Microsoft woos developers with Windows 8 demonstration

Microsoft took the wraps off Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 on Tuesday

Microsoft took the wraps off Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 on Tuesday, revealing a dramatically different Windows for both users and application developers. It validated some of the rumors about the new OS and squashed others.

No target date was offered as to when Windows 8 will be publicly available.

Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky and four Microsoft product managers demonstrated the Windows 8 client operating system at the company's Build conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Here's the upshot of the new features:

The new UI of Windows 8 is the "Metro-style" application which looks much like Windows Phone 7 with applications' "Live Tiles" organized in groups and oriented first toward touch. It still supports a keyboard, including keyboard shortcuts, and a mouse, and includes a virtual onscreen keyboard, too. It natively supports a digitizing pen.

Integration with Windows Live will feature prominently and could be the feature that most worries enterprise IT professionals. When a Windows 8 user logs multiple machines into the same Windows Live account, that user can access all machines remotely, even if each of those machines is parked behind a firewall.

Users will be able to roam all of the settings between machines, including applications, personalization features and taskbar. Developers are encouraged to build apps that use Windows Live Skydrive as if it were a local hard drive. Sinofsky says that this feature is secure because Windows LiveID uses a trusted authenticated connection on both PCs. But it also raises concerns, says analyst Wes Miller, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft. "I like the sync story," he tweeted. "But it's REALLY emphasizing Live. Is Windows Live enterprise ready?"

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Windows 8 will run on Intel and ARM chips and is designed for hardware-accelerated graphics, extending the work started with Internet Explorer 9. Windows 8 will be the platform for PCs and tablets. While Windows Phone 7 will remain separate, developers will be able to easily port their applications from Windows 8 to WP7 with as little as a few lines of code.

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Windows 8 will natively support just about any program language, including C+, HTML5, XMAL, Silverlight and Javascript. The Metro-style UI uses a new framework dubbed the Win Run Time. It includes more than 1,800 different objects for Windows application developers to use, "all natively built into Windows, not a layer on top of Windows, this is Windows," Sinofsky said to applause. "You pick the language you want to use and you can build your own Metro-style applications with W8."

Windows 8 will support all Windows 7 applications and older Windows 7 hardware. It uses a smaller footprint (less memory, fewer processes), even on older hardware. But no mention was made of backward compatibility for older Win32 apps, like those built for XP. Windows 8 will include Hyper-V in the client and that will, presumably, be the method whereby an enterprise will run its legacy apps.

Windows 8 starts fast and shuts down fast. The team demonstrated boot times that were less than a few seconds. "W8 boots almost faster than a monitor can turn on," Sinofsky said.

Windows 8 will ship with a range of security software including encryption such as Bit Locker and a firewall. Sinofsky said Microsoft has beefed up its integrated anti-malware software, Defender, as well.

Applications will be tightly integrated with one another, and to system level services so that a user will have access to application context-aware functions within the application menus, such as the volume button when watching video.

Pop-up controls, called "Charms," will offer cross-application functionality. Clipboard, for instance, has become the Share Charm and this not only allows users to share text and graphics between applications, but to post clipped data to social networks, among other functions. Application developers will have access to Charms to easily add functionality to their apps.

Microsoft overhauled several foundational stacks with Windows 8, including the networking API that has grown more sophisticated and gives developers access to things like 3G networks. Windows task manager got a facelift, too, and now offers many more monitoring features such as a graphical presentation of processes, stats on how much network bandwidth and battery life individual apps and Live Tiles consume. Microsoft also tossed in a suite of benchmarking tools from its labs, known as Windows Assessment Console, which will compare one PC's performance against others.

Additionally, Microsoft previewed its Windows Store, which will provide a central repository for Metro-style Windows 8 apps as well as Windows 7 apps. Microsoft hinted that it would not charge developers a percentage to host apps in this store.

Sinofsky and his team also demonstrated Internet Explorer 10, all dressed up in a new Metro-style interface. Using the Metro screen, written in HTML5/Javascript, IE10 supports full-screen browsing and multi-touch. It can also be used in its traditional desktop version view and supports use of a keyboard and keyboard shortcuts.

Upcoming versions of development tools such as Expression Blend were demoed as well. Expression Blend will graduate from being a XAML editor to becoming a full HTML editor, too. The new development tools allow developers to easily post their apps to the Windows store and monitor the progress of the app as it travels through the technology review and approval process.

The crowd was pretty well enamored with Windows 8. And as a final wow factor, Microsoft gave away to 5,000 attendees special Windows 8 Samsung developer tablets. These 11.6-inch tablets run Intel i5 processors, with 4G of DDR3 memory and a 64G solid state drive. They were preloaded with the Windows 8 developer version, and developer tools. The units support the pen digitizer, a docking station with dual-monitor, Ethernet and USB 3.0 and included one-year access to AT&T's 3G network (2GB/month).

Developers will be able to download the Windows Developer Preview of Windows 8 at 8 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Sinofsky said that the Developer Preview will include updates to the OS and supporting tools, like Defender, through Windows Update. This is how Microsoft will test its Windows Update service adapted for Windows 8.

Julie Bort is the editor of Network World's Microsoft Subnet community. She also writes the Microsoft Update blog and Source Seeker for the Open Source Subnet community. Follow Bort on Twitter @Julie188.

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