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Microsoft begins cagey Windows 8 disclosures

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Microsoft has promised to start sharing technical information about Windows 8 – just don't get too excited or expect too much.

Windows and Windows Live president Steven Sinofsky has launched the Building Windows 8 blog to talk about features in the operating system that is expected to hit beta next month.

Kicking off the blog, Sinofsky said people have expressed frustration over how little the software giant has talked about Windows 8, but said Microsoft has been burned in the past by being too open and talkative.

He is referring to Windows Vista, where the executive big guns laid out major new features, only for Microsoft to retreat as the delayed operating system was re-architected.

"We've certainly learned lessons over the years about the perils of talking about features before we have a solid understanding of our ability to execute," Sinofsky said on his inaugural blog post here.

"Our intent with this pre-release blog is to make sure that we have a reasonable degree of confidence in what we talk about, before we talk about it."

Microsoft demo'ed the Windows 8 interface in June, while in January it said Windows 8 would run on systems on a chip, including ARM, for the very first time.

People are obviously clamouring for the technical details but all Microsoft has given us so far is "wait and see".

A big question looms over how Windows 8 will achieve compatibility with older apps built for x86 and which are not running on ARM. This has been a major bone of contention between Microsoft and Intel, the chip giant which was once one of Microsoft's biggest partners. Intel is now forced to share its love with SoC rivals like ARM as Microsoft tries to break into tablets against Apple's iPad.

In a heated exchange in May, Intel claimed Windows on ARM wouldn't run legacy apps. Microsoft took the unusual step of issuing a statement slapping down its partner, calling Intel's comments inaccurate and misleading.

It had been Sinofsky himself, when Microsoft announced Windows 8 on ARM in January, who had claimed compatibility was not a big deal. He said Microsoft had a native version of Word – built for x86 – running on ARM.

At June's preview, Microsoft had showed a touchy, tile-like Windows 8 interface that looked similar to Windows Phone. It has not, however, talked about how the apps are built.

Meanwhile, we are looking forward to an interface and application build model that could see apps purchased and downloaded from Microsoft's Windows Marketplace to PCs running Windows 8.

With all that in mind, don't expect Sinofsky's Windows 8 blog to be the place for thrills as the goal is not to generate traffic or build excitement. "This blog is here to provide a two-way dialogue about the complexities and tradeoffs of product development," Sinofsky said flatly.

Rebooting the past

Sinofsky foreshadowed the launch of Windows 7 in October 2009 in exactly the same way, with the Engineering Windows 7 blog. He talked of a two-way dialogue there, too.

It was Sinofsky who picked up the pieces of Windows engineering in the wake of Windows Vista by first leading the Windows and Widows Live Engineering Group and then being promoted Windows Division president in 2009. He then began asserting fresh control over the broken Windows development process.

Microsoft's man is famed for retaining tight control on how things are built and on how his division is managed – and what it says to the outside world.

The Windows 8 blog is an example of Sinofsky not just controlling the timing of what's said, but also what information is transmitted.

Based on the experience of the Windows 7 blog and the blog of the Internet Explorer team (the IE team is part of Sinofsky's group), there will be lots of long explanations about how and why features were picked and decisions arrived at. Also, expect plenty of benchmark and performance charts.

Sinofsky was therefore right to warn against any excitement and it seems you'll have to wait for the real technical news at Microsoft's Build Conference in Anaheim, California, next month, where it has promised to deliver engineering details on Windows 8 and the first beta is expected. ®

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