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TechEd Day 2: Microsoft Outlines 'Enterprise Ready' Windows 8

Microsoft's Day 2 keynote today at TechEd focused on the basics of Windows 8, contending it will be ready for the enterprise when available.

Antoine Leblond, corporate vice president for Windows Web Services at Microsoft, offered no news about Microsoft's latest operating system, which is currently available as a "release preview" test version and expected for final release in the fall. His presentation mostly seemed designed to get IT pros and developers onboard with a theme that "Windows 8 is enterprise ready by design." However, much of the talk concerned Microsoft's somewhat opaque new user interfaces in Windows 8.

Leblond covered Windows 8's dual "desktop" and "Metro" UIs. Demos showed how touch and keyboard-plus-mouse controls can be used interchangeably. The use of "charms" was discussed. Charms are OS controls that are accessible by users and even by applications. For instance, applications can use the charms to share data. On Windows 8, the five charms (Settings, Devices, Share, Search, and Start) are accessed by swiping the screen from the right to the left, or by clicking the left corner of the screen with a mouse.

Windows 8 radically departs from past Windows releases to accommodate a more mobile, touch-controlled scenario that's typically associated with smartphones and consumer devices. Leblond partly acknowledged the shift. He claimed that the current flagship Windows 7 OS has its architectural and file-structure roots in Windows 95, which was released almost 17 years ago. Microsoft has sold more than 600 million licenses of Windows 7 since its release, according to Leblond, but the PC-centric world is changing. He noted that "now, over 70 percent of the PCs that people will buy are laptops" and that "we're moving to a world where the majority of PCs are running off a battery."

Better Than Windows 7
Despite the popularity of Windows 7, Leblond said that "Windows 8 first and foremost is a better OS than Windows 7." Microsoft improved how files are copied in its new OS, he argued, and worked to improve the battery lifetime, with a goal of getting the CPU use-state down to zero between the use of apps. Microsoft also enabled greater connectivity and the ability to take advantage of cloud-based services in Windows 8, he argued.

Leblond also suggested that Windows 8 offers a certain degree of backward compatibility. He claimed that a logo-based PC capable of running Windows 7 will be capable of running Windows 8. Moreover, the applications that ran on Windows 7 will still work with the new OS, he claimed.

Linda Averett, director of program management for developer experience in Windows, showed Windows 8 in action during the keynote. She assured the TechEd audience that the old keyboard-plus-mouse controls would still work -- even with touch-centric Metro applications.

"Office 2013 RT"
Averett briefly showed the next version of Microsoft Office running on the desktop side of an ARM-based Windows RT (WinRT) device, which possibly represented its first public airing. The version shown was labeled "Office 2013 RT," according to an account by veteran Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley. A beta release of Office 15 is expected sometime this summer.

In February, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows Division, had noted that a future code-named Office "15" would run on WinRT devices as a desktop app. Sinofsky did not mention a Metro-style version of Office 15 at the time, but Microsoft reportedly is working on one. Some media accounts have suggested that WinRT systems would ship with Office 15 included. However, Microsoft hasn't been explicit on the details.

Windows 8 Management
Averett said that Windows 8 comes with the ability to put IT-sanctioned images on a USB memory stick, allowing users to boot from it. IT pros can produce an image that can be taken home, she explained, and it can come with BitLocker drive encryption. Although she didn't mention it, Microsoft has previously described this capability as a separate product, called "Windows To Go." BitLocker encryption will be available via Windows To Go or via the Enterprise edition of Windows 8 for x86/x64 devices. It's not clear if Microsoft plans to offer BitLocker with WinRT systems.

A few Windows 8 security details were discussed. Averett claimed that the app model for Metro apps adds a layer of security. Apps need to pass muster before being included in the Windows Store through the Windows App Certification Kit (WACK), which honors the principle that you don't change the state of the machine, she explained.

She also talked about WinRT and the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) specification for "secure boot," which Microsoft has made mandatory for WinRT tablets (but not for x86/x64 devices). Secure boot verifies "all code in the boot path before it runs," according to Averett.

Although secure boot is described as part of the UEFI spec, members of the Linux community have objected to it being mandated by Microsoft because it requires certificates for an OS to run on hardware, which can pose problems if users want to run Linux natively on these WinRT systems. The latest proposed solution to this problem, as floated by Red Hat, is for Linux OS developers to pay $99 to Verisign to have the ability to sign binaries on WinRT devices.

A few other Windows 8 management details were mentioned in the talk. Averett said that IT pros will be able to use "the same management infrastructure that you use today to manage the device." Password character details can be controlled and Auto Update can be specified. Windows 8 will allow IT pros to both provision or deprovision a device, facilitating scenarios where employees can bring their own devices to work.

There are several ways to get Metro-style apps on a Windows 8 ARM tablet, Averett said. There is a Metro style Remote Desktop Protocol client to access business apps on a WinRT tablet. It's also possible to install your own Metro-style apps on an ARM tablet, she added, referring to a portal approach. Microsoft has previously described this as a cloud-enabled service to deliver applications. The main issue with getting apps on Windows 8 is that they have to be signed to the OS, which is a new security feature.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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