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Microsoft's Unified Vision for Windows 8

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Brien Posey gives details and a 50,000-foot view of what Microsoft has in store for desktops, tablets, phones, and the TV via the XBOX game console. It is betting the farm on uniting all devices and all entertainment with the capabilities of today's technology.
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Over the last two decades, Microsoft has had a history of releasing a new Windows desktop operating system every few years. With the exceptions of Windows 95 and Windows XP, most of these operating systems have been more evolutionary than revolutionary. As such, one might be forgiven for assuming that Windows 8 is nothing more than an updated rehash of Windows 7. However, Microsoft has big plans for its latest operating system.

Microsoft has completely redesigned Windows 8 from the ground up. Its goal in doing so is to create an operating system that will work equally well on a number of different devices—not just PCs. Once released, Windows 8 will run on PCs, tablets, cell phones, and possibly even on Xbox.

The Metro Interface

One of the things that will make it possible for Windows 8 to be used on such a wide variety of devices is the adoption of the Metro interface. The Metro interface made its debut on Windows Phone 7 last year, and has been extended for use with Windows 8.

As might be expected of an interface that was designed for use on a smart phone, the Metro interface is intended to be used with touch screen displays. In the case of Windows 8, having an interface that is optimized for touch screen use should lend itself well to using the operating system on tablets and other mobile devices. Of course, PC users will still have the option of using a keyboard and mouse.

One thing that is important to understand about the Metro interface is that it is more than just a touch screen interface to the same old Windows desktop. Instead, Windows 8 is designed to run two different types of applications.

Metro Apps are applications that will be available through an app store and are specifically designed to work with the metro interface. Legacy Windows applications are also supported through a more traditional desktop environment.

ARM Processor Support

Another design change that will allow Windows 8 to be used on multiple devices is that for the first time ever, Microsoft will support the use of devices equipped with ARM processors. Every previous Windows desktop release has been designed for use on X86 and/or X64 processors. In layman's terms, this means that all the previous Windows releases were designed to run on PCs.

Unlike PCs, most tablets and smart phones use ARM processors. ARM processors use a smaller instruction set than the processors that are found in PCs. Because these processors are intended for use in mobile devices, the chips are specifically designed to have very low power consumption.

Consumers who want to run Windows 8 on a PC will still be able to do so. Remember, Microsoft's goal is to build a version of Windows that will run both on PCs and mobile devices. Not only will the X86/X64 platforms continue to be supported but it also seems highly unlikely that consumers will be able to directly purchase ARM editions of Windows 8. Those licenses will likely be sold directly to device manufacturers for preloading onto consumer electronic devices.

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