'Don't get excited' about Windows 8, says analyst

Falling in love with features touted in leaked slides likely to end in heartbreak

Don't jump to conclusions about Windows 8 based on leaked slides supposedly from Microsoft, an industry analyst warned today.

Putting aside the question of whether the information that leaked Monday is actually official, it's dangerous to assume that the spelled-out features -- ranging from facial recognition for log-ons to support for slates -- will actually see the light of day, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a firm that only tracks the Redmond, Wash. company's moves.

"The worst thing about this kind of thing is that we don't know where in the cycle this document was created," said Cherry. "At the beginning of the [development] cycle, you want to brainstorm and blue-sky, and gather up the most wide-ranging ideas you can. You want Windows to interface with can openers."

Cherry was commenting on a leaked slide deck first disclosed by Windows enthusiast site Win7Vista.com -- the site has since gone dark -- and reposted by Stephen Chapman, who writes the Microsoft Kitchen blog . The slides are from a presentation on Windows 8, the next version of Microsoft's desktop operating system, and carried a late April 2010 date stamp.

Numerous news sites and blogs reported on the find, which many bloggers and pundits accepted at face value.

Cherry said that was a bad idea.

"There are two dangers here," Cherry said. "They're making assumptions about where Microsoft is at in the cycle, and they may fall in love with a feature, that when resources and time to develop actually come into play, just isn't feasible."

Cherry pointed out past examples of the latter, including WinFS, the storage subsystem once planned for the operating system that became Vista, but which Microsoft yanked when it was forced to restart work on the troubled OS.

"I won't deny that this [slide deck] is interesting, but you can't draw conclusions from it," cautioned Cherry. "It's just too early."

Leaked Windows 8 slides, which may not be genuine, include a development timeline without dates. (Credit: Windows Kitchen)

Assuming Microsoft runs a three-year development cycle for the follow-on to Windows 7 , Cherry plotted out a rough timetable for its stages. "They've said they want three years from the release of each version to the next [edition of] Windows," Cherry said.

The first year -- which would take Microsoft through the fall of 2010 -- would be occupied with spelling out exactly what will be in Windows 8. The second year, or from fall 2010 to fall 2011, would be when the company's engineers implement those plans in code. The third and final year -- from fall 2011 to fall 2012 -- would be dedicated to testing.

That puts us in the middle of the spec phase, Cherry said, when planning is in flux and brainstorming on all kinds of enhancements and additions is at a frenzied level.

"My big beef is that this is being reported as 'This is what Windows 8 will have,' when that's not the case," said Cherry. "Don't get all excited."

While it's possible the slides were the real deal, Cherry said several clues -- including the use of watermarks on the slides as well as their formatting -- made him suspicious. "Have you ever seen watermarks on a Microsoft presentation?" he asked. "I haven't."

If the slides are official, and Cherry conceded that they may be, they were most likely produced to brief Microsoft's biggest partners, such as Intel or Hewlett-Packard, or even internal divisions, like the company's keyboard-, mouse- and Webcam-design and manufacturing team.

Microsoft said it had no comment when asked whether the slides were genuine.

All the attention paid to the long list of Windows 8's possible features also detracts from what Cherry said was the most important aspect about the next Windows.

"Vista got totally off track, and one of Microsoft's goals for Windows 7 was to prove that they could deliver a reliable, tuned release in a given timeframe," said Cherry.

"That's why I think the most important thing in Microsoft's mind is that it make that three-year date from the release of Windows 7 [for Windows 8]. Two data points, after all, is a trend, but one is just an event," Cherry said.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

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