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Microsoft at CES - A quick glance at Windows 8 and the rest

01.09.2011
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CES 2011 wasn't the place where we could find out more about the upcoming release of Windows 8. And not because it is a system that doesn't bring anything innovative, but rather because this year Microsoft decided to focus on the entertainment side of their products. And that is understandable - CES is probably the place for that, since announcements about engineering news are usually made at MIX and PDC. Nonetheless, we saw some pretty interesting things coming up.

I will go ahead and start with Windows 8 since this is the product I am mostly interested in. There was a quick demo where Mike Angiulo showed what Windows 8 will bring to the table platform-wise. No, no new UI was shown. There was the standard Windows 7 shell, but the interesting fact was that the new build supported SoC (system on a chip) architectures. Windows 8 running on energy-efficient but at the same time quite performant ARM processors is pretty exciting stuff. The thing that popped up in my mind was - well what about large software packages? There are enough problems with some 32bit/64bit software (maybe not to that extent but still), so what's it going to be with ARM? And then Mike showed Office 2010 re-compiled for ARM. That being said, I would say that probably with the release of Windows 8 Microsoft will also release some development tools that will allow you to re-compile applications to support the ARM instruction set. Besides, knowing the current focus on the .NET development platform, it will not be too big of a problem for developers to adapt their current solutions since the application compilation flow goes through MSIL first before compiling to native code. So all that's going to be needed is a MSIL-to-ARM compiler. So that's another thing I am excited about - new tools for the .NET platform (anyone seeing .NET 5 coming with ARM support built-in?).

Other than Windows 8 sneak peek, there was a quick presentation of what's new for Xbox 360. First of all, Kinect is one of the focus devices in the entertainment division (and it was for a while) - the new update will let the device track not only the basic body motion, but also some details like facial expressions and finger movements. As precise as it gets, you will be able to have a full virtual representation of yourself as a Xbox Avatar. This update will be coming to Xbox sometime this spring, also bringing updates for media platform, including Hulu Plus, a premium TV show and movie streaming service somewhat similar to Netflix and the possibility to organize live Kinect Avatar chat sessions - the ability to record talk shows or simply sit down with your friends represented as their Xbox Avatars and talk about whatever you want. And it all will be integrated with Kinect, of course.

We saw the updated Samsung-powered Surface, now less of a table and more of a screen that can be tilted and placed vertically. It is now much thinner and it uses a different technology to track touch input. Although still not targeting simple users, it is a perfect device for places where information should be available to lots of people in minimal amounts of time, like airports or public service locations. Why it's not for private use? The main factor here is price, and the even compared to the price of its predecessor, it will still be quite a hit on someone's wallet. But it's not available for public purchase anyway, so consumers who thought they might get one for their living room will have to wait. By the way, Surface 1.0 is discontinued and no longer sold.

Microsoft also showcased some new devices running Windows 7, specifically a tablet and two laptops that have an unusual form factor. One of them was an Asus that used a secondary screen instead of a keyboard (of course supporting touch input) and a fan-less netbook from Samsung that can be easily switched to a tablet by sliding the screen panel. 

And of course there was a presentation about Windows Phone 7.

Overall, I would say that it was more of a recap of what 2010 brought us from Microsoft, but nonetheless it is interesting to see where the company is focusing its efforts.