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Mailbag: Windows 8 Developer Preview

As you might imagine, my inbox is overflowing with questions about Windows 8, thanks to Microsoft's recent release of the first public Developer Preview. I don't have all the answers, but here are some of the more representative questions I've received in the past 10 days.

Everyone is Freaking Out About the New UI

Travis P. (and many others) writes:

There is still a lot of debate over whether the new metro-style tile based interface is effective on a desktop machine.

It's funny to me that we have conversations like this every time anything is changed in Windows. A year from now, we won't remember what the fuss was all about: Microsoft knows that the majority of Windows 8 users will use mouse and keyboard and it will be optimized for that. Currently, the mouse behavior, in particular, isn't done. It's just a developer preview. But the important bit is that this Metro-style interface isn't an app, it's the Windows shell. It's Windows. So get used to it. It's not going away. But it will get better.

Should Microsoft Let Users Choose How to Install Windows 8?

Anil S. asks:

There is something I do not see being discussed anywhere. Something that strikes me as obvious. Microsoft should provide users with three options to install Win 8 with the provision to change the option at any time: Only Metro, Only Desktop, or Both Metro and Desktop.

What you're calling "Metro" is the new Windows shell and can't really be decoupled from Windows. As Microsoft told me last week, this new user experience "is" Windows 8. It's the new Windows shell.

Windows 8 UI: Based on Windows Phone?

Vijaysaradhi S asks:

While Windows 8 was still in the infant stages you mentioned/suggested that Microsoft must at least think of porting its Windows 7 phone look to the Client OS. Do you think Microsoft listened to you at that stage? ;)

No, they told me this was in the planning stages well before Windows Phone ever shipped. More to the point, it's pretty obvious now that Microsoft has been working on a cohesive, multi-device user experience strategy for quite some time.

Confusion Over x86 and ARM

Micah asks:

I've read several articles talking about Windows 8 running on two architectures: x86 and ARM. Makes sense, except x86 is a blanket term for Intel when they should say both x86 and x64, right? Why shouldn't articles mention both, or will most tablets ONLY be x86 chips?

Also, why should Microsoft continue to push the x86 into the next generation instead of pushing x64 technology? Shouldn't they promote and hype up x64 based upon its superior technology?

They are using x86 as a blanket term, yes. So that refers to any "Intel compatible x86- or x64-based PC."

Microsoft won't get rid of 32-bit code for two reasons: Compatibility (Windows 8 has the same hardware requirements as does Windows 7) and because 32-bit OSes run much, much more efficiently in virtual environments. (Microsoft told me it was able to literally double the density of VMs on Hyper-V by switching from x64 to x86 versions of Windows.)

Pinning a classic Windows application or web site to the Windows Start screen

Ryan M. asks:

I want to figure out how to add a live tile for the "SuperSite Blog" on my home screen for quick access.  The article on using the mouse was most invaluable.

You can pin web sites to the Start screen from within the tailored, Metro-style Internet Explorer app. You can also pin classic desktop applications using Search (Charms, Search, type name of application). But this doesn't work for all classic Windows applications for some reason. There's a third party utility that will apparently do this for any applicaiton. I haven't tested it yet, so I can't vouch for whether it works or is safe.

Why, why, why?

Dylan C. asks:

1. Why bring back Windows defender when Microsoft has Windows Essential?

2. Will Windows be like an open source project and Windows just be a big app store? Like FireFox?

3. Why is there a classic desktop screen? They should be bold and go all the way with their idea.

4. With hardware these days with many cores and GPUs, is Windows 8 good at scaling? How much scaling can it do? 12 core CPU or more?

It's hard to answer "why" questions without speculating.

Microsoft won't ever be going open source, so speculating isn't really a good use of time. They clearly believe (and correctly, I think) that deep curation of the Windows Store is what will make it successful. This is, in many ways, the opposite of the open source approach. The Windows Store will likely be very much like the iOS App Store, from what I've been told.

Desktop apps aren't going away. But WinRT is designed for full-screen apps only.

I'm not sure that Windows 8 has an upper limit when it comes to CPU cores. Windows 7 doesn't.

Samsung 700T Slate PC

Serge S. asks:

When you initially mentioned the 700T tablet, you specified it as "a modified version of the Windows 7 slate Samsung will be selling publicly soon". I would like to know if you could provide more information about the modifications (aside for running Win8 rather than Win7).

Primarily, the version handed out at BUILD has additional sensors over what will be included in the public version of the slate, though I don't have a list of which exact sensors are unique to the developer model. (One is NFC.)

Tailored version of IE 10 doesn't support add-ons

Vincent R. asks:

If Internet explorer 10- metro style in Windows 8 won't support plug-ins, how will that affect those of us that use, for example, last pass for password management? Will we need to switch to the desktop (classic) version do you think? Just a little confused on this.

You could use the desktop version of IE or manually visit the Last Pass web site's vault as needed, I guess.

Windows 8 in a virtual machine

Steve S. asks:

Paul, were you ever able to get the developers preview to install on Virtual PC or Virtual Box? I’ve tried both and they both fail. Got the secret?

Yes, I've installed it in VirtualBox (and Hyper-V). I used the 64-bit version and used the Windows 7 x64 preset with 1024 MB of RAM.

Also, note that Microsoft has published a blog post about installing the Developer Preview in a virtual machine.

Programming for Windows 8

Craig P. asks:

I want to jump on the bandwagon and write that great Metro app that will get me rich quick so I can retire.  But I haven't done a lot of programming on the Microsoft platforms.  Do I learn C#, Silverlight, and .NET, or should I sign up for a good course in Javascript and HTML5?    Or do I need to do both?

The APIs are exactly the same between C#/XAML and JavaScript/HTML, so whichever you choose first will be directly applicable later if you choose to switch languages/presentation layer. I'd skip .NET/Silverlight entirely, however.

My guess is that C# and JavaScript will be the best documented of the languages, given Microsoft's previous history.

Closing Metro-Style apps

Adam S. asks:

[I read your explanation about why people won't normally need to close Metro-style apps.] As someone who uses the Alt-Tab feature in Windows regularly, this approach pollutes my list of running applications and gives me no way of saying that I want to remove an application from that list.  While I really like the general direction of Windows 8, this seems like a mistake.  I get that they are trying to support the tablet computing style and this makes total sense in that environment.  But since this new UI will be used by both touch and non-touch users, I think the behavior will need to vary. Am I missing something here?

This is something we're over-thinking right now because the entire user experience in Windows is changing. Give it some time. ALT + TAB has been around for decades. This is new. By the time Windows 8 ships, you might not even be using ALT + TAB anymore.

Windows 8 ARM and compatibility

Matt G. asks:

[I've heard that Windows 8 on slates won't be compatible with classic Desktop apps.] What are your thoughts on this, have you heard anything?

Yeah, that's accurate. But remember that's only ARM tablets, not x86 tablets. There will be both. And the x86 versions will work fine with existing applications.

Windows 8 and Visual Basic 6

Eric R. asks:

One question I have heard a lot of recently at my work relating to Windows 8 is "will it support VB6"?  There are a lot of apps still running that were written in VB 6.

If it works in Windows 7, it works in Windows 8.

An alternative for enabling the classic Start Menu on the Windows 8 desktop

Steve M. has some good advice:

Add a toolbar to the taskbar for the start menu folder C:\Users\[your user profile]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows \Start Menu\Programs. Or, follow this guide to pin Restart, Shutdown and Sleep Shortcuts to the Start Screen.

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