Revelations on Windows 8

Today the //BUILD/Windows conference started with a day full of main sessions. A two and a half hour keynote followed by three “Big Picture” sessions after lunch introduced all present to the new Windows 8 OS and platform. Personally, I am still catching my breath over the amazing amount of information that was given to us. Lots of people have asked me since then what I thought of the first day. I have told them: “Fantastic”. Here’s why, in my words and with a personal interpretation of the information that is available to everyone.

Merging the web with Windows

What I saw Microsoft present today is the new vision for the Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 merges with the web in terms of devices and applications. It also brings together all your devices and makes them a mesh that is constantly in sync with one another. This mainly goes for data, be it application data, application settings or identities. The Cloud (Windows Live in particular, complemented by Windows Azure) acts as the conduit to flow and store information across devices and online storage.

Web of applications

Equally important is the fact that all applications are not only interconnected with the OS and the cloud, but also with one another. Searching and exchanging data has become a smooth continuum across OS and applications alike. I like to think of it as a new opportunity to create Windows-based mashups, just like it has become common place for Web 2.0 applications. This style of creating applications will now come to native Windows applications. The possibilities will be endless. All you need to do is reimagine your apps, just like Microsoft has reimagined Windows.

A new family of applications

Windows 8 distinguishes two types of applications: Desktop apps and Metro style apps. The Desktop apps are best described as the applications that will run on earlier versions of Windows (7, Vista, …). The Desktop can be built using the well known variety of APIs, ranging from native Win32 in C/C++, to .NET or Silverlight with C# or VB and HTML with JavaScript for Internet Explorer hosted web applications. Metro style applications are easily identified from their styling. Behind that new appearance there is a whole new stack of frameworks and APIs to build and run applications. The Metro applications can interconnect with each other and the OS. There is deep integration through the new API.

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Metro, great for users and developers

Metro applications use a new application model at system service level. This is the layer that runs on top of the Windows kernel. The application model also represents the way a Metro application lives in its eco-system, hooks into the operating system with its own execution environment and how it is packaged and deployed. On top of the app model you can build Metro apps with three new APIs: Data and Communication, Graphics and Media, Devices and Printers. You can choose from any kind programming interface, just like with the Desktop apps, boiling down to C++, managed languages and JavaScript. The first two use XAML to create the view layer. XAML has become a native part of the operating system.

Whether you are going for the XAML or HTML5 approach, Metro apps have the same distinct look and feel, backed up with styling guidelines. The Visual Studio 2011 development environment embraces Metro and offers a whole slew of templates to facilitate in creating the right Metro views for your app.

The Metro style will help users get a consistent feel across devices (desktop PC, tablet or phone) and form factors (small, medium, large). Whether they pick up a phone with WP7.5 or a tablet with Windows 8, it all looks and feels the same. For now, Metro style applications are built targeted at either Windows 8 or Phone 7.5

Opportunities for everyone

With all of this come great opportunities for everyone: users, designers, developers, architects and business, you name it. Since this is a developer conference, I would like to point out that the next couple of years will be very, very interesting for developers. The shift in programming paradigm from rich-client, high-end client applications to interconnected, cloud- and os-integrated applications are a new ball-game and a game changer to boot. This will give lots of change, chance and learning for all to enjoy.

The extra gift

As if all of this goodness and announcements weren’t enough there was the unexpected gift. Secretly anticipated and living up to speculation all attendees of //BUILD/Windows were giving a new Developer Preview Tablet: a Samsung tablet with amazing specs. The line for picking it up was unbelievable. I chose to wait until tomorrow to pick it up. I still need to do so. Everybody is excited about it. Check the specs to see why.

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