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Mailbag: Windows 8 Special Edition

In this special edition of the Mailbag, I address a wide range of Windows 8 questions that have come up in the wake of Microsoft's revelations this week. These include a Windows 8 and Windows Mobile 6.5 comparison, Windows 8 Snap with more than two apps and multiple monitors, whether the Windows 8 development environment is really only HTML 5 and JavaScript, Kinect and Windows 8 compatibility, Windows 8 32-bit compatibility, my review of Windows 8, and many unanswered questions.

Before we get started, let me explain the basics: As you no doubt know, Microsoft unveiled the new Windows 8 Start screen this week, along with some basic information about the development platform for this new user experience, which will be based on HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript. The Windows 8 Start screen has proven immediately divisive, and I've received hundreds of emails already, split between a majority who finds it elegant and beautiful and a vocal minority who thinks the Start screen is the worst UI idea Microsoft has ever had.

I'm in the former camp, and while I am working on an article to be titled Windows 8 Desktop: The Design Language (or similar) that I hope puts this in perspective, for now just understand that's where I'm coming from. Those who believed that Microsoft could never create a single UI that would work equally well across multiple form factors--phones, slates and tablets, notebooks, desktop PCs, media center PCs, and even servers--and across multiple usage scenarios--consumer, business user, server admin and IT pro--are wrong. This the real deal.

Anyway, on to the questions.

Does the new Windows 8 Start screen remind you of Windows Mobile 6.5?

Daniel S. asks:

[The Windows 8 Start screen is] pretty up front but underneath is plan ol' non-touch-friendly Windows. If Microsoft can manage to keep the regular Windows desktop hidden for most tasks, then yes it could be a success, but I'm not sure if they can pull that off. Doesn't it remind you of Windows Mobile 6.5?

No, because it's not just a patina of new paint, it's a new platform with a comprehensive API that's going to be extended with new apps by third party developers. I think this is going to reverse Microsoft's fortunes in the tablet market dramatically.

Maybe. Look at WPF. I was really hoping that would take off in Vista and then in Windows 7, but it hasn't happened. Why should I expect this new API to be any different?

Because this API is the new Windows shell, and it's based on HTML 5 + CSS + JavaScript, the most popular programming environment of all time. But it honestly doesn't matter if it takes off, per se, since it's the shell. This is what Windows is going to look like, period. So you can install and run apps normally, but you'll do so from a much prettier UI.

Windows 8 Snap

Clayton L. asks:

With the new interface will you be able to "Snap" more than 2 applications at a time? What happens if you connect multiple monitors? Will the start screen span the both monitors? Will this allow more than 2 windows to be "Snapped?"

It looks like two is the max, and then only on widescreen displays with a resolution of 1366 x 768 or higher. Not sure on multi-display yet. Obviously, this stuff will be revealed over time, but I bet the big info dump will happen at BUILD in September.

Windows 8 demo: Real or fake?

John B. asks:

I'm a huge fan of Windows Phone 7 and what Microsoft is showing off in Windows 8 is pretty much what I had hoped for and more.  Of course, this is just the first showing and could be much different, but I really like it so far  ...  I only hope that Microsoft can bring this strategy completely together.

It looks good to me too. Also, I'd point out that if Sinofsky shows something publicly, it's happening. This isn't like the Longhorn days where we only get a small portion of what they previewed. This was all real, running code.

Windows 8 development: HTML 5 and JavaScript?

Laurence L. asks:

I think the new UI for Windows 8 is fantastic .... However, it was of some concern when Steve Sinofsky seemed to say that HTML5 and JavaScript was THE application language for Windows 8. Do you know to what extent this is?  Just the Tile UI, or for actual Windows 8 App development or something else?  The reason I ask is because why is MS not mentioning .NET and Silverlight, two fantastically implemented, understood and futuristic technologies.

All I know so far is that this is just for "tailored" full-screen apps that interact with the tiles-based UI. My guess is that there will be a separate interface for providing this functionality to traditionally programmed applications as well. But we'll find out more at BUILD in September, at the latest.

This supposition is based on the information that Rafael and I uncovered while examining various pre-beta versions of Windows 8. And you may recall my earlier article, New Tile-Based Shell, App Model, And App Store Coming In Windows 8?, in which I wrote that "Windows 8 will include a new app model codenamed Jupiter [for] new, Silverlight based "immersive" applications that are deployed as AppX packages (.appx). These apps can be written in C#, Visual Basic, and even C++." This framework exists in the Windows 8 builds we've seen. So it's either still there or Microsoft has made a very, very recent step away from that and towards HTML.

Either way, we'll know more at BUILD.

Kinect and Windows 8?

Joe R. asks:

What Microsoft didn't mention: Kinect support for the Windows 8 tile UI.

Actually, I do expect this. In fact, I thought Sinofsky's demo this week would be something Kinect-based.

Think about it. The UI Microsoft showed off this week works great for multi-touch tablets and for any normal (mouse and keyboard-based) PC. But it would also work well with Kinect, using hand gestures in the air, in the same way that Kinect users control the (similar looking, by the way) Xbox 360 Dashboard today. Adding it to Windows 8 would enable Kinect-controlled media center PCs in the living room. (On that note, this UI would work well with standard Media Center remotes too.)

I have no insider information on this one. But I would be shocked if this doesn't happen in Windows 8.

Windows 8 on 32-bit PCs?

Brett C. asks:

The latest announcement the other day was that Windows 8 will run on all systems that run Windows 7 -- having the same or less hardware requirements.  Obviously, some systems that run Windows 7 are 32 bit (x86, without support for x64). Does this mean that it will run on 32 bit systems?

Yes, but Microsoft previously said that Windows 8 would support both 32-bit and 64-bit microprocessors as does Windows 7 today.

Where is your review of Windows 8?

Christopher M. asks:

I was wondering with all the great Windows 8 News coverage you have put together, are you testing builds of 8 yet on your hardware?  I plan to with my laptop but are you going to show us your experiences with it?  You did with Windows 7 alphas such as 6519 build.  How come you have not tested and done a review yet on the SuperSite? 

Microsoft hasn't provided a build of Windows 8 with the new UI to anyone yet. That won't happen until BUILD in September. I won't be writing up any of the alpha stuff this time.

Unanswered Windows 8 questions

Many people have questions we simply can't answer yet...

Do you have any details about how media, apps, and other data will be added to the default UI in Windows 8? How do you add or use a common program like iTunes? Can you launch and play a game like World of Warcraft without leaving the new UI? What's the process for adding photos to the pictures tile from a DSLR within the new UI?  When a USB device is connected to the machine is it accessible within the new UI? When you download something where does it go? and how do I install it afterwards? Virus scan first or is that in the new UI also?


No, of course not. :) Remember, we've only gotten a brief glimpse so far, just a tiny glimpse. There will be much more info in the months ahead.

Remember: This new Start screen UI, at its heart, is simply a replacement for the Start Menu. It's not all of Windows 8, not even close.

Stay tuned. Like you, I bet, I can't wait.

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