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Shock: Windows 8 optimized for desktop tablets

Mike Elgan | June 4, 2011
Why the default user interface for desktop Windows 8 looks a lot like Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.

The interface is so new that applications will have to be re-written for it from the ground up, just like DOS applications had to be re-written for Windows. These new applications will have interesting qualities. For example, they'll be written in either HTML5 or JavaScript. They'll launch full-screen, just like apps on an Apple iPad tablet, but will also optionally run two at a time, side-by-side. And even if you're using an old mouse-and-keyboard style desktop PC, the apps you'll use will be "designed for touch." You can cycle through multitasking applications with a simple swipe-from-the-left gesture.

But don't worry. Your old Windows applications will still run. Like in the earliest versions of Windows that ran DOS software in a special DOS mode, Windows applications will run in a "Desktop" or "Windows 7" mode. Best of all, you'll be able to run old Windows applications side-by-side with the Metro UI app of your choice.

Interestingly, the Metro UI handles files like the iPad -- documents and data files are associated with the application, and will be managed only from within applications. But in the Windows 7 window, you'll still have old-fashioned file management, where your data file locations are not associated with specific applications and can be moved copied, deleted or modified without reference to specific applications.

Note that these two generations of user interface will exist side-by-side only on PCs. Windows 8 will also run on devices powered by ARM chips made by a company called ARM Holdings. Traditionally, these chips power smartphones and tablets, and the slim operating systems designed for these mobile gadgets. Windows 8 will run on ARM devices, but the old interface will not be supported. ARM devices will run only the Metro UI, and the apps written for that platform.

So both your PC and tablet will run Windows 8, but only your PC will be able to run your current version of Office or QuickBooks. On the tablet, you'll have to wait for new, Metro-specific versions to be created.

Why Microsoft is doing this

People resist change. It's just human nature.

Users are going to love the touch-centric computing interfaces of tomorrow. But today, many Windows users just don't like the sound of it.

Whenever I predict desktop tablets, I get a lot of e-mail from the resistance. Touch is too limited, they say. An iPad-like interface is cramped and limiting. The arm position necessary to use a touch screen even at an angle is uncomforable. I need a real keyboard. I've grown attached to my mouse. I need hardcore multi-tasking.


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