What to expect from Windows 8

With rumored release dates and features, the buzz has already begun about Microsoft’s 'riskiest upcoming product'

It started with an accidental posting on Microsoft's Dutch website saying Windows 8 was two years away from hitting the market. Then there were a few slides at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference suggesting the next release of the Windows Server OS, which typically arrives just after a desktop edition debuts, was due in 2012. To add to the titillation, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, when interviewed at the Gartner Symposium, said the next version of the Windows desktop would be "Microsoft's riskiest upcoming product."

Ballmer says Windows 8 is a big risk for Microsoft
We know Microsoft is not afraid of taking risks, even when it brings ridicule. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- although Vista (pre-SP1) earned a bad reputation for a variety of valid reasons, it was a necessary risk that Microsoft took to provide better security now, in Windows 7, which is built on Vista. Meanwhile, Vista will go down in history as one of the worst OS releases due mainly to a media frenzy launched by InfoWorld that trashed the OS mercilessly and an inexperienced public that bought into the negative press.

[ 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. ]

Is that what Ballmer is referring to when he says the next version of Windows is risky? Will Windows 8 be the next OS to take a bullet for the future of computing that we'll embrace with the Windows 9 to follow? Hopefully, history won't repeat itself so soon.

One thought is that Windows 8 will be only x64 and x128 (yes, you heard me), positioning Windows 7 as the last 32-bit OS. As crazy as that sounds, everything moves forward eventually. It wouldn't surprise me if the next flavor of Windows is 64-bit only. If it offers a 128-bit flavor, that would ensure Windows 9 will fully support 128. But this doesn't seem to be the big "risk" that Ballmer hinted at.

I'm more inclined, and excited, to think that the risk that Ballmer is speaking of relates to features. It's obvious the economy may not be ready for a new version of Windows that might require enterprises to spend money on more hardware upgrades. Also, those who upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 will not be eager to move to Windows 8 unless the features are compelling enough.

I believe the big risk Ballmer hinted at is whether the release will be significant enough to encourage the transition for XP stragglers and Windows 7 users alike. Given how good Windows 7 is, I'd have to be really impressed to make that move personally.

What Windows 8 may feature
What are the rumored enhancements? PC World reports three potential form factor "center of gravities" related to "lap PCs" and tablets, workhorse PCs, and family hub PCs. The lap PC will have tablet features, the workhorse PC is the traditional desktop or laptop system, and the family hub PC is your next evolution of Windows Media Center, where it ties your TV and other media devices.

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