Windows 8 milestone 1 (build 7850) review part I: Let the fun begin!

Good day to you, dear reader.

It is mid-April. Spring is slowly springing up all around the world, and with it the warm weather is arriving. You know, for me, warm weather is always exciting. Here in Ohio we’re surrounded by snow almost half the year (well, from November to April even), so seeing a change in life brings so much joy to me.

As we are changing in the weather, so are we in the land of computer technology. Just looking at the last 2 years brings up so many changes. And we aren’t talking small, baby changes. The emergence of 3g and now pre-4G technology everywhere. With them, the start of the “tablet wars”- arguably, an entire new category of devices which are computers in a sense but aren’t in another. With the rise of systems like Twitter, Forsquare, and Facebook, we are also seeing a need for people to stay connected. Oh, and we’re forgetting the infamous app store battle. Amazon, Apple, and Google all have one, and I don’t think the ride is over yet. As new companies join the band wagon of trying to make the consumer’s life easier, there bound to be more technologies emerging. Imagine for a second, you checking on Forsquare into your home-and as you do, your computer turns on, your lights brighten, and when you get home everything is the way you want it to be. Now take that a step further-and think of what would happen if this was all automatic. Your computer sensed that you left your office seat, so (with your permission) it checked you into Forsquare without you having to lift a thought. Of course, if you aren’t going home after work, the story may differ, so perhaps every morning your computer would ask “My master, are you going home tonight?”. And if something popped up prior to you leaving the work day, you could with a click deny consent.

So we are approaching, I think, an amazing time in our world’s course. Computers are now getting to the point where they interact with us mutually. Does that sound scarry? Sort of. But for this transition to take place, companies have to act fast on adapting to a world and generation which increasingly wants their demands met. Gone are the days when corporations are the ones to decide what customers should or shouldn’t see in the products. Gone are the days where we have to sue because a company isn’t complying with a law or regulation. Ok- maybe the ladder is still out there, but I think you get the point. I want to examine today what Microsoft is doing to go through with the future, and introduce to you the new concepts Windows 8 will bring to the world of computing. Is it revolutionary? In a way yes. But it’s also evolutionary. We will take a look in this 3-part series at many aspects of Windows 8, both present and future roomers. (note, that roomers are just that: Theories without facts, so they may change.)

Here we are again, at a beginning of an adventure. You want to know something truthfully from me? Whenever a new windows version is released, I go shut myself in a room, and cry like a little 5 year old for five days and five nights. No, not really! But I do feel a kind of sadness inside my heart, because I thrive and live on seeing and experiencing the unknown-almost like an archeologist does when exploring new dig sites. So I usually am the first one to jump on a new opportunity, and with that, sometimes the first to get hurt or roadblocked when those opportunities lead to terrible results.

You may have heard already that a new release of Windows 8, build 7850, has hit the interwebs. While I’ve never condoned pirating software, this is currently the only way to obtain a copy of the leak.
So, what’s this leak?

I have to say, build 7850 is rather old. Looking at the build string:
Microsoft Windows
Version 6.1 (Build 7850.0.x86fre.winmain_win8m1.100922-1508) we see that it was created on September 22, 2010. That’s over half a year ago! We can be quite sure that since this, many other developments have been made to Windows 8. In fact, I don’t know if we can comprehend or speak of the sheer amount of changes which have made it in since this final milestone 1 build. To understand how windows development works, let’s take a history lesson.

The history lesson: How windows development works

This will be very brief. Thus far, Windows codenamed Longhorn (what we now know as Vista) was the only release of Windows which had 7 milestones. Windows 7 and in deed other versions of Windows before that have only had 1-4 milestones before the product hit beta stage. (usually private beta first).

So windows 8 should, in theory, have 3 milestones also. It is said that the final release will come in March or mid-2012 the latest. If we factor in the fact that each milestone takes 4-5 months to develop , I think we have a good picture. Milestone 1 went from August to November of 2010. Then, Milestone 2 began development in December, and went clear up to the end of March. Right now, we are in the milestone 3 phase-and it is expected to go until the end of July or August, at which point we should get a private beta. This will possibly be distributed to those part of the PDC (professional developers conference).

Windows 8: What’s changing, and what can we expect?

Now we get to the meat of my article. We need to look at what Windows 8 will truly bring. I could very well make this review one part only, but instead I will focus on actual visible changes and concepts in this final m1 build in part 2. Right now, I simply want to give an overview of what is expected to change and be different from Windows 7. * indicates a concept or idea which, so far, is simply a roomer and has not been proven yet by either Microsoft or the leaked Milestone 1 build.

Support for small form factor computers and tablets.

This is truly a no brainer, as we begin our descent into a tablet filled reality. Microsoft have publicly stated at their Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that they wish to work on improving support for Tablet computers. They even demode Internet Explorer 10 running on an ARM processor this week-which is a processor made for these small machines. Basically, Microsoft wants Windows to be everywhere: In your microwave, on your tablet, your PC, and your phone, and a bunch of other places. (The Cash registers, too!) So we expect to see Windows everywhere in the real meaning of the term. Windows 8 thus is meant to revolutionize the way we think of computing. There are 2 interfaces in Windows 8. One is meant for regular laptops, netbooks, and desktops-this is basically what you are used to seeing with a desktop and start button. The other is meant to be there for tablets, where Windows will resemble more of Windows phone 7, the company’s dominant Mobile device platform. We see this in preview builds of Internet Explorer 10 (sort of) and in the way some features of Windows 8 are progressing.

•New system Reset feature: No more reinstalls!

While this can only be tested on a legit copy of Windows 8, the truth is that you may never have to re-install Windows again. Ever. Why? Because a new feature, dubbed “restore Windows to it’s original state”, is present.
Caption: Insert a Windows Installation Disk
Some files required to restore this computer are missing. You need to insert a Windows 8 installation disc (32-bit) to
continue. (taken from a clipboard of the screen)

•Improved accessibility for those who are blind or have low vision:

Windows 8 will feature more improvements to accessibility out of the box. You can now set the cursor thickness rate. Narrator-at least from the build we can see-is also getting major overhauls, with support for the “narrator cursor” and a completely redesigned interface, where hotkeys can be assigned and the verbosity level can be tweaked. It is said that these improvements continue on with later milestones, however nothing is provable at this point-but that Microsoft is taking efforts to make narrator better. Web browsing is still non-existent, and the voice is still Anna. However, as stated, Milestone 1 is still far too early to judge the final thing.

•Support for ISO mounting:

Windows 8 now allows mounting Cd-images, also called isos. This means that you can download a program in .iso form and mount the cd simply by clicking on it. This is good, as it creates a virtual drive. If you are familiar with how VDU or virtual disk mounting works in Windows 7, you will know how ISO mounting will work. Accept you only have to click on the ISO file to open it.

•Support for lower-spec hardware through software rendering:

Those who don’t have aero, Microsoft’s new “UI” which debuted in vista, you may have it in Windows 8. It supports something called aero lite. Aero lite is a theme designed for netbooks and low-spec computers which can’t handle the full demands of 3D aero. It uses software to render, or create, the 3D effects. This means that with Windows 8, older and possibly more vintage machines may come to life.

•Performance boost: Faster than Windows 7?

While I will dive officially into performance details during part 2, I must stress that Windows 8 is already faster than Windows 7. And if you think of it, that’s good-very good. I will have benchmarks in Part 2, but suffice to say, windows 8 boots up, and resumes from standby in a snap. I don’t know how they did it, but I think we are reaching a performance speed up to if not greater than that of Windows XP. And that means something, right?

•*Windows marketplace:

Confirmed only by screenshots, this is meant to be an app store for windows users, similar to what Apple is offering. While I don’t know who’s copying who, it is clear that if Microsoft wants to be ahead or on it’s competitors, it needs to implement solutions which are, quite frankly, overdo. Ubuntu has had an app store since version 8.04 of it’s OS, if not earlier. (the Software center). And Mac got it early this year. Windows is the only one missing from the party.

•*.APX packages:

Familiar with exe files? The future may not be. Why? Because a new form of app development is starting to come out, and for geeks, this is good. Rather than making an app for Windows, the XBOX, and Windows phone 7, developers will be able to make an application for all 3. These will be packaged in .apx packages, which are similar to the .app files in Mac OS. Essentially, you could download one file which won’t install many resources or files onto your system but will function similarly on all 3 platforms. Reportedly, these files use silverlite technology, so access to their interface with a disability is still debatable.

•*A PDF reader in Windows?

While this was confirmed by Paul over at Winsupersite and his co-writer Rafael on , Windows 8 will reportedly get a PDF reader built in. This would mean that you will be able to open your PDF files and read them, similar to how you do in Mac. Again, this shows Microsoft’s desire to bring back native apps in Windows-why should I have to download Acrobat reader to read a PDF file when a simple reader is in Windows already? Now if Windows could only open .doc and .ppt files natively!

•New user interface for programs: Simplifying the landscape.

Windows 8 is getting a new interface for many common programs. In Milestone 1, Disk cleanup, the file associations dialog, folder options, and a few other control panel applets have received major overhauls. And not in a bad way, either. It allows these outdated programs to be more friendly towards the consumer. Disk Cleanup, for example, hasn’t received any updates since Windows 98, and the outdated look of this program is still in Windows 7. Does a regular consumer even know what Disk Cleanup is? Probably not! And I think this is where simplifying is good.

•*Ribbons everywhere?

From the same sources, Paul and Rafael have uncovered ribbons in Windows Explorer. While this does not at all bode well or look right in Windows 8, it could suggest that Microsoft is planning to expand the ribbon interface to even more applications than Wordpad or Paint, like in Windows 7. This does seem logical, in a way: Finish off what you started in Windows 7. Nay, or yea? You decide.

•*More ways to sync your data:

It is again, possible that we will see a form of online user sync in Windows 8. This means that if you are out at work, you could log in to your Windows Live account and load the desktop and settings you had loaded in your computer at home. Basically, we are looking at “portable settings”, where all your preferences are stored online in one account which is transferrable to other machines with a simple log-in. And when you log off, those settings get synced backed to the Windows Live account. All well and good, but I’m sure privacy advocates will jump on this one.

•*New ways of computer interaction and sensor awareness.

In early 2010, there were a few leaked documents on the internet which suggested that Microsoft is looking to implement sensors into Windows 8 PCs. For example: You could use a camera or proximity sensor built in to the screen of your laptop to have windows “see” the person in front of the computer. When that person steps and sits down at the workstation, Windows would recognize their face and log them in. When the person gets up, proximity sensors could be used to log the person off-line again and place the computer in a standby state. The recent Kinect hardware may actually point the future towards this, as it can detect complex 3D images by the use of cameras. While none of this is visible in milestone 1, I don’t see the idea far-fetched at all, provided that one buys the hardware and computer with the built-in technology.

Stay tuned!

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