The Windows 8 Release Preview, available May 31, offers yet another glimpse at Microsoft’s radically revamped operating system. It also gives users a clearer picture of how Redmond intends to leverage cloud features to make Windows 8 devices more useful and portable.
SkyDrive for Windows
Those cloud features include the ability, via SkyDrive for Windows, to open the Windows 8 photo app and take images stored on other PCs with SkyDrive installed. The overall SkyDrive revamp also offers quicker folder updating and a new 10-million-file limit.
Those are in-house features designed by Microsoft, however. The Windows 8 Release Preview re-emphasizes how third-party developers will determine the platform’s eventual success or failure. When you first log into Windows 8, you’re greeted with a Start screen of large, colorful tiles linked to applications—the latest iteration of the “Metro” aesthetic that increasingly unifies Microsoft’s products.
From there, the user can tap a button to access the “traditional” desktop, instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever used a Windows PC. But Microsoft is emphasizing that Start screen as a core element in the new Windows experience: at least in theory, it’s a user interface capable of running equally well on touch-screen tablets and PCs operated via keyboard, mouse and touch-pad.
But a Start screen loaded with tiles connected to apps (and featuring easy access to an online applications store) demands exactly that—a giant ecosystem of productivity software and games created by third-party developers. Particularly in the case of tablets, a robust app collection will go a long way towards determining the health of the overall platform; take a look at how startup tablet platforms such as webOS or Research In Motion’s PlayBook, each with a relatively paltry app selection, managed to perform against the iPad and Android tablets with their giant app stores.
Help Wanted: Developers, Developers, Developers
As with any other tablet or smartphone developer out there, Microsoft now needs those third-party developers to rush to Windows 8 with their cloud apps. For months, Microsoft executives have touted how Windows’ dominance of the operating-system market all but guarantees developers a significant audience for their products. And while that certainly applies to PCs, tablets are a much riskier proposition for any new entrant, no matter how big the marketing budget: at the moment, Apple’s iPad rules that market, followed in distant second by Google Android.
Speaking of Apple, at least one executive at that company believes that trying to make a single operating system all things to all devices is probably a bad idea. “I love convergence, but products are about tradeoffs and you have to make tough decisions,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told the audience during an onstage interview at this week’s D10 Conference, according to a transcript provided by MacRumors. “The more you look at a tablet as a PC, the more the past affects the product.”
Time will tell whether he’s right.