Windows 8 Is Almost Here. Are You Ready?

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Microsoft's latest Windows 8 Release Preview is available as a free download. I've been checking out these betas and prerelease incarnations to see where Windows is headed and you can too.

Windows 8 runs you through a major user interface change with Metro 8 (Fig. 1) that works better for tablets and smartphones. For me, it is a bit cumbersome on the desktop where mouse and keyboard are dominant but many say that it is just a matter of getting used to the secrets of Windows 8. The Start button is gone but window decoration buttons remain albeit with new graphic artifacts.

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Figure 1. Windows 8 Metro interface works well for a tablet but can be a challenge to users of prior incarnations.

I actually test most of my operating systems on virtual machines although I will likely drop this on a bare machine once I clear out a hard drive. Running an OS in a virtual environment is handy but typically graphics support suffers since adapter emulation tends to be at the low end of the spectrum and Windows 8 is designed to use the latest hardware. The same is true for Linux and most other operating systems. Hardware pass through on most virtual machine environments is fine for dedicated network adapters but not for graphics cards where sharing would be a challenge.

Having the right graphics hardware and drivers is key to a good Windows Metro experience. It is smooth when running it on AMD's Radeon card I just got and will probably do equally well on an ARM-based system with Mali (see Multicore Mobile GPU Handles Computation Chores) although I have not worked with the Arm incarnnation. Metro is visible on my virtual machine but lacks some of the bells and whistles.

Right now the embedded workhorse for Microsoft is Windows Embedded Standard 7. It will likely remain so for a few more years. It has a range of configurations for targeted environments like POSReady (see Adding Embedded Enabling Features to POSReady 7). It can be found on everything from robots to assembly lines.

Windows 8 will likely fit into the embedded realm sometime in the future but for now the Windows Embedded Standard 7 is what will run the back end. Still, Windows 8 will quickly fit into the corporate and consumer side and act as a front-end for many embedded applications. Issues such as Windows 8's programming environment, that has changed significantly, and browser, Internet Explorer is really the only web platform for Windows 8, will be targets for these kinds of applications. Developers that need to create the front and back end will have to contend with different environments.

Likewise, Windows is a common host development platform and Windows 8 will also be pushing Windows 7 out. This is not something that will happen quickly on the corporate end that will need to prepare and validate Windows 8 and associated applications for their workers but tool developers will be targeting Windows 8 as new versions of IDEs and other software are created. For me, I still have a mix of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 in the lab.

For developers, Windows 8 will be a burden and a boon. The move towards Metro is a major UI change to get applications to react in a similar fashion. Likewise, users and developers alike will need to discover the new ways to interact with the system. Swipes and clicks are not intuitive but they are easily utilized once they are understood and mastered.

UIs seem to be getting more magical with each release. Of course, that is only good if you happen to know the right "spell."

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William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
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