Windows 8, Windows Server 8 Take Limelight in Build Postmortem

Analysts at consultancy Directions on Microsoft summarized the basic feature changes for Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 that Microsoft outlined during last week's Build conference, as well as speculated on future trends.

As analyst Michael Cherry summed up during a webinar on Thursday, Microsoft now has two client operating system models: Metro and classic. The classic model (Microsoft calls it "desktop") runs on the familiar desktop with icons and toolbars. The Metro model, which looks like the Windows Phone user interface, features "live tiles" (apps that update on the desktop), a landscape view (which can be turned into a portrait view) and 16:9 aspect ratio for screens.

Microsoft introduced a new Windows Runtime (WinRT) for Metro-style touchscreen apps, while keeping a classic desktop mode for x86/x64 apps. WinRT provides APIs to get to kernel OS services and hardware. Microsoft's main emphasis at its Build conference was to show developers how to exploit the Metro UI for touch-enabled applications, Cherry explained.

Like most analyst groups, Directions of Microsoft also redrew Microsoft's new OS architectural chart to suit their interpretation of the changes:

Directions on Microsoft's WinRT model view
[Click on image for larger view.]
Directions on Microsoft's take on Microsoft's new Windows Runtime and desktop OS models. Source: Directions on Microsoft.

For other interpretations, see this article by veteran Microsoft observer Mary-Jo Foley.

Windows 8
The Windows 8 desktop (for classic apps) will be "100 percent compatible" with Windows 7 apps, according to analyst Rob Sanfilippo. He speculated that Microsoft may be "pushing off" desktop apps in favor of Metro-style apps in the future, based on Microsoft's revised Windows 8 roadmap. He said that he wasn't sure if Silverlight would be supported on Metro-style apps, although Microsoft has already indicated that Internet Explorer 10, which ships with Windows 8, will lack plug-ins, which is the traditional place for adding Silverlight support in Microsoft's browser. Sanfilippo noted that a lot of the skills a developer might use in Silverlight are present in Windows 8, such as XAML support.

Microsoft added Hyper-V 3.0 to the Windows 8 client OS, with the hypervisor being dependent on x64 hardware from AMD or Intel to run, Cherry said. He expressed some new skepticism about ARM-based servers popping up running Windows Server 8, mostly because Hyper-V is such an important server application for Microsoft.

"Hyper-V is key to Windows Server, and that eliminates ARM on the server side because you would have to have a hypervisor that would run on ARM," Cherry noted.

Microsoft has said that it will support x86, x64 and ARM platforms on Windows 8. However, Cherry noted that x86 apps would require work to port to the ARM platform. The changes needed to make line-of-business apps run on Windows 8 ARM are not known, he said. Microsoft has been noncommittal even about porting Microsoft Office to ARM. Moreover, the ARM platform might prove to be somewhat complex, with multiple deviations arising, he said.

Cherry advised caution when talking about cross-platform apps and said it might be time to deemphasize x86. He cited Hyper-V 3.0's orientation toward x64 hardware as an example. Cherry also said that there might be issues around device drivers that won't allow apps work across platforms. AMD and Intel are working to make x86 chips more power-efficient, but that's still an unknown factor. Overall, Cherry guessed that Microsoft showed technology that might enable "85 percent" cross-platform compatibility, but there will be some "gotchas" along the way, he added.

Windows Server 8
As for Windows Server 8, Microsoft is expressing a preference toward running Windows Core infrastructure. Windows Core is a stripped-down version of the server that was first introduced with Windows Server 2008.

"Microsoft is saying we should be running [Windows Server 8] in Core mode," Cherry said.

Windows Server 8 uses Hyper-V 3.0, which adds support for 160 logical processors and 2 TB of RAM. Virtual machine (VM) support includes support for 32 virtual processors, 512 GB of RAM and more than 2 TB of virtual hard drive support. Microsoft improved its "live migration" feature in Windows 8, allowing VMs to be moved to various machines with little interruption to end users.

Microsoft added deduplication support for storage, along with Server Message Block 2.2 protocol support for a pooled storage feature in Windows Server 8. Sanfilippo noted that deduplication now becomes a feature of Windows Server 8 storage whereas it typically had been handled by third-party software vendors in the past. Microsoft added support for single-instance storage, which is a file-based storage system that allows IT pros to get below the blocks of storage, according to analyst Wes Miller.

Another Windows Server 8 addition is IP address mobility, which makes it easier to move services between datacenters. Microsoft added PowerShell 3.0 and improved Windows Server 8's capabilities for managing multiple servers and multiple roles.

On the developer tools side, Microsoft introduced Visual Studio 11, Model View Controller 4 and Expression Blend 5, which now includes HTML 5 support. There's also a new .NET Framework 4.5 to support the development of "legacy" apps, according to Sanfilippo.

Microsoft's new Windows Store is a place for developers to sell Metro-style apps, but Sanfilippo said that "side-loading Metro apps" will be permitted in Windows Store. The details aren't clear, but these side-loading apps might be reserved for line-of-business-type applications, Sanfilippo explained.

The Directions on Microsoft analysts noted that there were a lot of glitches during the keynote-talk demos at Microsoft's Build conference. Microsoft calls the current release of Windows 8 a "developer preview." However, Cherry called it a "prebeta," while Sanfilippo described it as a "pre-alpha."

Microsoft has not announced when it will release Windows 8 or Windows Server 8 into general availability. However, Cherry speculated that we might see a beta of Windows 8 in the first half of 2012, with the release candidate appearing in mid-2012. The general release to the public could occur in late 2012 or in 2013. However, Cherry noted that Microsoft will have a lot of testing on its hands to make that schedule because of the substantial changes done in Windows 8.

Cherry further speculated that we could see a release of Windows Server 8 first before the client OS. He said that there could also be a "staggered release cycle" for Windows 8 based on the various architectures supported.

The webinar on Microsoft's new roadmap can be accessed here by subscribers to Directions on Microsoft services. The consultancy firm also produces enterprise roadmap reports on Microsoft's evolving software stack; a sample can had here.



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