Windows 8 Update: Microsoft sets Oct. 26 release date

EU eyeballs Windows 8 browser policy, tablet keyboards with brains

Microsoft has set Oct. 26 as the release date for the commercial version of Windows 8 - a date IT pros should mark on their calendars, not because they want to immediately buy it in bulk, but because they need to find out just how it will fit into their corporate network plans.

With the bulk of Windows shops running on Windows 7 and another sizeable chunk hustling to switch to it from Windows XP, there's no compelling business reason to latch onto Windows 8 any time soon.

But there is ample reason to check it out. With its touch-friendly Metro user interface, the operating system really does present a different way of navigating through applications. The big question is whether that difference offers a better way of accomplishing work tasks, and that's the question IT decision makers have to answer.

HELP: Why, when and how to migrate to Windows 8 

Can workers using desktops get just as much work done on Windows 8 as Windows 7 using a keyboard and mouse? That's the minimum requirement. Will the Metro interface and touch capabilities get more work done on existing desktop hardware? That's the real question, the answer to which needs quantifying.

Will tablets outfitted with the Microsoft Office get more work done? Windows 8's catering to tablets is the big difference between it and Windows 7, so businesses need to look carefully at what benefits it will bring to productivity.

The answers will vary business to business, and those who are mapping corporate planning should remember the arrival of Windows 8 isn't happening in a vacuum. It's coming out amid a flood of other software updates - Office 2013, Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, SQL Server 2012 - that require consideration and, if found worthy, deployment. Adding desktop overhauls to the list without compelling business gains makes no sense.

RELATED: Users find Microsoft System Center 2012 simplifies virtual systems management duties 

European Union investigates Windows 8 browser policy

The European Union has found that Microsoft failed to offer Windows 7 customers in Europe a screen on which they could choose what browser they wanted to use, prompting EU regulators to ask whether the same problem is likely to crop up in Windows 8, Reuters reports.

Microsoft failed to include the Windows 7 browser-choice as it agreed to, setting itself up for possible fines, and also for an investigation into whether Microsoft is cutting other browsers out of Windows 8.

BACKGROUND: Firefox, Chrome cry foul over Windows 8 ARM 

In May Mozilla and Google protested that their browser teams weren't getting access to APIs that would enable their browsers to perform advanced functions on the Windows 8 version made for ARM-based devices and known as Windows RT. That flavor of the new operating system will only be sold to consumers installed on hardware devices - never as standalone software.

The claim of Mozilla and Google was that being left out stymied competition and was ultimately bad for customers who will have no choice but to use Internet Explorer. Back then Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson predicted that the EU probe might be result.

"If Windows on ARM is simply another version of Windows on new hardware," he blogged, "it also runs afoul of the EC browser choice and seems to represent the very behavior the DOJ-Microsoft settlement sought to prohibit."

Microsoft has said it wants to lock down the software that is allowed on Windows RT devices in order to insure the machines perform well and are less susceptible to rogue applications that could carry worms, viruses and other malware.

Smart keyboards

Microsoft put a lot of thought into what's the best keyboard for Windows 8 tablets and came up with two answers.

First, a QWERTY keyboard for users to type on with all their fingers, and then a split QWERTY keyboard with the halves pushed out toward the right and left edges for typing with thumbs.

They concluded that since fingertips can't feel keys on a tablet screen the way they can on a mechanical keyboard, their touches tend to drift over time and miss the areas designated for the letters they are trying to hit.

To address this Microsoft programmed in some smarts that guess which key was actually being aimed for. First, it factors in common mistakes made because of the mechanics of the hand, such as often hitting the o key when aiming for the p because fingers tend to curve in that way. Second, it considers the context of the words being typed and guesses at which word is likely to follow the others already entered.

The keyboards have a feature for finding special letter keys needed for typing foreign languages, too. By holding a key down, related letters with accents pop up around it. Users pick the one they want by swiping at it with their finger still on the glass. So to get an e as in flambé, users would keep their finger on the e key and get the option shown below:

After much deliberation, developers left off the top row of numbers and symbols as a tradeoff for having larger letter keys while minimizing how much of the screen gets taken up by the keyboard. Tapping a number/symbol key calls up a different keyboard with just numbers and symbols. Numbers are arranged as they are on mobile phones with 123 across the top rather than as they are on many PC keyboards with 123 across the bottom. This is because users have become familiar with the phone-style layout.

Low-power Intel tablets

Intel CEO Paul Otellini says he's aware of more than 20 Windows 8 tablets that are in the pipeline for PC makers, including some based on Intel's Clover Trail Atom system on a chip. And he sees tablets based on traditional Intel core processors as well, according to a transcript of a conference call he held with analysts about the company's second quarter financial results that was posted by seekingalpha.com.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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