support USB 3.0. USB 3.0 is the latest standard for USB connectivity. USB 3.0 supports transmission speeds of up to 5Gbit/s, 10x faster than USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/s). A number of laptops now support USB 3.0, including models from Sony, Toshiba and Dell.
Hyper-V 3.0 and new VHDX virtual hard drive format
Microsoft recently confirmed that Windows 8 will include Hyper-V in the client version. Hyper-V allows end users to run more than one 32-bit or 64-bit x86 OS at the same time on the same computer through virtual machines (VM). Microsoft’s new VHDX format is capable of supporting disks much larger than the current 2TB restriction of VHD. Microsoft has created VHDX which is capable of supporting disks up to 16TB in size. The new format can only be used in Windows OS versions starting at Windows 8.
Improved copy and and move user interface
Windows 8 will include an improved user interface during copy and move file transfers. Multiple file copy and move jobs will now take place in one dialog box where end users can pause, cancel or resume copy/move jobs. The consolidated user experience will also include details of the speed of data transfer, transfer rate trend and how much data is left to transfer. Copy and paste conflict dialog boxes have also been improved to include a more visible and actionable approach.
Lack of Dolby DVD playback support
Dolby has revealed that Microsoft’s current Windows 8 builds do not include the company’s Dolby Digital Plus technologies. Dolby expects to license its DVD playback support directly to OEMs and ISVs instead of native inclusion by Microsoft in Windows 8. Microsoft could be licensing a rival company’s technology for DVD playback support in Windows 8.
Windows Media Center still present in Windows 8
Microsoft will include Media Center inside Windows 8 but not initially. The company is planning to unveil a developer preview build of Windows 8 shortly which will not include Media Center bits. Despite the removal, Microsoft plans to add Media Center back to Windows 8 at a later stage in beta development.
Xbox LIVE built into Windows 8
Microsoft’s vice president of global marketing in the interactive entertainment business unit, Mike Delman, revealed in June that the company plans to include Xbox LIVE on Windows PCs. The company is currently consolidating its user experience across the phone, PC and Xbox to ensure it is consistent and familiar for end users. Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE support will likely see Windows gamers gaining achievement points for the service inside Windows 8.
Leak: Powershell 3.0 and AppX
AppX is Microsoft’s new method for packaging and deploying application in Windows 8 according to some leaked information earlier this year. Microsoft is understood to be preparing an application model codenamed “Jupiter” that will allow developers to create native applications that take advantage of AppX packaging. The packages can then be distributed using Powershell 3.0. Some early builds of Windows 8 include Powershell 3.0 and the ability to target machines with an AppX installer.
Leak: Windows App Store
Microsoft has all but confirmed the inclusion of a Windows App Store for Windows 8. The store is expected to feature HTML5 web apps alongside native AppX applications. Microsoft will likely position its store as the quickest and easiest way to find and install Windows applications.
Leak: New “Protogon” file system
Several references to a “Protogon” file system have been discovered in recently leaked builds of Windows 8. The “NT Protogon FS driver” appears to be a kernel mode driver for a new file system called Protogon. The file system includes database-like transactions, rows and tables and may replace or emulate the NTFS file system. Many speculate that it could be the return of Microsoft’s famous Windows Future Storage (WinFS) system that was originally promised during the Windows Vista (Longhorn) beta development.
Leak: Multi-monitor support improvements
Microsoft appears to be working on improved multi-monitor support inside Windows 8. A leak in June points towards a “Multiple Display” task bar dialog box and group policy objects that reference enhanced multi-monitor options.
Rumor: “Chatter” video service inside Windows 8
Microsoft may be planning a “Chatter” video service directly inside Windows 8. References to the service appeared in several leaked builds of Windows 8. Microsoft’s Metro style lock screen also features a camera icon that appears to include a notification number, indicating missed calls.
Leak: Windows Live Online ID and Cloud settings sync
Microsoft appears to be building in broad cloud support straight into Windows 8. Two separate leaks indicate that Microsoft is preparing to sync a number of windows settings across multiple Windows 8 PCs. Settings such as desktop wallpaper, Search settings and Mouse settings will all be synced using Microsoft’s Windows Live infrastructure. Linking an online ID with a Windows 8 account will also allow for automatic sign-in to all websites and programs.
Leak: History Vault backup
Microsoft appears to be creating a time machine-like backup service by consolidating a number of its existing backup technologies into a user friendly interface.The feature will allow Windows 8 users to backup files and folders automatically using the Shadow Copies function of Windows. The interface will allow end users to restore select files to a specific time-stamp.
Leak: System Reset
Early copies of Windows 8 reference a System Reset feature that appears to allow end users to reset their systems to original OEM factory settings. The feature could be used by businesses or OEMs to wipe a machine back to its original settings and restore a default set of Windows settings after the user triggers the option.