What Windows 8 brings to the tablet

Microsoft's Windows President Steven Sinofsky took the stage at the D9 conference and unveiled – lo and behold – the new tablet UI

At the D9 conference Wednesday, an otherwise extremely tight-lipped Steven Sinofsky took to the stage and revealed Windows 8's "Immersive UI". Under heavy fire for not having an adequate answer to either the iPhone nor the iPod, Sinofsky responded: "You picked two of the things we didn't do particularly well. We're not out of the game" and went on to demo the successor to Windows 7.

As rumored, Microsoft focused on the mobile aspect and -- for the first time ever -- presented its tablet UI, based on the "Metro" look introduced in Windows Phone 7. Windows 8's navigation is based on large typography and a tidy interface, which is a slightly more modern approach than most UIs we're used to (Windows 7, Android, Mac, iOS...). From the first press videos shown, the new interface looks and feels extremely slick -- even in this early demo. Each app is able to show information on its "Live Tile", as shown below:

Swiping gestures reveal a dock that includes the items "search", "share", "start", "connect" and "setting" -- all of which will be available from both the Start screen seen above as well as any app.

Speaking of apps, "AppX" packages will be written in HTML5 and Javascript, co-existing with traditional programs for Windows 8. According to Julie Larson-Green (VP for Windows Experience) who demoed the new interface at D9, all the necessary SDK and APIs will be shown at this years "BUILD" conference (formely Professional Developer Conference) in Anaheim.

Despite Microsoft building this fancy new UI, the hardware requirements of Windows 8 remain the same as Windows 7. This is also in line with my experience of an early pre-release build: performance is either on-par or even slightly better than its predecessor.

Keep in mind that the new UI sits on top of the traditional Windows UI. Users will be able to switch between this "skin" and the classic Windows design we're used to -- the last one comes in handy when using more complex applications such as Microsoft's own Office or Photoshop. "Your finger doesn't have the resolution to manipulate, say, Photoshop. There are a number of applications that require the greater precision offered by the mouse. ... So I think that one of things that's intriguing is that if you have a Windows tablet and then you plug a keyboard into it, it becomes a Windows laptop." Sinofsky emphasizes.

At the end of the day, one thing's for sure: Microsoft tries building the strengths of these tablet devices on the choice between the huge Windows ecosystem and the new app/tablet culture. The questions remains: Do users really want or need a best of both worlds here? Is Microsoft too late to enter the market? And when will first devices really ship?

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