Windows 8: full details revealed

Traditional Windows desktop relegated as Microsoft moves into the touchscreen era

Barry Collins
13 Sep 2011

Microsoft has revealed full details of Windows 8, with an all-or-nothing approach to touch technology, writes Barry Collins in Los Angeles.

All versions of Windows 8 - whether used on a touchscreen device or not - will use the operating system's new Metro interface, which was first developed for Windows Phone 7 devices.

The familiar Windows desktop, which has been the cornerstone of the operating system since Windows 95, has been effectively demoted to an "app".

Microsoft insists that the touch-oriented interface is suitable for any device, regardless of whether it has a touchscreen or not. "We envision an OS that scales from small form-factor, keyboardless tablets, all the way up to servers," said Windows president Steven Sinofsky, at a special press preview of the new operating system.

Every screen needs to be touch. A monitor without touch feels dead

What's more, the company believes that every device should have a touchcreen. "The UI is the same UI, whether you use a mouse, keyboard or touch," said Jensen Harris, director of program management for the Windows Experience. "Every screen needs to be touch. A monitor without touch feels dead."

New app model

The advent of Windows 8 sees Microsoft introduce a new style of application, dubbed Metro Style apps, and its own app Store. The Metro Style apps are run in full-screen mode, with no Windows taskbar or other menu items getting in the way.

"Every single pixel of your beautiful screen is for your app," said Harris. "You're just immersed in the content."

Metro Style apps have more in common with the lightweight web apps found in Google Chrome than traditional Windows software. They can be written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, as well as the more traditional C and C++ programming languages.

Microsoft will automatically syncrhonise a user's Metro Style apps across their Windows 8 devices, and allow users to pick up an app from where they left off on another device.

Internet Explorer 10

The Metro Style apps will be downloadable for the Microsoft Store, which offers developers the chance to offer "free trials" of their applications to customers, automatically wiping the app from users' machines when the trial period expires. All software distributed through Microsoft's Store has to be vetted by the company first - a process that the company claims will take mere hours, not the days and weeks that developers wait for software to be approved by Apple.

Old-style desktop

There will still be a place for traditional, desktop-style applications. These will run from the Windows 7-style Desktop, which now appears as an app on the Windows 8 Start Screen. "The Desktop is just another app that you can launch when you want to," said Harris. "There are no compromises. When you want a mouse and keyboard you can have it."

Microsoft insisted it wasn't trying to phase out desktop software in favour of the Metro apps. "There's no new conspiracy here," said Steven Sinofsky, in a spiky exchange with journalists who questioned Microsoft's motives. "We don't think the Desktop is some old place that you will never want to go."

Traditional x86 software will also be sold in the Store alongside the Metro apps.

No version announcements

Microsoft hasn't announced a release date, price or even which versions of Windows 8 will be offered to consumers and businesses. Sinofsky did however suggest there will be an element of differentiation between the versions of Windows that run on traditional x86 processors and the version running on ARM-based chips.

Windows 8 Lock Screen

Despite showing off versions of Microsoft Office running on ARM processors earlier this year, Sinofsky claimed the "vast library" of x86 software "is not an asset we're going to port to ARM."

New Metro Style apps coded in HTML/JavaScript will, however, run equally as well on ARM processors as x86, suggesting Microsoft views the ARM versions of Windows as a pure tablet play.

Now click here for further details on:
The new interface
Apps and the Store
Windows 8 on ARM

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