Microsoft Windows 8 Explored at BUILD

Underlying Win 8 Technologies and Conclusion

On the right, Microsoft's legacy language silos.  On the left, Windows 8 and WinRT wraps it all up.

Earlier this year, there were rumors that Windows 8 would push HTML5 and Javascript as exclusive next-generation development platforms. The company (thankfully) debunked the rumor today with the introduction of Windows RunTime, or WinRT. WinRT is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that's meant to allow all of the company's disparate development environments to hook into the Metro UI.

One caveat to the OS's classic UI mode is that it will only be available to x86 devices. If you want to program for ARM and x86, you'll have to use the Metro UI, which is one reason why the classic UI option won't be the preferred development environment long term. The upcoming Windows Store will also be Metro-only. Developers will still be able to target the desktop UI and it'll maintain perfect backward compatibility with everything from Windows 7 and before, but it's clearly not the future of the operating system.

The last feature we want to circle back and discuss today involves the "charms" we showed you in a screenshot back on page two. One of the most interesting features of Windows 8 is the way applications are designed to be able to search, share data, and connect to each other without the use of the sort of vendor lock downs that made Microsoft famous once upon a time. Microsoft refers to these sharing arrangements as "contracts" and they're baked in on the application level automatically.

Note:  We're discussing application-level awareness that allows the "Search" function to poll Twitter or Facebook for information, not higher-level changes to the way Microsoft uses or shares your own personal data.

The unified photo results and simple sharing options are another example of how the need to juggle multiple applications and windows has been streamlined. The OS is designed to share information as much as produce it, and MS has clearly taken pains to bake those functions in from scratch.


There are still significant questions regarding Windows 8, particularly on the dev side, where a huge number of professional apps don't shoehorn easily into Metro's fullscreen/split-screen application layout. It's hard to imagine a Metro version of Photoshop, for example. We suspect Microsoft itself is still hammering out the details on how it intends to handle such cases, while recognizing that they're the exception, rather than the rule.

Dual screen applications--News feed to the left, video playback to the right.

The OS itself is still buggy and rough-hewn in a few places; there's no doubt that certain features we saw today will be heavily tweaked before the OS launches late next year or early in 2013. What's clear today is that Windows 8 is a bold departure from any mainstream OS the company has previously launched. Carefully balancing that departure with the need to ensure backward compatibility will be critical to Windows 8's success. However, Microsoft is being cautious on this front, and taking pains to maintain full compatibility while keeping focused on what it views as the future of the Windows UI.

It's exciting, different, and may give tablet manufacturers the leverage they need to compete with Apple--provided Android doesn't find a way to do so in the next 12-14 months. Given Apple's near-total market domination and the difficulties surrounding Google's operating system, we're not exactly optimistic that the OS will cleanly escape the morass of legal issues its currently bogged down in.  At least there's a window of opportunity in this new market. Microsoft just has to make Win 8 real, sooner than rather than later.

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