What you can expect from Windows 8

Early insights into Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 Consumer Preview should give IT a lot to chew on when the bits arrive

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What the Windows 8 Consumer Preview means for IT

From an IT point of view, the Consumer Preview should give you a very good idea of where your x86/x64-based applications will evolve in the near future on "legacy" PCs. The Consumer Preview will also show you how Metro's going to work -- or how it won't work -- with WinRT-based apps you're thinking about developing. (WinRT is a new type of app using the Windows Runtime for portability between x86/x64 and ARM platforms.) Microsoft continues to promise that WinRT apps will be transportable from the x86/x64 version of Windows 8 to WOA, so the strengths and weaknesses you see in Metro in the Consumer Preview edition should carry over to both x86/x64 and ARM platforms.

Sinofsky has stated, definitively, that the only applications allowed to run on the WOA desktop are four Office 15 apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote -- and a small handful of Microsoft apps, including Internet Explorer 10 and Windows File Manager. That's it. Per Sinofsky, "WOA does not support running, emulating, or porting existing [Win32s] x86/64 desktop apps." Period.

If you have hopes of developing an app that will run on cooler, lighter, cheaper, battery-miserly ARM devices, you'll have to write it Metro-style. Or if you can get it to run under Remote Desktop Services, it may be compatible with Internet Explorer 10 on a WOA device -- maybe.

The differences in Internet Explorer 10 between WOA and x86/x64 may drive your Web programmers nuts. IE10 runs on the Metro and desktop interfaces on both x86/x64 and WOA hardware. That's four different versions of IE10. Plug-ins won't work on three of the four combinations: They're banned on everything except the "legacy" version of IE10 running on x86/x64 hardware. If your site requires a plug-in, and a user comes at the site using Metro on an x86/x64 PC, they'll be notified of the need for the plug-in and given a one-touch option to flip over to the legacy desktop version of IE10. But if the user has a WOA tablet, there's no option: They're dead in the water, like most other mobile users.

Which is probably just as well. No more Flash. No more PDF plug-ins. No more ActiveX. I'd be hard-pressed to say which of the three has led to more infected Windows PCs over the past decade.

One final note on testing: You're going to want a touch-enabled tablet to test Metro, even for the x86/x64-only Consumer Preview. Using touch is very, very different from mousing your way around. Although Windows 8 -- both Metro and the legacy environments -- will run on any monitor with a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels or higher, your PC must support 1,366-by-768 resolution or higher to get all Metro features to work.

In particular, if you want to use Windows Snap -- Microsoft's facility for helping apps run side by side -- to get a Metro window and a second window displayed next to one another, you need 1,366-by-768 resolution or better. Quoting Sinofsky again: "The resolution that supports all the features of Windows 8, including multitasking with Snap is 1,366 by 768. We chose this resolution as it can fit the width of a snapped app, which is 320 pixels (also the width designed for many phone layouts), next to a main app at 1,024-by-768 app (a common size designed for use on the Web)."

Beyond the Windows 8 Consumer Preview: The great unknown

Over the past year we've gone through layers and layers of rumors, particularly about Windows 8 on ARM. Features come and go. Perhaps the most egregious example is in a video made at the Build conference last September. It shows Roger Gulrajani, from the Windows Hardware Ecosystem group, demonstrating Flash running in IE10, on the desktop, on an ARM device. Now, we're assured IE10 won't run Flash on ARM devices. That much has changed in just four months. Or maybe Microsoft itself was confused and got it wrong; there were several such misstatements at Build, and you can expect confusion to continue given the addition of ARM support for just part of the complete Windows 8 experience.

And I haven't even touched on Office 15. We know very little about it, except Sinofsky has promised, "WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These new Office applications, code-named 'Office 15,' have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption, while also being fully featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility."

Will all WOA devices ship with Office 15? If so, as full versions or ad-supported giveaways? At an extra cost or free? For that matter, will x86/x64 Windows 8 PCs ship with Office 15, or a stunted relative?

You can bet there are plenty of additional surprises that'll surface before the final version.

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This story, "What you should expect from Windows 8," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Microsoft Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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