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Windows 8: Is It Any Cop?

Surprise! The company that is responsible for the operating system what runs on most of our computers is planning a new version. Again. Following on from the success of Windows 7 comes, for once logically, Windows 8. Major changes are afoot in the world of Windows, and some of those changes might even be relevant to us. Microsoft is currently holding its Build conference, intended for developers to get clued up about what's going on with their latest OS version - if you've got a spare couple of hours, why not fill them with Microsoft employees talking about Windows 8 by watching the Keynote presentation here? Or don't, because it's a bit dry. So here's my summary of the more game-relevant bits...

  • Touch first, Metro UI. This is the big new thing. Previous iterations of Windows have had support for touch screen controls (I think at least as far back as XP), but with Windows 8, there is a whole new UI designed around touch interface. You will still be able to use keyboard and mouse for everything, and you can also easily switch back to the classic Windows interface if you prefer. "Metro" is the name they give to swish menus with panning and zooming, following on from 'Aero', which powers Vista/7's 3D and translucent bits.
  • Fundamental performance gains: On a 3 year old netbook, for example, the current build of Windows 8 uses 281MB of RAM, whereas Windows 7 would use 404mb. Extra RAM being available for games could be quite nice to have, especially on older systems.
  • All Windows 7 apps will work on Windows 8. In fact, they said "Everything that runs on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8", so that's that. Hopefully it means no nasty compatibility issues with games and other software alike
  • Xbox Live Integration. This is the one where it's hard to tell exactly what to expect. What they clearly do not mean is being able to put Xbox discs in your PC, despite hysterical claims along those lines from other parts of the internet. Xbox's global mouthpiece, Major Nelson, shares some vagaries about the plan for Xbox on Windows 8 over on his blog here, but it seems to me like, aside from now including their marketplace for games inside the OS, along with their services for music, movies and TV , the key focuses are going to be on sharing achievements and social guff between the various Microsoft and Windows platforms, and "touch first" Metro-style games, which potentially could be cross developed for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 (and Nvidia seem to think WP7 apps will run natively on Windows 8).
  • Built in app store. From what they've shown, it looks like they are going to have a marketplace for "apps" which will be relatively open for developers. There will be a certification process, but they intend to make it "as transparent as possible". It supports paid and free apps, and developers can optionally include demos. It's not clear what, if any, barriers they might erect against developers wanting to publish on their marketplace, and what restrictions they might have around Xbox integration.
  • The developer preview of Windows 8 is now available, so if you want to play with an early version of it, go ahead.
  • What do we think? Is anyone already making plans to camp outside PC World come release day? Obviously the real big push here is to make Windows work as a hybrid Tablet/Desktop OS, building on the fairly solid base of Win7 as a Desktop OS. Having a tablet that you can hook up to a PC and mouse and turn into a proper PC sounds nice, and I can see how the new Metro interface would be highly attractive to non-expert users - but I can't really imagine the majority of desktop users abandoning their keyboards and mice in exchange for a touchscreen any time soon.

    Still, if this OS helps touchscreen monitors for desktop become a bit more widespread, I can think of plenty of PC games where touchscreen controls, in addition to keyboard and mouse, could be a nice addition.

    Is Microsoft still relevant to PC gaming? Do we think any of these Windows 8 features will help shape the future of PC gaming? Is anyone out there still using XP? And could a successful Windows App Store potentially spell bad times for Steam et al?

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    Lewie Procter