Product Notes: Windows 8 for Providers

(current information on Windows 8 can be found here)

Note: this document has been significantly changed since it was first published on March 1, 2012. The original document is here. This document is intended primarily for Local Support Providers (LSPs) and was last modified on Wednesday, 15-Aug-2012 16:43:54 EDT.

Following the release of a Developer Preview in September 2011 and a Consumer Preview in February 2012, Microsoft released Windows 8 to manuacturing on August 1st, 2012. The official release date for Windows 8 will be October 26th, 2012 and most industry observers now expect vendors to ship systems with Windows 8 in time for the 2012 winter holiday buying season.

Arguably, Windows 8 marks the biggest change to the user-facing portions of Windows since Windows 95, and perhaps all the way back to the original Windows 1.0. The default interface, designated "Metro", is optimized for touch, with large finger-friendly tiles and various swipes to activate and manipulate. Users of Windows Phone 7.x and other Microsoft consumer devices will find this interface to be somewhat familiar, though it is not identical.

Signs of this major interface transition pervade Windows 8. There are two versions of Windows Internet Explorer 10 - one that works within the Metro interface and one that runs within the traditional desktop and they do not share the same range of capabilities. The traditional desktop itself is merely another tile within the Start screen, and that screen shares only its name with previous Start menus. Another example is that basic preferences are manipulated within the Metro interface, while detailed preferences require an exit to the traditional Control Panel.

The biggest behind-the-scenes change is the addition of ARM-licensed processor support, which should allow lightweight tablets with excellent battery life. ARM-based systems generally will not be backward compatible with older Windows applications - they will only run applications written for the Metro interface.

On a current Intel-based Tablet PC running the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, some University applications function with varying degrees of difficulty; these include AirPennNet, Online Directory, Exchange, and Zimbra. There is no supported Symantec antivirus at this point (SEP 12.1 installs but renders the operating system non-functional), and the automated XpressConnect installer does not function.

Microsoft has announced that there will be four basic versions of Windows 8:

  1. Windows 8 - the "consumer" version of Windows 8, roughly analogous to Windows 7 Home Premium, available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
  2. Windows 8 Pro - the "professional" version of Windows 8, roughly analogous to Windows 7 Ultimate, available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
  3. Windows 8 Enterprise - for customers with Software Assurance agreements, essentially Windows 8 Pro with some additional enterprise-oriented features.
  4. Windows RT - the version of Windows 8 for ARM-based systems. Windows RT includes touch-optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

Windows Media Center will no longer be a separate version of Windows, but will be an extra-cost add-on available to Windows 8 Pro (and presumably Windows 8 Enterprise) users.

There are many unknowns with Windows 8. Licensing and distribution is unclear, though one of the delivery methods almost certainly will be Microsoft's app store. There is much uncertainty about how Microsoft plans to sell a touch and tablet-centric operating system to an installed base where tablets are the exception and not the rule.

Information Systems & Computing (ISC) expects to support Windows 8 at some point after its release - whether it becomes the dominant operating system for the majority of the University's Windows installed base remains to be seen. We will continue to provide updates as Windows 8 nears release.

For further information

Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview page.

Microsoft's Building Windows 8 blog. training regarding a first look at Windows 8 is available to many of Penn's Schools and Centers. For more information, please see the University's page.

-- John Mulhern III, Lead for Client Technologies, ISC Technology Support Services

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Date Posted: August 15, 2012

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