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What Features Are Desirable for Windows 8?

| by Abel Avram Follow 12 Followers on Jun 29, 2010. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

A number of Windows 8 slides leaked on the Internet, disclosing Microsoft’s plans for the next version of its operating system: hardware supporting touch and voice control, frictionless UX, tablets, faster startup, an app store. Miguel de Icaza, father of Mono, has expressed what he would like to see in Windows 8: sandboxed execution system, no-install apps, a public contract for extension points.

The Italian Windows website Windowsette published a number of leaked presentation slides allegedly shared by Microsoft with partner PC makers detailing the major hardware, software and other features planned for Windows 8. Following is an excerpt of the most interesting features planned. (Microsoft Kitchen contains a more detailed look at the slides.)

Hardware. According the the document, Microsoft plans on relying on hardware providing:

  • High-quality touch experience
  • HD Video
  • Voice Control
  • Infrared proximity sensor
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Proximity-based sleep/wake
  • Screen light adjusting based on room ambient lightning
  • Face recognition-based login

User Experience. The document points to Apple’s approach to UX which heavily relies in frictionless interaction with the computer. A successful PC would be one that “just works” and the design make people feel confident in using it, leading to product satisfaction.

Windows Identity. The plan is to evolve from a machine-centric approach to a user-centric one. User accounts will remain important but more emphasis will be put on fast user switching and roaming. That includes cloud integration, or having the ability to access various resources in the cloud, the authentication procedure being done by the PC for user’s behalf. Also, facial recognition is a proposed approach to perform log-ins.

Form Factors. Windows 8 will target 3 form factors:

  • Slate – optimized for web and media consumption, casual gaming, reading email, IM, social networking
  • Laptop – productivity apps, writing email, media organization
  • All-in-one - optimized for web and media consumption, casual gaming, heavier communication, media organization.

Quick Startup. The strategy in this area includes:

  • Delivering an appliance-like look&feel
  • Improving booting and shutdown
  • Using caching
  • Providing measurement and optimization tools

Restore. The plan is to let the user restore Windows to factory defaults through a simple push of a button. Windows 8 will preserve the user’s personal data, accounts, etc.

IE9. According to the slides, IE9 will be released as beta in August 2010.

Market. Microsoft counts on targeting about 8.6M professional developers, 39M STEM-D – science, tech, engineering, math, and 104M hobbyist and non-professional developers.

Windows Store. Microsoft seems to plan for an application store, one targeted at Windows not the already existing Windows Marketplace. This is very similar to Apple’s App Store.

Miguel de Icaza wrote a post telling what he would like from Windows 8. His choices certainly reflect the desires of a developer:

The Sandboxed Execution System: would prevent applications from touching the registry, installing any drivers, any hooks, any visualizers or any other deep integration features that applications typically use to integrate with the OS.

The sandboxed execution system would prevent applications from looking at the file system, except for locations that have been predetermined for sharing and

The kernel would have to enforce what files they get access to, what devices and what components they get access to. And should be set to a bare minimum.

Self Contained Applications would be required to install software from the network, or from their appstore. These applications would get absolutely no rights to modify anything outside their directory. Any extension points that they could register with the system ("open with") would have to be registered with the public extension point contract.

Public Contract for Extension Points Any extension points like "open with", or handlers for mime-types would be self contained in a manifest in the application directory.

Instead of having every app poking at the system registry and dumping their junk everywhere, applications would list all of their requirements from the operating system on the manifest and the OS would rebuild its internal data from all of the application manifests available from a user.

Limited APIs: File access APIs, display access APIs would have to be altered to give applications limited access to the host operating system, and to give them as little access to anything that most applications do not need.

What features would you like to have in Windows 8?

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Sandboxed Execution System: Just Say No. by john zabroski

Sandboxing is inferior to an object capability security model. The real design tension here is going to be Windows 8's supposedly more user-centric identity mechanism. I think they should use a capabiluty-based security model.

Miguel doesn't speak for a lot of what I do by Mike Gale

If your focus is other people who don't have or want any influence over what their machine does, then this AppStore idea works for you. That's the guy who doesn't program anything, doesn't take charge, isn't interested. And I know there's a lot like that.

Traditionally Windows, in part, served a different market. It allowed you to take charge, to do your own thing, to be responsible. With that comes the responibility of figuring out what's going on.

Looking at the stats given that's those three groups quoted above. Say 150 million developers of some sort.

I also hope that a lot of "normal users" want to program and make the machine do what they actually want, instead of whatever their "apps" have been designed to do! (Lets face it, it's really hard to design a UI that gives you sophisticated ability to control the machine. So it's not the fault of the developers of "Apps". Have you ever seen one (other than a developer IDE, etc.) that is even in the race?)

This AppStore OS will destroy some of these guys lives, I imagine. Can't you just picture a few of them leaping off high buildings if forced to work inside an OS like that.

There's got to be a way out if we go down a horror road like that.

One thing: Windows update that doesn't prevent me from using my PC by Christos Karras

Windows update has gotten so annoying that I would be happy with a Windows 8 whose only new major feature is a better Windows Update system. I work with several PCs and Virtual Machines, and it gets very annoying/time consuming to wait for Windows Updates and reboots.

I would like a Windows update that:

  • doesn't slow down my PC (and the multiple Virtual Machines I'm running on it) once every week

  • doesn't decide to install updates when I shut down my laptop which I would like to bring home for the night (or at least allow me to cancel/postpone the update at a time of my choosing)

  • doesn't decide to reboot while I'm running a hour-long process before going to lunch, and then brags that "My Computer was recently updated!" (what about the work I was doing?)

  • doesn't require as many reboots (in the real world, people actually use applications on their PCs, so shutting them down so that Windows Update doesn't need to reboot is kind of not the point). This would probably require major architecture changes to allow hotswappable system components (kernel,...) but I think it's worth it

  • can be used for third-party applications so that all applications have a uniform automated update mechanism. (Fighting off the Windows/Java/Adobe/Apple/... updater every time I'm logging in to a different VM is counterproductive)

App Store shouldn't enslave users to a platform. by Caleb Bennett

Having a centralized point for software installation does not mean removing the user's control over the system (though I'm not saying Microsoft won't try to do both). Linux has had a centralized, app-store-like method of software installation since long before the Apple conceived of the idea. It's called a package manager, and is in nearly every Linux distribution out there. It doesn't remove the user's ability install software manually, and it doesn't remove the user's ability to control the underlying system. It simply makes it easier to install common pieces of software. Just because Apple twisted the idea into a method of maintaining complete platform control and limiting the user doesn't mean Microsoft has to make the same mistake.

Re: App Store shouldn't enslave users to a platform. by Mike Gale

Hi Caleb.

You're quite right it doesn't have to be the only type of program on a machine.

The analogy to what Apple are doing (and the wording) set me off on that track. If Windows went down that road, it would probably be the end for me.

On reflection, something like this already exists on Windows. It's Silverlight. That could be teamed with an AppStore.

Christos. Agreed that Windows update could be better. It can be set to not install automatically which is what I do. (I like the control.) As to competing updaters I agree. There's too many of these things. If there were a way to use an OS service for all software to update that might be an improvement.

My experience is that Windows updating has improved a lot over the long term.

Re: Sandboxed Execution System: Just Say No. by Francois Ward

They tried the capability security model with .NET applications (from within for programmers, and from outside for sysadmins), and both groups basically rejected it. It was simple, but it was too "different". So I don't think capability-based security is in Windows' future, even though it should be.

Oh, let me count the ways by C Curl

Having just moved to a new machine, and suffered the horrors of transferring my stuff across, I'd suggest:
* Centralized distribution of software, and also hardware drivers (including firmware updates). Should be notified automatically of updates to bios, graphics drivers, chipset drivers etc, and not have to go to a vendor's site and user their dodgy download tool to get these. The windows update automatic download works pretty well, make it accessible for other vendors to distribute their software as well.
* Better backups. Ability to backup to network drives out-of-the-box. Ability to backup to online with geographical failover, encrypted, and at least 50GB of space included (and not a lousy 2GB free deal for marketing purposes). Gives MS something to use Azure for.
* Better transfer of settings from old to new computer. Should support cross-language transfers (e.g from a French to an English machine etc)
* Automatic/standard way to transfer license keys of any program across
* Ditch Microsoft Works altogheter, or make it at least a viable competitor to OpenOffice.
* MS can bash Oracle/Sun into finding a way to install Java on the machine without installing a gazillion different full versions through updates.
* Similarly, don't install every version of .Net just in case. Install only if a program can't work with the later versions and specifically requires a particular version. Highlight this program as "legacy potential security threat".
* Ability to integrate local logon and Windows Live if one chooses. All settings, documents etc then stored in the cloud and shared to other machines one uses (should of course be configurable what is stored locally and in the cloud)

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