Microsoft BUILD keynote: smoke & mirrors or the start of something awesome?

Microsoft was kind enough to livestream it's lengthy BUILD keynote yesterday, and like many of you, I was watching with interest. There was also a closed press event on Monday, which I did not attend, so I can't talk about hands-on time with a Windows 8 device, yet. Soon though, thanks to Microsoft offering its development build to anyone interested in taking it for a spin. Downloads went live last night at 8 PM ET; I had time enough to download it and get it running in a virtual machine but not much more. Tip: If you're going to do the same, use VirtualBox; it wouldn't fly with VMWare. Thanks to my Google Plus acquaintance Derek Ross for working through the details and sharing them with the rest of us. I'll be getting to it soon though, because Microsoft slipped me some of its delicious Kool-Aid. I'm not usually a "Microsoft guy" really, but what they showed of Windows 8 was pretty interesting. (I'm not going to recap all the features in detail since you probably already know about them all, but if not I'll refer you to Joab Jackson's piece, Windows 8 steps beyond the desktop for the fundamentals.) I wanted to touch on some of the aspects that really grabbed my attention. First of course, the super-fast boot-up times. I'm unusual for a geek in that I turn off my PC every day when I head to work. When I get home from the office the first thing I do is turn it on so that by the time I get ready to use it, it'll be booted up. That ritual goes out the window (no pun intended) if Windows 8's super fast boot times are real. Second is the Metro UI. Plenty of Windows power users I chat with on Google+ immediately started poo-pooing the UI before the keynote was even over, but I love how clean it looks, and I do spend a vast majority of my time in probably half a dozen applications. I can see myself having a home screen with weather and email widget and shortcuts to my favorite apps, and often not having to drill any deeper than that. At the same time, I'm really happy the traditional WIndows desktop is just a keypress away, though, for when I need it. I won't be using touch on a desktop machine any time soon, but I suspect Windows 8 will have support for gestures via devices like Logitech's new wireless touchpad. Third, that new Task Manager. Yeah, I'm a nerd, but it just looks so much more user friendly and useful. Fourth is the customizable 'revert to out of box' feature. So you buy a new machine, delete all the pre-installed crapware, install all your favorite programs, get everything just the way you like it, then you run a command and now that's your new "out of the box" state, in case you ever have to re-install Windows. We'll see how cool all these features are in practice, but the 'sales pitch' was pretty compelling. Plus there's the whole 'smaller footprint' thing that should get us better performance out of our existing hardware. And last but not least, I like this idea of sharing apps between a tablet and a desktop machine. Speaking of tablets, as was rumored last week BUILD attendees are all getting a freebie. It doesn't have the Nvidia Kal El chip inside though; it's an Intel Core i5 (though one of the tablets shown during the keynote did have Kal El, referred to by its official Tegra 3 name, inside). Still it seemed like a pretty nice device and is powerful enough to run a second monitor (and comes with a dock that you can connect a mouse and keyboard to). AT&T is kicking in a year's worth of 3G service. Someone remind me of all these goodies when registration for next year's BUILD rolls around! So yeah, I'm cautiously optimistic about Windows 8, and once again, I find myself thinking seriously about moving over to a Windows 8 tablet (and maybe even go for a trifecta with a Windows phone) at some point in the future. But it also could be that Microsoft just puts on a snazzy keynote and I've fallen under their spell, a spell that will be broken as soon as I actually start using Windows 8. Stay tuned, and in the meantime I invite you to share your thoughts. This is a radical new direction for Microsoft. Are they on a good path, or are they in the weeds. What's your opinion? Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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