Windows 8 Details

Over the last few days it seems if a Microsoft Windows 8 presentation aimed at PC OEM’s has leaked out onto the net.  Of course no one has confirmed it’s real, but it looks much like the documents I saw during the Vista and 7 development cycles so I’ve no reason to think it’s not.

I’m not going to republish the slides here, as clearly they should be under NDA, but not this info is in the public domain I’ll discuss major points in general and my take on the implications.

So what’s new in there? 

Industry Trends
Whilst this isn’t exactly news, it’s interesting see what MS sees as the trends that are shaping their development of Win8.  Many of these are focused around the users interaction with computers.

They describe a market in 2012 providing a wide range of hardware form factors and offering users ubiquitous internet access.  In a world where connectivity is assumed MS will continue its ‘Software + Services’ push in Windows 8.  With the recent Windows Live Wave 4 releases already providing a pretty strong platform of local applications coupled with Internet services (Hotmail, Office Web Apps, Photo Gallery etc), they mention that Wave 5 release of these apps is pencilled in for release at around the same time as Win8.

MS are also keen to point out that peoples personal and business computing experiences are rapidly merging.  This is something that I’ve certainly encountered over the past few years, and it will be interesting to see how MS counter this.  The challenge is in keeping corporate applications and data secure, whilst also providing the flexibility people look for in personal computing from the same device.

Solutions out there in the market currently use a pretty heavy handed approach, using perhaps a separate OS instance though a VM or using ‘OS on a Stick’ solutions that effectively turn a personal computer into a thin client that then connects to a business desktop.

I suspect that MS could provide a slightly more elegant solution if they choose to build that abstraction into the OS.  Windows 7 already supports booting from a VDI virtual hard disk, and can use XP Mode or MED-V to provide applications that run from a separate local OS.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of these technologies advance further to present a single ‘desktop’ to the user that ties back to separate ‘personal’ and ‘business’ VM’s.  Presumably this may lead to a Client Hypervisor version of Hyper-V along the lines of Citrix’s XenClient.

Apple Envy
One slide that perhaps shows MS’s overall approach to Windows 8 is actually all about Apple.  MS have looked at Apple’s appeal and described a cycle that flows from Brand Promise > User Experience > User Confidence > Realised Value > High Satisfaction and then back to Brand Promise.  In other words if it just works, people like it, you look good and they’ll will return for more of the same.

I’d have hoped that was all a bit obvious to be honest, but it’s interesting to see that it’s a clear part their thinking and even state “This is something people will pay for!”.  Hopefully MS are learning lessons from Apples success, and in fairness their own successful Windows 7 release.

Windows Store
For some time now I’ve been quite critical of MS’s late arrival into the ‘app store’ space.  As far as I know only Windows Phone has an MS operated app delivery mechanism (and to a lesser extent XBox Live).  To my mind both Windows and XBox would benefit hugely from an app store and the ecosystem of developers that it would spawn.  Frankly the PC world is still pretty much in the age of having a choice between Freeware, Shareware or full retail software.  Apple style app stores completely change this by providing users will a trusted source of apps and developers with a permanent market and a method of getting paid for their work.

I’m therefore very happy to see MS outline plans for ‘Windows Store’, an iTunes equivalent.  It seems like I’m not the only one as the slides show feedback suggesting that it “can’t happen soon enough”! 

The concept seems fairly well advanced, the slides include a wireframe storyboard of the app browsing and purchasing experience, which looks quite Zune like – a good thing I reckon.  They also show that a users apps and settings will follow them across PC’s, presumably tied to a Live ID as with XBox Live.  The app store will also provide mechanisms for delivering updates or patches to installed apps.

For developers there will be a personalised portal to submit apps, track their progress through the approval process and view analytics around sales and usage.  One of the most interesting items shown in the portal is a tab for Telemetry.  This shows that developers will be able to monitor how the apps are used and receive crash dumps that are returned by faults.  As far as I know this is far in advance of any other systems out there and should help ensure that the quality of apps delivered through the system is kept high.

Something that isn’t covered is how the applications themselves will be delivered.  We’ve seen MS dabbling with streaming applications over the Internet with the Office 2010 beta, which I understand was a big success.  Given the current trend towards application virtualisation I could see Windows Store making use of App-V or a similar technology to deliver apps as discrete objects rather than the traditional MSI’s.  Given MS’s own desire to replicate Apple’s ‘It Just Works’ view of the world using virtualised apps would seem to be be a good route for Windows Store.  It would help minimising the errors and incompatibilities that can plague large app portfolios.

Personally I think Windows Store is an incredibly exciting development for users and developers.  What I’m curious about is how this might then relate to business use of Windows.  Presumably it wouldn’t be to hard to extent this model out into the Enterprise space.

There are already solutions out there that provide ‘shopping cart’ style interfaces into Microsoft’s Configuration Manager (SCCM) application delivery tools, but this sort of interface would certainly be a welcome addition for businesses.  I guess there would be a couple of approaches that could be adopted.

For one, Windows Store itself could provide a way for companies to allow users to buy software through it.  This would probably need an approval mechanism to ensure that spend was authorised, and also an alternative method for invoicing and payment.  It would also be desirable for companies to be able white-list or black-list apps. 

It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s not too hard to envision it happening.  With MS’s ability to federate it’s Online services with internal company Active Directories they could potentially access a primitive authorisation matrix through the ‘Manager’ information in AD.  And Group Policy would be a perfect way of switching the Store into a ‘business mode’ that doesn’t bill the users directly.

The second method might be to build a similar interface that can be hosted internally and used with SCCM.  Providing a similar user experience on company machines has obvious benefits to users and IT alike.  Indeed given the focus on bringing together people work and home experiences the ability to switch between them at will is probably worthwhile.

Identity and Authentication
There a couple of slides around Win8’s proposed methods of authentication and how it might handle user data.  The obvious flashy thing here is the proposed use of facial recognition for logon, the idea being that a webcam connected to the computer would recognise that you have say down in front of the computer, determine that it’s you and then log you on.

I’ve played with some tools for this before, and it’s a very nice user experience.  If MS can get it right and fix the false-positive issues that facial recognition systems can have (i.e. holding up a photo of the computers owner to logon…) it could be a very nice addition.

The other item of note was how Win8 will handle user profiles.  It seems that Windows user accounts will be ‘connected to the cloud’ so that user settings, and presumably documents, will follow them from PC to PC.  With Microsoft’s Mesh synchronisation technology now mature and forming part of Windows Live Wave 4, I suspect that this will also be the basis of continuously sync’ing user profiles with a Live back-end service.

I’ve wondered whether they’d do this for some time.  Indeed when Mesh was released I wondered whether having the ability to sync both document data and user personalisation info into the cloud might lead MS to presenting actual Windows desktops from it’s Azure platform.

 

There are plenty of other bit and pieces in the presentation.  But to my mind those are the main things to consider. 

Of the rest the Fast Startup looks good, it’s a hybrid system boot mechanism that uses the hibernate function to cut out some of the boot process and hugely reduce startup time.  It’s worth noting that this and Sleep will be the default startup and shutdown actions in Window 8.

So all in all it’s very positive stuff, I suspect that MS will be very unhappy it’s public.  It certainly gives the opposition something to aim at.  I have to say if I was MS rather than clamping down on the now public info I’d make the most of it – fill in the gaps on what’s already known and start the hype early.

For more info there’s good ccoverage over on Windows Kitchen.

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