Windows 8: What's in Store for the OS of the Future?

Online communities, alleged insiders, and the blogosphere are bristling with details about Windows 8, the follow-up to the wildly popular Windows 7. Potential features generating the most excitement include ARM processor compatibility, faster startup time, interface enhancements, and new security features integrated into the system.

Windows 8 is coming. That much is certain. The bigger questions are what will be in it and when will it arrive. Microsoft itself has released few official details about Windows 8, but the company's reticence seems only to have increased the buzz surrounding Microsoft's next major operating system, the follow-on to the wildly popular Windows 7.

Online communities, alleged insiders, and the blogosphere are bristling with details, however, many of them based on allegedly "leaked" screen shots from an early-stage version of Windows 8. Here are the potential features that are generating the most excitement.

ARMed and Ready
The one official tidbit about Windows 8 is that it will, or should be, compatible with ARM processors, which are notably used to run many tablet  computers. That's directly from the mouth of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking at a tech conference  earlier this year.
The addition of an ARM-compatible version of Windows 8 would represent a bold move for Windows, which has always been designed for the x86 processor architecture  that runs Intel- or AMD-based personal computers. While energy-saving versions of the latter do run Windows-based tablets currently, the x86 technology  is no match for ARM-based machines in the power efficiency  department. Adding support  for ARM-based devices would allow Windows 8, or some variant of it, to propagate more successfully throughout the growing world of tablet computers, perhaps offering some decent competition for Apple, which currently dominates the space.

Faster Startup
Microsoft has promised -- even boasted -- about faster startup times with each new version of Windows. Unfortunately, the reality has always failed to match the hype. While Windows 7 boot times have improved somewhat over the glacially slow pace at which a fully loaded Windows XP proceeds, most people still have to wait far too long for their Windows 7 systems to go from off to "ready."
Microsoft is again aiming to fix that situation in Windows 8, at least according to a high-level presentation from Microsoft that's been circulating on the net for some time. The apparent goals: an "instant on" feature that will drastically reduce the amount of time users have to wait for their PCs to boot up, as well as some new tricks that make resuming from hibernation mode almost instantaneous. The "instant on" feature will apparently be a combination of logoff and hibernation taking the place of a true system shutdown.

The Interface
What we know, or think we know, about the interface changes to be rolled out in Windows 8 comes primarily from screen shots that were purportedly leaked by someone at Microsoft and published by several Web sites, including and additional sites in China and Russia. Whether credible or not, the screens do suggest enhancements to existing features that would be sensible in a Windows 7 successor.
Among those possible enhancements: the addition of the ribbon bar interface, introduced in Office 2007 and expanded in Office 2010, as a standard feature of common operating system applications such as the Windows Explorer file manager. While the ribbon bar has been controversial, Microsoft seems intent on forging ahead with it, so it would be no great surprise to see it everywhere in Windows 8
The new Windows 8 will also reportedly feature a new color swatch feature which, when selected, will automatically change the color of common desktop  elements -- such as the taskbar and Start menu -- to match the colors of the selected desktop wallpaper. If desktop wallpaper is set up to change automatically, presumably so too will the interface colors.
Also likely from purportedly leaked screenshots: small interface enhancements such as the ability to use video clips as user icons and more informational taskbar icons.

New features that have surfaced as likely enhancements in Windows 8 include an integrated PDF reader, probably to be dubbed Modern Reader. If true, this feature will be a boost to the PDF file format itself, which is already widespread in companies and online but has been plagued in the past with vulnerabilities that left it open to exploitation from computer viruses.
Microsoft also seems to be placing additional emphasis on allowing users to recover from disasters -- both file-related and operating system-related. WinRumors reports the likely inclusion of a History Vault feature, which will provide automatic file backup and allow users to recover files to a previous state.
In the same vein, a new installation utility could offer users the option to reinstall the entire operating system without losing user accounts, personal files, or installed programs and their settings, according to Additional security enhancements seem likely as well, with some leaked screenshots suggesting that the malware-stopping SmartScreen feature of Internet Explorer will be integrated into the operating system itself.

Release Date
So when will Windows 8 be released? Speculations range from the end of this year to 2014. Sometime in 2012 seems most likely, however, given Microsoft's typical three-year interval between operating system releases.


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