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First look: Windows 8 breaks new ground

Windows 8 unifies Microsoft operating systems from the smartphone to the server

By Tom Henderson, Network World
January 23, 2012 12:07 AM ET

Network World - The first public beta for Windows 8 is expected to be released in February, but we've been testing pre-beta code in our lab. Our overall impression is that Windows 8 represents an aggressive effort by Microsoft to deliver a single OS that runs just about everywhere and takes on all of Microsoft's key rivals.

There's a tablet edition that targets Apple's iPad, a server edition with virtualization features aimed at VMware, and a smartphone OS to challenge the iPhone and Android markets.

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Over the years, Microsoft has gone back and forth on having more than one code base for its operating systems. Windows started with two versions, one that ran on DOS and another that ran natively on hardware. These two code bases were united in Windows 2000, but were separated in the Windows XP versions, Windows CE, and Windows Server.

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Windows 8 attempts to run a similar kernel across target devices once again. Eventually Windows 8 will run on smartphones and tablets through notebooks and desktops (although there is currently no publicly released code called Windows 8 for Windows Phone). Server versions run from static server devices to more modular Windows 8 server constructs targeted at hypervisors.

Microsoft very much wants the world to use its Hyper-V hypervisor rather than VMware and Windows 8 targets VMware features. Microsoft also places a strong emphasis on Windows 8 fluidity on hypervisors, adding data center administrative controls, as it targets Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

We tested Windows 8 on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, on Lenovo notebooks, HP desktops, and as a virtual machine with Parallels on a Mac. We tested server versions on HP servers running native Microsoft Hyper-V and also on VMware vSphere in our lab, and in our network operations center cabinet at nFrame in Carmel, Ind.

Only rarely, and under high pressure, did it explode — and then, only on the Lenovos when we pushed it hard. The client side is interesting, but we found the Windows 8 Server changes and additions are more compelling.

Client and Controversies

There are now two directions for Windows UI in Windows 8, and two directions for CPU support in the client versions.

Microsoft introduced the Metro UI first with Windows Phone 7 and is now extending Metro to other touchscreen-capable devices like tablets. Metro is an "active frame" icon-based UI and system that doesn't run traditionally .Net Framework or Silverlight apps. Today, Metro is available on tablets and smartphone, but Microsoft plans to extend Metro to other platforms.

With Windows 8, Microsoft adds support for ARM family processors, currently 32-bit CPUs poised towards smartphone and tablet devices. Market demand for servers also based on ARM (example: from HP's MoonShot ultra-high density CPU project that runs high densities of ARM Calxeda CPUs), may mean that Microsoft ports and evolves server-based support for ARM as well.

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