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.

Latest posts by Michael Pietroforte (see all)

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 I don't want to see a taskbar (super or not) in Windows 8, and Microsoft should also get rid of Alt+Tab and all these outdated controls we’ve known since Windows 95.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engineers would have even better ideas if only somebody told them to think radically and give up this hopelessly outdated Windows user interface.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.

Modularity ^

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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9 Comments
  1. Wolfgang Sommergut 11 years ago

    >The Windows ecosystem is too big and it would be foolish to give up this advantage.

    The Windows ecosystem is a big advantage but also a big legacy. That is why backward compatibilty is a top design goal for every Windows version. So Windows 8 for sure will have a taskbar, but maybe Microsoft will give as a secret registry key to turn it off 🙂

  2. I think compatibility problems are solvable with virtualization technology. The main problem is that many Windows users don't like radical changes. This is one reason why Vista was a failure. I am afraid Microsoft will be even more cautious now. So I have little hope the taskbar will disappear anytime soon.

  3. "But why not create an online service in the cloud where ISVs can upload their patches and distribute them through Windows Update or WSUS?"

    Third parties can already publish catalogs that enterprises can push via WSUS - http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb632895.aspx

    Its a fantastic idea that nobody uses (today, i think Dell and HP support it. Citrix used to. Adobe plan full support for EOY 2010).

  4. ron 11 years ago

    Like so many things in Windows, this list could be written many different ways. I agreed with about half of the items on your list.

    Don't skip "Instant On". From what I've seen, instant on has been targeted for the tablet form, with no mention of laptop or desktop. If they can make it work for tablet, they should make it work for all the other form factors!

    I like your suggestion of greater modularity, but don't expect to see it. Windows has been written in many little modular pieces (DLLs etc), but they are all tied together by a mass of spaghetti coding. Some of it intentional, like when they integrated retrofitted integration of IE into windows.

    One modular piece I would like to see is the UI. You don't like the old UI, fine, but I do. So put the UI/Skin in modules and let us pick the one we want to use. One of my personal pet peeves with windows is trying to harden and optimize it by turning off un-needed "stuff". No MS documentation to explain what each piece is for, and it's hard to even find documentation of most of it on the internet.

    Cloud integration, no thanks, not yet at least. I want to give them time to firm up security standards first. I don't want to give credit card info to every tom,dick&hacker to pay for "cloudy" apps that are no longer installed on my machine.

  5. Björn Kaiser 11 years ago

    > 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 is something I am wondering about for quite some time. Why isnt there something like APT, RPM or the likes for Windows? Windows already got its own package format (MSI), it is only missing a one-stop-shop for donwloading new and updated software (on other platforms known as package manager), even though the WUAU service (Windows automatic update) already comes with a lot of prerequesites you would need (HTTP download, comparing version of installed packages to available packages, etc.).

    And apparently I am not the only one wondering, what else would explain ideas like Seven Update or Win-Get?

    http://www.sevenupdate.com/

  6. Matthew Borcherding 11 years ago

    Include Bitlocker in the "Pro" version, not just the "Ultimate" and Enterprise. (You can't get Enterprise without software assurance.) Heck, BitLocker should probably be in all editions.

    Give us a decent backup program again. The one in 7 is just annoyingly terrible. Support tape drives! Let me pick files to backup or not backup. Actually have reasonable performance. (In other words, have something as least as functional as NTBackup from XP/2003.)

    Please just dump the starter edition! It's so crippled you can't change the wallpaper without 3rd party apps. It's a joke.

    Dump the Enterprise edition, too. There are no real differences anymore between Enterprise and Ultimate in Windows 7, so why have two different editions? Ultimate 7 didn't receive any "Ultimate-only" features.

    So, in the end, compress the editions to four:
    - Home Basic (for netbooks, other low power devices, foreign markets, etc.)
    - Home Premium
    - Pro
    - Ultimate

    Make upgrades from Windows 7 (and Vista if possible) as seamless as possible.

    PLEASE continue using the Vista/7 driver model! Don't break something that doesn't need fixing! (OK, tweak it, but allow old Windows 7 drivers...)

    If the fast startup (the combo logoff/hibernate state) is to work well, then minimize the true reboots needed for updates. Get parity with Linux here -- unless you're upgrading the kernel itself, you shouldn't need to reboot.

    UAC in 7 is a better than Vista, but it is still incredibly annoying. Give me a button on the UAC dialog box that basically shuts up UAC some time period, probably with a dropdown (e.g., 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, until reboot).

  7. Sebastian 11 years ago

    The only feature I am really hungering for currently is better power management for HDDs:

    - Ability to send individual HDDs into standby on demand and per timer (not only time periods, but also specific times)
    - HDDs in standby are hidden/marked as "asleep" and DON'T get woken up by any windows standard procedures (the things waking up HDDs right now are countless, like connecting through remote desktop, some applications that check disks etc ... it's terrible)
    - Ability to flag HDDs so they don't even start during boot until you access them in Windows (granted, this also needs hardware/BIOS support)

    Revosleep (http://revosleep.realspooky.de/) covers some of these features (took me ages to find it) but i'd really love to see them integrated into Windows.

  8. André 11 years ago

    "Modularity

    Of course, this requires the introduction of a package manager to cope with OS and application dependencies."

    already done since Vista *whistle* Starting with Vista all Windows functions are placed in packages which know on which other packages they depend.

  9. Harry, I didn't mean that admins should be able to import updates. My wish is that third party updates are available through Microsoft Update. This would also mean that they are automatically available on WSUS servers without the need of letting admins mess with update catalogs.

    Ron, the spaghetti coding in Windows is probably the main reason for the lack of modularity. However, Microsoft has been working on that problem in Vista. Of course, this causes compatibility issues and bashing from PC tabloids. Now even Microsoft officials admit that Vista was a failure which is nonsense and the worst thing that could happen.

    Bjron, technically Windows has everything to offer third party management. Of course, when you install third party software and updates you always use Windows technology. What is required here is a central repositories for third party updates like it is common in the Linux world.

    Matthew, thanks for your good proposals. I included them in the Windows 8 wish list.

    Sebastian, thanks! I also included your suggestion. I had to make it a bit shorter though.

    André, yes much has been accomplished in Vista, but there still many legacy problems. I am afraid that because of the Vista bashing campaigns we won't see comparable changes anytime soon.

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