Although still early in the process, newly leaked documents about Windows 8 offer some keen insight into where Microsoft wants to head with the next version of the operating system.
One thing that is made abundantly clear is that Microsoft has been paying attention to Apple. In the documents, which appear to come from an April meeting with computer makers, Microsoft discusses its Cupertino, Calif.-based rival and outlines plans to offer a Windows Store similar to the way Apple distributes software on its iPhone. The documents, which Microsoft has declined to comment on or authenticate, also talk about plans to give Windows a more iPad-like response time through new power management settings.
In particular, one slide titled "How Apple Does It: A Virtuous Cycle," talks about the need for simplicity in design. "Apple brand is known for high quality, uncomplicated, 'it just works,'" the slide says, adding that "This is something people will pay for!"
Other slides don't directly reference Apple, but talk about the need for a number of features popularized by its products, including the App Store, as well as a more instant-on feel.
Although Windows has continued to dominate the PC market, still holding roughly 95 percent of global market share, it faces a significant threat from mobile operating systems looking to encroach on the low end of the computer market, including the iPad and Android-based devices.
Hewlett-Packard, which originally talked about plans for a Windows 7-based slate PC in January, now refuses to say whether it will build that product and has since announced plans to buy Palm in a deal expected to close shortly. Microsoft has been working on tablets for nearly a decade and, as early as 2005, outlined the hardware trends that would enable a device like the iPad. Thus far, however, only Apple has been able to create a hit with consumers.
Among the goals outlined for Windows 8 are some features that would appear to be aimed at making Windows more competitive in this market, including improved simplicity, better support of touch and gestures, as well as support for smaller-size screens.
Although the iPad is not referenced directly, the presentation does refer to the slate form factor as a "center of gravity," alongside laptops and all-in-ones.
To achieve quicker boot-up, Microsoft is looking at several things, including a new combination of logging off and hibernating a machine that would offer a faster boot-up than a full restart. That combination would become the default on-off behavior, though just what to name the setting is still a question mark, according to the documents. The company is also looking to resume from sleep in less than a second, according to the documents.
"Windows 8 PCs turn on fast, nearly instantly in some cases, and are ready to work without any long or unexpected delays," reads one of dozens of slides posted to enthusiast site Microsoft Kitchen, among other places.
Of course, the goal of instant-on PCs is a long held, but as yet unrealized aspiration. Microsoft significantly improved its boot-up, resume, and shut-down times with Windows 7, but they all pale when compared to the nearly instantaneous response one gets from a mobile device such as the iPhone or iPad.
As for the store, Microsoft apparently plans to let each computer maker brand the store under their own name. Among the benefits to consumers would be the ability to access those applications on any PC they own. It is also outlined as an opportunity for partners to make money after the PC sale, though it is described as "revenue neutral" for Windows, suggesting that perhaps Microsoft is not planning to take a cut of sales.
One slide suggests that, in an earlier forum with hardware makers, Microsoft heard that such a store is seen as needed as soon as possible, though this is clearly a tricky undertaking with Microsoft having to balance the needs of software creators, consumers, partners, resellers, and the PC makers--not to mention Microsoft itself.
The slides also offer up a time frame for Internet Explorer 9, suggesting a beta of the new browser is expected by August. Microsoft has had developer platform previews of IE9, but those have lacked a significant user interface and other features. The beta, according to the slides, will be the "first release of full IE functionality."