Ina Fried

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Windows 8 Gets Ready for Its Big Debut

The world got a sneak peek at Windows 8 at the D9 conference in May. Now, Microsoft is ready to more fully peel back the covers on the next version of its flagship operating system.

That look will come next week at the company’s Build developer conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Microsoft has already shown a fair bit about where it is headed. At D9 in May, the company showed off a new look for Windows, led by a start screen that bears more resemblance to Windows Phone than to the traditional desktop. Other features revealed on stage include an App Store and support for apps written in HTML and Javascript.

The company has also said it wants an operating system as at home on an eight-inch tablet as it is on a powerful desktop connected to large-screen monitors.

“It’s ‘no compromise’ and that’s really important to us,” Windows President Steven Sinofsky said in a May interview with AllThingsD.

Microsoft’s choices here are critical as its traditional strength in desktops and laptops is coming under assault from a variety of challengers ranging from new mobile devices to Google’s ChromeOS to Apple’s resurgent Mac business.

In recent days, the company has offered a bit more detail on Windows 8 via several blog postings from Sinofsky and others.

Among the details Microsoft has shared are plans for much faster boot times (a perennial promise) as well as a controversial move to bring Office’s “ribbon” interface to the Windows desktop.

One of the side shows in Anaheim next week will be the competition among chipmakers vying for attention from both developers and the press. In the past, Windows was largely an Intel show, with rival AMD playing the supporting role. However, Microsoft is widening the playbill with Windows 8. As announced back at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Windows 8 will run on ARM processors from Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Nvidia, in addition to traditional x86 chips from Intel and AMD.

A key thing to watch next week is just how much progress Microsoft has made on the Windows-on-ARM effort. If Microsoft hands out code to developers, as widely expected, will it be for both ARM and Intel chips, or only the latter? Also, will developers get all the tools they need to port their Windows applications to run on ARM?

The conference will also provide an opportunity to see how much progress Microsoft has made in tailoring its own applications for Windows 8 — how well they run on ARM processors as well as which ones have been revamped to take advantage of the new-look interface. Microsoft showed a version of Internet Explorer 10 that runs in the new look in May and previously showed parts of Office running on ARM processors.

Conference attendees will be eager to see what kind of hardware Microsoft gives out. At a past Windows developer conference, Microsoft handed out custom Acer laptops running an early build of Windows 7. Expectations are high that the company might give out Windows 8 tablets, after a Microsoft worker hinted that one was being prepped to give away at an upcoming conference. The company briefly showed Windows 8 running on a tablet at its partner conference in July.

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The new Windows 8 Start screen.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald