Windows 8 is the current release of the Windows operating system, produced by Microsoft for use on personal computers, including home and business desktops, laptops, tablets, and home theater PCs. Development of Windows 8 started before the release of its predecessor in 2009. Its existence was first announced at CES 2011, and followed by the release of three pre-release versions from September 2011 to May 2012. The operating system was released to manufacturing on August 1, 2012, and was released for general availability on October 26, 2012.
Windows 8 introduces significant changes to the operating system's platform, primarily focused towards improving its user experience on mobile devices such as tablets to rival other mobile operating systems like Android and iOS, taking advantage of new or emerging technologies like USB 3.0, UEFI firmware, near field communications, cloud computing and the low-power ARM architecture, new security features such as malware filtering, built-in antivirus software, and support for secure boot (a UEFI feature which allows operating systems to be digitally signed to prevent malware from altering the boot process), along with other changes and performance improvements.
Windows 8 also introduces a new shell and user interface based on Microsoft's "Metro" design language, featuring a new Start screen with a grid of dynamically updating tiles to represent applications, a new app platform with an emphasis on touchscreen input, the new Windows Store to obtain and purchase applications for the system, and the ability to synchronize programs and settings between multiple devices.
Development history of Windows 8
Windows 8 development started before Windows 7 had shipped in 2009. In late January 2011, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would be adding support for ARM microprocessors in addition to the x86 microprocessors from Intel, AMD and VIA Technologies. On June 1, 2011, Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 8's new user interface as well as additional features at the Taipei Computex 2011 in Taipei (Taiwan) by Mike Angiulo and at the D9 conference in California (United States) by Julie Larson-Green and Microsoft's Windows President Steven Sinofsky. A month before the BUILD conference was held, Microsoft opened a new blog called "Building Windows 8" for users and developers on August 15, 2011.
A screenshot of Windows 8 Developer Preview running on a multi-monitor system, showcasing a few features
Microsoft unveiled new Windows 8 features and improvements on the first day of the BUILD conference on September 13, 2011. Microsoft released Windows 8 Developer Preview (build 8102) the same day, which included SDKs and developer tools (such as Visual Studio Express and Expression Blend) for developing applications for Windows 8's new interface. According to Microsoft, there were about 535,000 downloads of the developer preview within the first 12 hours of its release. Originally set to expire on March 11, 2012, in February 2012 the Developer Preview's expiry date was changed to January 15, 2013.
The new File Explorer interface with "Ribbon" in Windows 8
On 29 February 2012, Microsoft released Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the beta version of Windows 8, build 8250. For the first time since Windows 95, the Start button is no longer present on the taskbar, though the Start screen is still triggered by clicking the bottom-left corner of the screen and by clicking Start on the Charm bar. Windows president Steven Sinofsky said more than 100,000 changes had been made since the developer version went public. The day after its release, Windows 8 Consumer Preview had been downloaded over one million times. Like the Developer Preview, the Consumer Preview is set to expire on January 15, 2013.
At Japan's Developers Day conference, Steven Sinofsky announced that Windows 8 Release Preview (build 8400) would be released during the first week of June. On May 28, 2012, Windows 8 Release Preview (Standard Simplified Chinese x64 edition, not China-specific version, build 8400) was leaked online on various Chinese and BitTorrent websites. On May 31, 2012, Windows 8 Release Preview was released to the public by Microsoft.
Major items in the Release Preview included the addition of Sports, Travel, and News apps, along with an integrated version of Flash Player in Internet Explorer. Like the Developer Preview and the Consumer Preview, the release preview is set to expire on January 15, 2013.
On August 1, 2012, Windows 8 (build 9200) was released to manufacturing with the build number 6.2.9200.16384 . Microsoft planned to hold a launch event on October 25, 2012 and release Windows 8 for general availability on the next day. However, only a day after its release to manufacturing, a copy of the final version of Windows 8 Enterprise N (produced for European markets) leaked to the web and several days later there were Pro and Enterprise leaks both x86 and x64. On August 15, 2012, Windows 8 was made available to download for MSDN and TechNet subscribers. Windows 8 was made available to Software Assurance customers on August 16, 2012. Windows 8 was made available for student downloads (with a DreamSpark Premium subscription) on August 22, 2012, earlier than advertised.
Relatively few changes were made from the Release Preview to the final version; these included updated versions of its pre-loaded apps, the renaming of Windows Explorer to File Explorer, the replacement of the Aero Glass theme from Windows Vista and 7 with a new flat and solid-colored theme, and the addition of new background options for the Start screen, lock screen, and desktop. Prior its to general availability on October 26, 2012, updates were released for some of Windows 8's bundled apps, and a "General Availability Cumulative Update" (which included fixes to improve performance, compatibility, and battery life) was released on Tuesday, October 9, 2012. Microsoft indicated that due to improvements to its testing infrastructure, general improvements of this nature will be released more frequently through Windows Update instead of being relegated to OEMs and service packs only.
Microsoft began an advertising campaign centered around Windows 8 and its Surface tablet in October 2012, starting with its first television advertisement premiering on October 14, 2012. Microsoft's advertising budget for the operating system is US$1.5–1.8 billion, making Windows 8 the industry's biggest product launch in history.
New and changed features in Windows 8
Main article: Features new to Windows 8
New features and functionality in Windows 8 include a faster startup through UEFI integration and the new "Hybrid Boot" mode (which hibernates the Windows kernel on shutdown to speed up the subsequent boot), a new lock screen with a clock and notifications, and the ability for enterprise users to create live USB versions of Windows (known as Windows To Go). Windows 8 also adds native support for USB 3.0 devices, which allow for faster data transfers and improved power management with compatible devices, along with support for near field communication to facilitate sharing and communication between devices.
Windows Explorer, which has been renamed File Explorer, now includes a ribbon in place of the command bar. File operation dialog boxes have been updated to provide more detailed statistics, the ability to pause file transfers, and improvements in the ability to manage conflicts when copying files. A new "File History" function allows incremental revisions of files to be backed up to and restored from a secondary storage device, while Storage Spaces allows users to combine different sized hard disks into virtual drives and specify mirroring, parity, or no redundancy on a folder-by-folder basis.
Task Manager has also been redesigned, including a new processes tab with the option to display fewer or more details of running applications and background processes, a heat map using different colors indicating the level of resource usage, network and disk counters, grouping by process type (e.g. applications, background processes and Windows processes), friendly names for processes and a new option which allows users to search the web to find information about obscure processes. Additionally, the Blue Screen of Death has been updated with a simpler and modern design with less technical information displayed.
Safety and security
Additional security features in Windows 8 include two new authentication methods tailored towards touchscreens (PINs and picture passwords), the addition of antivirus capabilities to Windows Defender (bringing it in parity with Microsoft's Security Essentials software) SmartScreen filtering integrated into the desktop, and support for the "Secure Boot" functionality on UEFI systems to protect against malware infecting the boot process. Parental controls are offered through the integrated Family Safety software, which allows parents to monitor and control their children's activities on a device with activity reports and safety controls. Windows 8 also provides integrated system recovery through the new "Refresh" and "Reset" functions. Windows 8's first security patches would be released on 13 November 2012; it would contain three critical (most severe as per Microsoft) fixes.
Online services and functionality
Windows 8 provides heavier integration with online services from Microsoft and others. A user can now log in to Windows with a Microsoft account, formally known as a Windows Live ID, which can be used to access services and synchronize applications and settings between devices. Windows 8 also ships with a client app for Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service, which also allows apps to save files directly to SkyDrive. A SkyDrive client for the desktop and File Explorer is not included in Windows 8, and must be downloaded separately. Bundled multimedia apps are provided under the Xbox brand, including Xbox Music, Xbox Video, and the Xbox SmartGlass companion for use with an Xbox 360 console. Games can integrate into an Xbox Live hub app, which also allows users to view their profile and gamerscore. Other bundled apps provide the ability to link to services such as Flickr and Facebook.
Internet Explorer 10 is included as both a desktop program and a touch-optimized app, and includes increased support for HTML5, CSS3, and hardware acceleration. The Internet Explorer app does not support plugins or ActiveX components, but includes a version of Adobe Flash Player that is optimized for touch and low power usage, but works only on sites included on a whitelist. The desktop version does not contain these limitations.
Windows 8 also incorporates improved support for mobile broadband; the operating system can now detect the insertion of a SIM card and automatically configure connection settings (including APNs and carrier branding), track and reduce bandwidth use on metered networks. Windows 8 also adds an integrated airplane mode setting to globally disable all wireless connectivity as well. Carriers can also offer account management systems through Windows Store apps, which can be automatically installed as a part of the connection process and offer usage statistics on their respective tile.
Windows Store and Apps
A music app for Windows 8, shown snapped like a sidebar to the Windows Desktop
Windows 8 introduces a new style of application, Windows Store apps; according to Microsoft developer Jensen Harris, these apps are to be optimized for touchscreen environments and have smaller scope in relation to desktop applications. Apps can run either in a full-screen mode, or be docked directly to the side of a screen. They can provide notifications and a "live tile" on the Start screen for dynamic content. Apps can use "contracts"; a collection of hooks to provide common functionality that can integrate with other apps, such as search and sharing. Apps can also provide integration with other services; for example, the People app can connect to a variety of different social networks and services (such as Facebook), while the Photos app can aggregate photos from services such as Facebook and Flickr.
Retail versions of Windows 8 will only be able to install these apps through the Windows Store—a namesake distribution platform which offers both apps and certified desktop applications. Only the Enterprise version will allow system administrators to deploy apps from outside the Windows Store.
Windows Store apps were originally known as "Metro-style apps" during the development of Windows 8, referring to the Metro design language. The term was reportedly phased out in August 2012; a Microsoft spokesperson denied rumors that the change was related to a potential trademark issue, and stated that "Metro" was only a codename that would be phased out prior to Windows 8's release. Following these reports, the terms "Modern UI-style apps", "Windows 8-style apps" and "Windows Store apps" began to be used by various Microsoft documents and material to refer to the new apps. In an interview on September 12, 2012, Soma Somasegar (vice president of Microsoft's development software division) officially confirmed that "Windows Store apps" would be the official term for the apps.
Special exceptions are given to web browsers classified as being "New experience enabled" (formerly "Metro-style enabled"), which can provide a special version to run within the "Metro" shell. Unlike other apps, they can be coded using Win32 code instead of WinRT (allowing the reuse of code from their desktop versions), permanently run in the background, use multiple background processes, and are distributed with desktop web browsers rather than through the Windows Store. Despite these looser restrictions, they can still take advantage of features typically reserved for Windows Store apps, such as the use of contracts to link to other apps. However, only the user's default web browser can be used in this setting.
The developers of both Chrome and Firefox both committed to developing versions of their browsers to run in the app environment; while Chrome's app simply backports the existing desktop interface, Firefox's (which is currently available in development versions) uses a touch-optimized interface inspired by the mobile version of Firefox.
Interface and desktop of Windows 8
Windows 8 introduces significant changes to the operating system's user interface, many of which are centered towards improving its experience on tablet computers and other touchscreen devices. The new user interface is based on Microsoft's Metro design language, and features a new tile-based Start screen similar to that of Windows Phone, which has replaced the previous Start menu entirely. The Start screen displays a customisable array of tiles linking to various apps and desktop programs, some of which can display constantly updated information and content through "live tiles". As a form of multi-tasking, apps can be snapped to the side of a screen.
A vertical toolbar known as the charms bar (accessed by swiping from the right edge of a touchscreen, or pointing the cursor at hotspots in the right corners of a screen) provides access to system and app-related functions, such as search, sharing, device management, settings, and a Start button. The traditional desktop environment for running desktop applications is accessed via a tile on the new Start screen. The Start button on the taskbar has been removed in favor of the Start button on the charms bar and a hotspot in the lower-left corner of the screen. Swiping from the left edge of a touchscreen or clicking in the top-left corner of the screen allows one to switch between apps and the Desktop. Pointing the cursor in the top-left corner of the screen and moving down reveals a thumbnail list of active apps. Aside from the removal of the Start button, the desktop on Windows 8 is similar to that of Windows 7, except that the Aero Glass theme has been replaced by a flatter, solid-colored design inspired by the Metro interface.
See also: Unified Extensible Firmware Interface#Secure boot and Hardware restrictions#Windows 8
Windows 8 supports a feature of the UEFI specification known as "Secure boot", which uses a public-key infrastructure to verify the integrity of the operating system and prevent unauthorized programs such as bootkits from infecting the device.
Despite the security benefits of the feature, Microsoft faced criticism (particularly from free software supporters) for mandating that devices receiving its optional certification for Windows 8 have secure boot enabled by default using a key provided by Microsoft. Concerns were raised that secure boot could prevent or hinder the use of alternate operating systems such as Linux. In response to the criticism, Microsoft developer Tony Mangefeste stated that "At the end of the day, the customer is in control of their PC. Microsoft’s philosophy is to provide customers with the best experience first, and allow them to make decisions themselves."
Microsoft's certification requirements eventually revealed that that UEFI firmware on x86 systems must allow users to re-configure or turn off secure boot, but that this must not be possible on ARM-based systems (Windows RT). Microsoft faced further criticism for its decision to restrict Windows RT devices by using this functionality, despite it being consistent with other consumer electronics with similar protection measures. No mandate is made regarding the installation of third-party certificates that would enable running alternative software.
Main article: List of features removed in Windows 8
Aside from the removal of the Start menu, several notable features have been removed in Windows 8. Support for playing DVDs has been removed from Windows Media Player due to the cost of licensing the necessary decoders (especially for devices which do not include optical disc drives at all) and the prevalence of streaming services such as Netflix. For the same reasons, Windows Media Center will no longer be included by default on Windows 8 as well, but the software (which also includes support for DVD playback) can be added back through the paid "Pro Pack" (for the base version of Windows 8, which also upgrades the system to Windows 8 Pro) or "Media Center Pack" (for Windows 8 Pro) add-ons. Windows 8 will still support third-party DVD playback software.
File History, the new backup feature of Windows 8 described above, replaces Backup and Restore, the former backup app, and Previous Versions, a component of Windows Explorer that saves previous versions of changed files. Backup and Restore is deprecated but will continue to work on preset schedule on computers that upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.:76 Previous Versions no longer protects local files, although it is still available to access previous versions of shared files stored on a Windows Server computer.:74 Shadow Copy, the subsystem component based on which these worked, however, is still available for other software to use.
- Minimum hardware requirements for Windows 8 Architecture: IA-32 (32-bit) x86-64 (64-bit)
- Processor: 1 GHz (with PAE, NX and SSE2 support)
- Memory (RAM): 1 GB-2 GB
- Graphics Card : DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
- Storage: 16 GB - 20 GB
The minimum system requirements for Windows 8 are slightly higher than those of Windows 7. Notably, Windows 8 now requires that a system's CPU support certain hardware features, specifically the PAE, NX bit, and SSE2. Windows Store apps require a screen resolution of 1024x768 or higher to run, while a screen resolution of 1366x768 or higher is required in order to use the snapping functionality for apps.
To receive logo certification, Microsoft requires that an Intel-compatible system resume from standby in 2 seconds or less.
Tablets and convertibles
Microsoft released minimum hardware requirements for new tablet and convertible devices designed for Windows 8, and defined a convertible form factor as a standalone device that combines the PC, display and rechargeable power source with a mechanically attached keyboard and pointing device in a single chassis. A convertible can be transformed into a tablet where the attached input devices are hidden or removed leaving the display as the only input mechanism.
Hardware certification requirements for Windows tablets
- Graphics Card: DirectX 10 graphics device with WDDM 1.2 or higher driver
- Storage: 10GB free space, after the out-of-box experience completes
- Standard buttons: 'Power', 'Rotation lock', 'Windows Key', 'Volume-up', 'Volume-down'
- Screen: Touch screen supporting a minimum of 5-point digitizers and resolution of at least 1366x768. The physical dimensions of the display panel must match the aspect ratio of the native resolution. The native resolution of the panel can be greater than 1366 (horizontally) and 768 (vertically). Minimum native color depth is 32-bits.
- Camera : Minimum 720p
- Ambient light sensor: 1–30k lux capable with dynamic range of 5–60K
- Accelerometer : 3 axes with data rates at or above 50 Hz
- USB 2.0 : At least one controller and exposed port.
- Connect : Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 + LE (low energy)
- Other: Speaker, microphone, magnetometer and gyroscope.
BSOD in Windows 8
Windows 8 for IA-32 and x64 processors runs most software compatible with previous versions of Windows, with the same restrictions as Windows 7: 64-bit Windows 8 runs 64-bit and 32-bit software while 32-bit Windows 8 will be able to run 32-bit and 16-bit software (although some 16-bit software may require compatibility settings to be applied, or not work at all).
Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 for systems with ARM processors, only supports applications included with the system (such as a special version of Office 2013), supplied through Windows Update, or Windows Store apps, to ensure that the system only runs applications that are optimized for the architecture. Windows RT does not support running IA-32 or x64 applications. Windows Store apps can either be cross-compatible between Windows 8 and Windows RT, or compiled to support a specific architecture.
Editions and pricing
Main article: Windows 8 editions
Windows 8 is available in four editions; one is simply named Windows 8 and is intended for mainstream consumers. Windows 8 Pro contains additional features aimed towards power users and professional environments. Windows 8 Enterprise contains additional features aimed towards business environments, and is only available through volume licensing. Windows Media Center is not included by default in any edition of Windows 8, but will still be available for purchase as an add-on for Windows 8 Pro, or as part of a "Pro Pack" upgrade for Windows 8 which also includes the Pro upgrade. Windows RT will only be made available as pre-loaded software on new ARM-based devices built specifically for the OS.
Users of previous versions of Windows can purchase an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro online (using a download that can be optionally burned to a DVD), or through boxed copies at retail on DVD. Microsoft is offering these upgrades at a discounted price of $39.99 USD online, or $69.99 at retail, from its launch until January 31, 2013.
Microsoft also began to offer an upgrade program for those purchasing new PCs pre-loaded with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate between June 2, 2012, and January 31, 2013—in which users will be able to digitally purchase a Windows 8 Pro upgrade for $14.99 USD. The Windows Media Center add-on will be offered for free through this offer. Several PC manufacturers have offered rebates and refunds on Windows 8 upgrades obtained through the program on select models, such as Hewlett-Packard (in the U.S. and Canada on select models), and Acer (in Europe on selected Ultrabook models).
On February 19, 2012, Microsoft confirmed that in Windows 8 the Windows logo will be significantly updated to reflect the new Metro design language. The logo was designed by Pentagram partner Paula Scher. The formerly flag-shaped logo has been transformed into four window panes, perspective was added, and the entire logo will be rendered in a single solid color, which will depend on the user's personalization changes.
Reviews of the various editions of Windows 8 have been mixed. The Verge felt that Windows 8's emphasis on touch computing was a significant aspect of the platform, and that Windows 8 devices (especially those that combine the traits of both laptops and tablets) would "[make the] iPad feel immediately out of date", due to the capabilities of the operating system's hybrid model and increased focus on cloud services. Some of the included apps in Windows 8 were considered to be basic and lacking in certain functionality, but the Xbox apps were praised for their promotion of a multi-platform entertainment experience. Other improvements and features (such as File History, Storage Spaces, and the updated Task Manager) were also regarded as positive changes. Additionally, Peter Bright of Ars Technica felt that while its user interface changes may overshadow them, Windows 8's improved performance, updated file manager, new storage functionality, expanded security features, and updated Task Manager were still notably positive improvements for the operating system. Bright also felt that Windows 8's duality towards tablets and traditional PCs was an "extremely ambitious" aspect of the platform as well, but still criticized Microsoft for emulating Apple's model of a closed distribution platform when implementing the Windows Store.
The interface of Windows 8 has been the subject of mixed reaction. Peter Bright of Ars Technica felt that the "Edge UI" system of hot corners and edge swiping "wasn't very obvious" due to the lack of instructions provided by the operating system on the functions accessed through the user interface, even by the video tutorial added on the RTM release (which only instructed users to point at corners of the screen or swipe from its sides). Despite this so-called "stumbling block", Bright felt that Windows 8's interface worked well in some places, but began to feel incoherent when switching between the "Metro" and desktop environments, sometimes through inconsistent means. Tom Warren of The Verge felt that the new interface was "as stunning as it is surprising", contributing to an "incredibly personal" experience once it is customised by the user. However, at the same time, Warren felt that the interface had a steep learning curve, and was awkward to use with a keyboard and mouse. However, it was noted that while forcing all users to use the new touch-oriented interface was a risky move for Microsoft as a whole, it was necessary in order to push development of apps for the Windows Store.
Several notable video game developers criticized Microsoft for adopting a similar "walled garden" app distribution model to other mobile platforms with the introduction of the Windows Store—since they felt it conflicted with the traditional view of the PC as an open platform, due to the store's closed nature and certification requirements for compatibility and regulation of content. Markus "Notch" Persson specifically refused to accept help from a Microsoft developer to certify his popular game Minecraft for Windows 8 compatibility, replying with a request for the company to "stop trying to ruin the PC as an open platform." Gabe Newell (co-founder of Valve Corporation, who developed the competing software distribution platform Steam) described Windows 8 as being a "catastrophe for everyone in the PC space" due to the closed nature of the Windows Store. Rob Pardo from Activision Blizzard agreed with Gabe Newell by saying: "nice interview with Gabe Newell - "I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space* - not awesome for Blizzard either". Industry Veteran Casey Muratori had similar concerns.
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes from ZDNet wrote: "The biggest problem with Windows 8 is that it wasn't born out of a need or demand. Its design failures, particularly with ‘Metro UI’ will likely be its downfall."
Microsoft says that 4 million users upgraded to Windows 8 over the weekend after its release, which CNET says was well below Microsoft's internal projections and have been described inside the company as disappointing.
Though initial sales were disappointing, there have been steady increases in demand since.