Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are only my own. At the time of this writing, Microsoft made no official announcement about the new features of Windows 8.
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Before these Windows 8 presentations leaked I already planned a post about the features that I would like to see in Microsoft's next operating system. Some of those features on these slides were already on my wish list, so I won't include them here (Windows Store, Instant-On, Kinect support). Others have been mentioned in the presentations but were not detailed or radical enough for my taste. In this article I will outline my vision of these enhancements and some new ones.
Radical new user interface ^
The Windows user interface has been improved continuously over the last 15 years or so. But since Windows 95 we have seen no real radical changes. Considering that Windows will have to run on machines with many different form factors, it is essential that Microsoft introduces radical changes in Windows. Apple created a new operating system just for this purpose. I think this would be the wrong way to go for Microsoft. The Windows ecosystem is too big and it would be foolish to give up this advantage.
Hence, Microsoft should rapidly give up some Windows features we grew fond of over the years. My wish is that the Windows Start Menu completely disappears. I don't want to see a taskbar (super or not) in Windows 8, and Microsoft should also get rid of Alt+Tab and all these outdated controls we’ve known since Windows 95. Although these Windows user interface features might be helpful if you have a mouse, they definitely spoil the user experience on a touch device.
Apple and Google have shown that there are other options for modern user interfaces. I am sure that Microsoft's engineers would have even better ideas if only somebody told them to think radically and give up this hopelessly outdated Windows user interface.
New abstraction layer for different form factors ^
Of course, most computers will still have a keyboard and a mouse, and this means that Windows has to support both worlds: touch devices and old-fashioned PCs. This is only possible if Microsoft introduces a new abstraction layer with new APIs. ISVs should not have to worry whether their applications are also usable on tablets or even on palm computers with 6'' displays.
It is quite obvious that in two to three years these small devices will be powerful enough to run a full-fledged Windows. Hardware performance grows exponentially and improves significantly faster than software. Microsoft has to take this into account now because we will soon reach the knee of this exponential curve and this will have a significant impact on the operating system market.
Among other things this means that the user interface of an application running on a slate has to be optimized by the operating system for touch and the size of the screen. For example, the icon to close an application has to look different on machines with different form factors. It is the task of the operating system to decide which controls are best for the different form factors. Application developers shouldn't be bothered with this.
With every new Windows version Microsoft has promised more modularity. It never really happened. If you install Windows 7, it is still an all-or-nothing question. This is probably the biggest advantage of Linux over Windows. Advanced Linux users or admins can decide what OS components they need and only install those. Of course, this requires the introduction of a package manager to cope with OS and application dependencies. This kind of modularity would also improve the capabilities of Windows to run on computers with different form factors. Microsoft went in this direction with Windows Server 2008. It is now time to introduce similar functionality for the client version for Windows.
Third party patch management ^
This feature has been on my wish list for a long, long time. I know it is a daunting task for an operating system with such a huge ecosystem. But why not create an online service in the cloud where ISVs can upload their patches and distribute them through Windows Update or WSUS? This would reduce the TCO of Windows tremendously and would wipe out another Linux advantage. Perhaps the new Windows Store will have such a feature and will make my long-standing wish come true.
Integrated application virtualization ^
Just like Microsoft has perfectly integrated desktop virtualization with XP Mode in Windows 7, App-V should now become an integral part of Windows. This would not only solve many compatibility issues but, more importantly, it would be a big step into the Windows cloud. Imagine that you can run any kind of Windows application, old or brand new, on every machine by downloading it from a cloud-based streaming service without installation and without leaving any traces on the Windows installation.
Cloud APIs and services ^
The cloud buzz word already appeared more than once in this article. But Windows 8 will only become a real cloud operating system if the whole Windows ecosystem moves to the cloud. And this will only happen if Microsoft provides the infrastructure to help ISVs create cloud-enabled applications for Windows.
For this new cloud APIs and cloud services have to be introduced. For instance, third-party desktop applications should be able to store their configuration and data in Microsoft's cloud or the cloud of other service providers through Windows APIs. Small ISVs don't have the resources to create their own cloud services. This is the job of the people who are responsible for the infrastructure of the ecosystem, and those guys live in Redmond.
I am quite aware that most of the wishes on my list for Windows 8 are not only "features" but radical changes. Thus my biggest wish is that Microsoft won't deliver another Windows 7—that is, an evolutionary improvement. This is not the time to strive again for the applause of the PC tabloids.
I hope that Windows 8 will bring even more radical changes than Windows NT and Windows Vista. Without the significant stability and security improvements of those two Windows releases Microsoft would have lost a significant market share by now. Thus I hope that Windows 8 will bring at least one revolution rather than a myriad of evolutionary changes.
If the release date of Windows 8 on Microsoft's road map is really 2012, then it is certainly not possible to make all my wishes come true. But I strongly believe that Microsoft will only stay the dominating operating system vendor if Windows radically changes and is adapted for the cloud and for the new form factors. A nice online picture management service or new thumbnails for the taskbar are definitely not enough. iOS, Android, and maybe also Chrome OS are serious contenders.
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