Unless you are living under a rock, you've probably heard the news that Microsoft has begun unveiling its next flavor of Windows, currently called Windows 8, but that could change. As a journalist wanting to be objective, I looked at the demos and thought, "It's way too early to comment on my opinion about an OS I haven't touched personally," and I took the high road. Then I saw some criticism from a few colleagues. Now the gloves come off, and I say, "Let's dance!"
What do we really know about Windows 8?
First, we know that the system requirements will not be more than what is required by Windows 7. That's what Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, said at the recent D9 conference. They're welcome words for those who've splurged for new hardware for Windows 7 or are preparing to go that route in the future.
[ Get all the details you need on deploying and using Windows 7 in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Windows 7 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]
Note that the minimum system requirements of Windows 7 are 1GHz or faster, 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor, 1GB of RAM for the 32-bit OS and 2GB of RAM for the 64-bit OS, 16GB of available hard disk space for the 32-bit OS and 20GB of free space for the 64-bit OS, and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or later driver.
We know that the interface is two-fold. One provides a Windows Phone 7 feel and one that follows the traditional Start button-oriented desktop UI. Everyone already knows the traditional desktop, so the focus is on the tablet-oriented, touch-only side (although there are desktop PCs whose screens are touch-capable too, and Windows 8's touch UI will work on those).
The new interface has the tile-based Start screen of Windows Phone, although with more titles. These are live, so they present notifications and other information immediately. The interface can provide a touch keyboard -- as well as a split keyboard, which makes more sense for those holding it by aligning keys to the right and left side. (Ironically, Apple this week said its forthcoming iOS 5 will have a similar split onscreen keyboard for iPads. It appears Apple is copying Microsoft here.)
For Intel-based systems, applications that run on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8, but ARM-based devices will not be able to run "legacy" Windows applications. But developers who work with Windows 8 will be assured of immediate cross-device support for their programs; everything from a tablet to the desktop will be able to work with the application, thanks to the unified OS across devices.
The Microsoft strengths don't get the respect they deserve
With this strategy, Microsoft will be in the tablet game next year. Some have said it is too late, including my InfoWorld colleague Robert X. Cringely, who criticized Microsoft for not being at the front of the innovation pack. My response: Kinect -- but those are apples and oranges in this fight.
I personally think it's hard to be incredibly innovative when you've reached the size of Microsoft, yet I find the work it has done to establish Azure and the tremendous server-side solutions like SharePoint and Exchange 2010, among others, is worth a nod of respect. No, Microsoft didn't develop Facebook, Amazon.com, Twitter, or Google. But should it be disrespected in trash talk because it didn't? No, Microsoft has created both the most stable platform for corporate progress and one of the best video gaming platforms on the planet at the same time. Should we spit on Microsoft for not coming up with the first iPad? Come on, people.