Windows Tech Preview: Your pregame guide to Microsoft's big event

A concise list of what you need to know before Microsoft launches its next Windows extravaganza on Tuesday

Microsoft Windows 9

Tens, probably hundreds of thousands of people will prepare to fix their eyeballs on tea leaves as Microsoft launches its first "discussion" about where Windows is headed on Sept. 30. Very little about the event has been publicized. If you plan to follow along -- Microsoft has declared there will be no livecast -- here's what you need to know and what to watch for.

Allow me to note that InfoWorld, apparently due to our frequently voiced negative opinion of Windows 8 -- and our detailed Windows Red proposal on how to fix it -- was expressly not invited to this event, even though it will take place mere few blocks from our offices in San Francisco. 

Time: The event will start at 10 a.m. PT and take place at The Village at 969 Market, according to Computerworld's Gregg Keizer. However, there will be no live Webcast.

Coverage: With an estimated 50 journalists invited, I figure there will be plenty of tweeting and liveblogging. In addition, it's highly likely that many (most? all?) of the attending bloggers have already seen the Windows Technical Preview bits, so there will undoubtedly be staged prewritten analyses that'll get released the moment the "news" breaks at the presentation.

I'm going to watch Paul Thurrott's WinSupersite, Mary Jo Foley's All about Microsoft blog on ZDNet, Tom Warren's blog on The Verge, Zac Bowden at WinBeta, and Brad Sams on Neowin; all of the authors have hinted broadly -- or come out and said -- they've had access to early builds. (If I missed any English-language open leakers, my profuse apologies!)

Interpret those prewritten pieces with caution: There's no guarantee that the final Windows Technical Preview bits (due imminently) will match the same bits that the authors used in coming up with their analyses.

Many of those same sites have promised they'll be live blogging the presentation, perhaps on their Web pages, almost certainly via Twitter.

Presenters: Certainly, Windows honcho Terry Myerson will appear on stage, as will his head designer and all-around guru Joe Belfiore. You've probably heard both names before, but it's important to keep in mind that both have sterling tech credentials. Myerson became a multimillionaire 18 years ago when he sold his company to Microsoft; he headed the Exchange team in the early 2000s; and his tribulations in the Sinofsky years could fill a book. Belfiore's been at Microsoft for almost 25 years, headed the Zune effort and the Windows XP user interface effort (yes, XP), and led the group that designed the Windows Phone UI. To understand Belfiore, you have to understand The Game.

Satya Nadella won't be there. He recently dropped by the India Development Center in Hyderabad (his home town) and is off to Delhi for two days of meetings.

Content: Chasing rumors about the next version of Windows has become a full-time pursuit. I covered the most likely features a couple of weeks ago, based on leaked screenshots of Build 9834, and added a few more based on leaks of Build 9841. Brad Sams at Neowin spent last week in Seattle, as did several other bloggers, where "we were told that the technical preview build that will be released is build 9841, although, the Technical Preview was updated to 9850 during the last couple of days, so it will likely be one of those two numbers."

Here's what I don't expect to see, either in the Sept. 30 presentation or in the Windows Technical Preview itself: A definitive name for the next version of Windows, a list of SKUs or prices, Cortana, Internet Explorer 12, anything Metro-ized. I bet there's no mention of the disaster that was/is the current version of Windows, or Windows RT. If you think the final version of Windows-whatever will actually look like the Technical Preview, you've failed to learn from history. Win8, Win7, Vista, WinXP -- none of them shipped with an interface that remotely resembled what we saw in the first betas.

What to watch for: I'm curious to see if Microsoft got interactive tiles to work on the Start menu -- when you see the Xbox Music tile, for example, does it have Play and Pause buttons? I'm scared to death that the new rapid updating mechanism will go into production without significant improvements; Microsoft screwed up Automatic Update so badly this year that it's hard to believe anyone would trust the company to update at all, much less more quickly. Along those lines, what are the details on the Windows Insider program? Will there be alternate Windows universes and a so-called A/B testing (or differentiated "flight" testing) capability? Any hints that Microsoft finally opened the checkbook and bought rights to the name "Metro"?

All of those reports about Windows-whatever being free for Windows 8 (or 7 or Vista or XP or ME) users? Bah, humbug! In the highly unlikely event that a decision's been made, there might be a hint during the presentation of free bits, but I wouldn't count on it.

Where're the bits? Over the weekend, a Chinese-language site named Chiphell.com posted screenshots of what appears to be a legitimate Windows Technical Preview download page. The story, told on the Russian site pcportal.org.ru by controversial leaker PainteR, goes like this: Somebody inside Microsoft accidentally posted the final download page on Saturday and pulled it shortly thereafter. You can see a Google Web cache of the first page and judge for yourself.

The screenshots look legitimate, and if they're accurate, the download page may -- may -- appear at uat.technet.microsoft.com/en-US/windows. That's where the page was located when Google took its snapshot. Eight versions of the Technical Preview are listed on the "accidental" download page, with these SHA-1 values for the U.S. versions:

  • US English 64-bit: EB75A3D3C0F621F175B75DC65DB036D0E00EAC43
  • US English 32-bit: 73AC23AD89489855F33CA224F196327740057E2E

If you have an old but still valid TechNet subscription or an MSDN subscription of any pedigree, it would be worthwhile checking your download page.

One tantalizing caveat: The "accidental" download page has a separate link for something called Windows Technical Preview for Enterprise, down at the bottom. While the Sept. 30 presentation is supposed to be enterprise-focused, the link makes me wonder if we're going to get two different versions of Windows-whatever ... whenever.

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