Microsoft’s first public debut of Windows 8 reveals the next-gen OS will sport a user interface adapted from that of its smartphone sibling.
On PCs and tablets alike, Windows 8 – which Microsoft says is still just a codename, not the final marketing moniker – is decked with large colourful tiles akin to those of Windows Phone 7.
These can be anything from glorified icons which load a designated app or open a folder, through to ‘live tiles’ displaying real-time information.
Showcasing the new UI at the All Thing D confab in New York, Microsoft Windows chief Steven Sinofsky was quick to assure that the classic desktop view remained as an option for users, as would keyboard+mouse functionality versus the sexier touchscreen.
But with Windows 8 “we tried to re-imagine how you work with a PC," Sinofsky said. “We really did take a step back after Windows 7, (and) we were clearly influenced ourselves by phones.”
The new-look UI will be standard across all Windows platforms, from desktops and laptops down to tablets.
Apps will run in a streamlined full-screen mode and mimic the ‘Metro’ UI design of Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft isn’t the only company letting its mobile OS lead the desktop dance.
At next week’s annual Apple WWDC event in San Francisco, Steve Jobs will preview Mac OS X 10.6.8 ‘Lion’ – which borrows several pages from the company’s iOS playbook.
Like Windows 8, the new breed of Lion apps will run in fullscreen mode, with an iPad-style launcher and a revamped Mail client which apes that of iOS.
Also in common to both Windows 8 and Lion, and again seen first in the mobile realm, are app stores for buying desktop software (the D9 demo startup screen shows a tile for the Microsoft Store).
While not everyone will be enamoured of the trend towards these dumbed-down desktops it can’t be denied that a common interface and consistent user experience across multiple computing devices will appeal to mainstream consumers – many of whom already have a smartphone, tablet and laptop or desktop.
Not is all the mobile influence happening at the surface. In another nod to the tablet space, Windows 8 will run on ARM processors as well as Intel and AMD x86 powerplants. A demonstration at Taiwan’s Computex 2011 showed the OS running on single-core and dual-core ARM silicon from Qualcomm, NVIDIA and TI.
It’s all oddly reminiscent of how today’s Intel Core 2 processors are descendants of the original made-for-mobile Pentium M processor, where the focus was on power efficiency, rather than the desktop-grade Pentiums which sought only to push the megahertz needle.
That hardware shift began almost 10 years ago with the arrival of Intel’s Centrino notebooks, and not notebooks are the dominant force in the Pc landscape.
Perhaps we’re at the start of a similar shift for the desktop UI.