Under the bonnet of Windows 8

CHRIS GARDNER IN AMSTERDAM
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2012
Taipei
Reuters
LATEST: The Windows 8 operating system is displayed at the Microsoft booth during the 2012 Computex exhibition in Taipei earlier this month.

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Microsoft is on the cusp of releasing its latest version of Windows, and it is Chaitanya Sareen's job to take charge of international technology journalists under the bonnet of the free preview edition Microsoft has made available on the internet.

Microsoft has had a team of thousands working on Windows 8 since the release of Windows 7 in October 2009. Its mission was to build an operating system that would run equally well on desktop and laptop computers, with a keyboard and mouse, as it would on touch screen-enabled smartphones and tablet computers, like competitor Apple's iPad.

Just last week, Microsoft announced it was getting into the hardware game with two versions of the Windows 8 Surface tablet on the horizon, but there were none to be seen in Amsterdam. It was the software, Microsoft said, that had been flown to us from around the world to get to grips with.

Windows 8 takes its bright and colourful Start screen, called the Metro user interface, from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. Sareen swipes the wallpaper on the tablet away with his finger as if the device were a giant Windows Phone. A login screen with another picture appears.

"I'm going to draw my password," he says as he swipes his fingers over the photograph, and the Windows 8 Start screen (aka the Metro user interface) appears. It's an array of brightly coloured squares and rectangles, each representing an application.

"Think of it as the face of Windows ... your digital dashboard," Sareen says. The tiles have names, such as Email, and display live information related to their function.

Sareen demonstrates Windows 8's capabilities on a range of machines, whose screens appear on a giant screen, starting with the tablet with his fingers and working up to the desktop with a keyboard and mouse.

Sareen showed that while Windows 8 looked like it was devoid of chrome (that's software furniture, such as tool buttons), it was there – but only by swiping the sides of the screen with his fingers. These were also accessed on the desktop computer in the corners of the screen with a mouse.

"If you can keep in mind with touch that you swipe the side, and with mouse, you go to the corners, you have mastered Windows 8."

Nowhere is the benefit of this better seen than in Windows 8's web browser, Internet Explorer 10 – IE10. "Windows never gets in the way between you and the developer," he says. He means there's nothing to clutter your browsing experience.

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"We think the web is way better without chrome."

There's a certain irony there because internet search giant Google's own web browser is called Chrome.

Delving deeper into the way Windows 8 is built, Sareen reveals that apps are governed by what Microsoft calls contracts, which govern how they relate to each other. The search contract, for example, lets Windows know what apps have searchable contents.

Apart from Windows 8's new look, its app store, following in the steps of Apple and Google's own app stores for their devices, is the other major change. And the difference is the number of potential users in the Windows 8 market: Windows 7 has 600 million users.

- Waikato Times

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