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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 13, 2011 at 9:07 AM

Windows 8 show begins, gets geeky, free preview code tonight

ANAHEIM, Calif. — For his first demonstration of Windows 8 opening Microsoft’s BUILD conference, Steven Sinofsky pulled out a well-worn old netbook – the same one he brought to Anaheim three years ago to show an early build of Windows 7.

Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft, drew the first applause from the 5,000 developers at the show not because of the flash and potency of the software.

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Instead, Sinofsky showed that Windows 8 is actually more efficient and uses less memory than its predecessor. On the netbook – with an Atom processor and 1 gigabyte of memory – Win8 used 281 megabytes of memory versus the 404 drawn by an early version of Windows 7.

Playing to the audience, Sinofsky then showed the netbook’s task manager showing the load on the netbook as it ran the two operating systems.

The next whoops came when Julie Larson Green, vice president of Windows program management, showed the Windows 8 unlocking feature that lets you trace a pattern on the picture you’ve chosen as a screensaver.

“It feels like a different system – it’s fast, it’s fluid, it’s snappy, it’s alive,” Sinofsky said after they demonstrated the system’s new interface.

Then he dove into the platform’s underpinnings and new tools for developers.

Microsoft Vice President Antoine Leblond built a photo handling application called Photo Doodle using the new Visual Studio 11 Express tools. Leblond used HTML and said he only actually wrote about four lines of code.

To polish the application, he loaded Photo Doodle in a new version of Microsoft’s Expression Blend design software, where he adjusted the layout and was able to preview the application running in different configurations.

Including snippets of code pasted in during the demonstration, the application to choose photos and doodle on them took minimal code compared to other platforms, Leblond said.

“I challenge you to do that in 58 lines of code,” he said.

Then Leblond and Sinofsky loaded the app into Microsoft’s new Windows Store for applications. The store – which will compete with iTunes App Store and Google’s Android Market – isn’t ready for public consumption yet but Windows developers will now be able to start exploring the store and trying its validation system.

Microsoft’s going to review applications before they’re made available through its store. It’s also developing a rapid system for reviewing the system, with a console showinng developers their apps’ progress through each of the steps.

The console also includes analytics tools that show usage, bugs, ratings and details of how buyers discovered the app on the Web.

Leblond pasted the photo application he built on stage into a different field in Visual Studio, added a line of code and it became a Windows Phone 7 application.

Sinofsky said applications written for the Windows 8 “Metro” interface will run on all the different systems running the operating system, from full PCs to mobile systems based on ARM hardware similar to what’s used in smartphones and Web tablets.

“If you go and build your Metro style app …. that app will just run when ARM hardware is available,” he said.

A dozen or so different PCs were shown running the software, ranging from teraflop gaming towers to slates running Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile hardware and an upcoming 32 nanometer Intel Atom system-on-chip platform.

More cheers came when Michael Angiulo, vice president of Windows planning and ecosystem, demonstrated the USB 3.0 technology that’s built into Windows 8. He transferred a 1 gigabyte file in a few seconds, using an upcoming HP Phoenix desktop tower.

Some of the systems start up faster than the monitors to which they’re connected.

Angiulo said Windows 8 boots from hard drives up to 256 terabytes. “It’s like science fiction or something,” he said.

Sinofsky declined to provide a release date for Windows 8, saying the company’s focused on quality more than a ship date. The version distributed today is a “developer preview” that will be followed by a beta version and release candidates.

For his finale, Sinofsky said the preview version will be available for free to anyone to download starting at 8 p.m. tonight at dev.windows.com.

“No activation so you just download and install it … also no support,” Sinofsky said, adding that “that includes my inbox.”

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