Wednesday, September 14, 2011

'Reimagining' Windows with Hardware and Cloud at Build

At this morning's Build keynote, Microsoft's Michael Angiulo showed off some new hardware running Windows 8, including quick booting, tablets based on multiple processors, and a number of new "Ultrabooks."

Of course, the audience was happiest when he announced that 5,000 attendees would receive a Samsung tablet based on an Intel Core i5, including a year of 2GB AT&T broadband service and the developer preview version of Windows 8, as well as all of the tools. Windows head Steve Sinofsky said it was a "very cool machine," but clearly just a preview, stressing a recovery console.

A new feature, called UEFI, allows machines to boot very quickly. Angiulo demonstrated this with one desktop that came up almost immediately, and a desktop system that booted in eight seconds. 

He also booted from a USB drive and showed an "instant-on" solution on a prototype machine running a Qualcomm ARM chip that used very little energy. All the "SoC" type systems ran the same kind of power saving features as phones use.

Angiulo showed Qualcomm, Nvidia and TI designs based on the ARM architecture, then turned to an Intel Atom-based SoC. Sinofsky highlighted how well Intel is improving battery life, though he provided no details.

Later the duo showed off a number of different "Ultrabooks" based on Intel's new design for very thin notebooks. These looked great and seemed to resume almost instantly.  

In other hardware changes, Angiulo displayed native drivers for USB 3.0 and discussed changes that let Windows now put from drivers with over 200 terabytes of data (vs. the old 2TB level).

Also shown was a system with multiple water-cooled GPUs that could handle 4.7 teraflops of performance, DirectCompute, and DirectX 11 games.  The entire UI of Windows 8 now uses hardware-accelerated graphics.

In addition, Angiulo talked about what Microsoft was doing to increase the speed and accuracy of touch. He touched on working at multiple screen sizes; supports for gyro, accelerometer and magnetometer sensors all working together; and Near Field Communications (NFC).

Metro-style device applications more tightly integrate hardware with other applications, such as adding printer-specific options to the print command within each Metro app.    

An interesting demo showed how users could get information on wireless accounts, without making an IP-based connection, and thus getting roadmaps.

The final demo in this section used Windows 8 in a "professional platform," which showcased things like more subtle warnings of future required updates and logging in via a PIN.

On a new task manager, Metro applications are automatically suspended if they aren't doing anything. Applications are now grouped by type, and new options include a  history of the applications run and the ability to immediately stop any startup applications. New copying capabilities let you hit the Windows key to toggle between the Start menu and the traditional Windows desktop.

Other new features let you reset the computer, removing all your personal files and applications and reverting all settings back to default. Alternatively, you can now "refresh" your machine, which keeps your files but reinstalls all the applications you want, removing malware, etc. All this works for Metro applications, but for traditional applications, developers and IT shops can set up a baseline to which the machine will restore.

There's a new Windows Assessment Console that monitors how the machine is running, and a new Metro-style Remote Desktop Connection application, that adds features like a keyboard for controlling a desktop from a tablet.

Sinofsky also showed a client version of Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization console running on the client, letting the machine load virtual hard drives (VHDs) and optical system images (ISOs) on the system.

Other features include a new quick access toolbar and an Up button to Windows Explorer. For multiple monitors, you can now spread your desktop image across multiple screens; create task bars that are specific to each monitor; and view the new Start screen on one system with the traditional Windows desktop on another. Sinofsky made it clear that keyboards still work, with new keyboard shortcuts, and showed the old "CMD" command by typing it on the start screen. 

It all sounds very flexible, but it will take some getting used to.

Internet Explorer 10 can easily clone a page or open a new tab with a keystroke and can even search by selecting some text and hitting a shortcut. You can run IE 10 either in a full-screen "Metro" view or in the desktop as a traditional browser window.

Other features include a screen magnifier that works right for the tablet; the ability to change to other keyboards; the ability to add ink and handwriting using a stylus; and an optional ability to sync your PC settings across multiple systems, including applications if they support that. 

Live applications were all rewritten for the Metro UI, with tiles showing mail, calendar, and more, said Senior Vice President of Windows Live Chris Jones. The mail application lets you switch between Hotmail and Exchange mail, and the calendar application lets you view multiple calendars and share them with other people.  

A People application uses a connected address book that pulls together all contacts from multiple mail accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks. A Photos application also consolidates photos from Facebook and Flickr, with very fast transitions, and automatically pulls things down to the local machine.   

"Every Windows 8 user has a Skydrive," Jones said, and you can access files stored on Skydrive just as on the local machine. It also lets you connect to another system that you have linked to Skydrive, and gives you access to files on that system, even across firewalls.

Jones demonstrated all this in a browser (in addition to the Metro-sytle apps) and on Windows Phone 7.5. For instance, the camera roll from the phone can be automatically uploaded to Skydrive.

All of these applications were just previews, created in HTML and Javascript by 17 teams of two to three college interns over a ten week period.

Tonight, the company rolls out the "Windows 8 Developer Preview," which Jones said has the full user interface (unlike the Windows 7 developer preview). 

The preview will be available at 8:00 PDT at, with no support but no activation required.

This preview will be followed by updates, and then later by a beta, release candidate, release to manufacturing, and finally general release. The schedule of releases is "driven by the quality, not by a date," Sinofsky said.

Source: PCMagazine

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