by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft’s Deafening Silence on Windows 8 Tablet Features

May 26, 20114 mins
Data Center

Microsoft has been tight-lipped about Windows 8, but the company is finally taking tablets seriously. Here are four reasons why.

Microsoft can’t seem to get people to zip it about Windows 8, even its own CEO and its most valued partner.

At a developers conference in Tokyo this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gaffed by saying that Windows 8 will be called, um, “Windows 8” and that it will “come out next year” according to a transcript posted on Microsoft’s site.

Not exactly earth-shattering news. Everyone and their brother has been calling the next version “Windows 8” and it’s widely assumed that it will release three years after Windows 7.

Windows 8
A leaked product slide of a Dell Windows 8 tablet, scheduled for an early 2012 release.

Yet skittish Microsoft marketing folk — careful not to reveal anything about Windows 8 — came running with statements that Ballmer may have misspoke about the “timing and naming for the next version of Windows.”

This comes a week after skittish Microsoft marketing folk denied the validity of comments by long-time partner, Intel, that Windows 8 will be released in both ARM-based and x86-based versions, and that the ARM version will not run legacy Windows apps.

For all the hullabaloo about product names and release dates, Windows 8 is not under the pressure that the successful Windows 7 was under to redeem a troubled predecessor. But Windows 8 needs to be, in fact has to be, more flexible than Windows 7. Which is another way of saying it needs to work flawlessly on tablet PCs.

Tablets have haunted Microsoft over the past year. There’s a booming market out there led by the iPad (19 million units sold to date) and Windows 7 simply cannot be rejiggered into a tablet OS. In its typical fashion, Microsoft will be the last to arrive with tablets if Windows 8 indeed arrives “next year” as Ballmer promised. But after Windows Phone’s tardy entrance in mobile, we’re all getting used to Microsoft being late.

Windows 8 will not be a major update to Windows 7, except with regards to tablet functionality and compatibility. And tablets are a must for Microsoft if it wants to be a player in the rapidly approaching post-PC era.

Although it has been very tight-lipped about Windows 8 features, Microsoft has revealed enough to know that the company is finally taking tablets seriously. Here are four reasons why.

(Note: These Windows 8 features are not official — except the Windows 8/ARM compatibility — and are based on speculation and leaked slides and videos.)

Windows and ARM Compatibility

The first indication of a tablet affinity was at CES in January when Microsoft announced that Windows 8 will support System on a Chip (SoC) architectures, including ARM-based systems from partners NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

ARM-based chips, designed for low power consumption and long battery life, are used in all smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has always run Windows to run on higher-performance x86 chips from Intel and AMD. It has never allowed Windows to port to ARM-based processors … until now.

A Possible Windows 8 App Store

The rumor mill is hot with Microsoft plans to release an app store with Windows 8. The upcoming “Lion” Apple Mac OS X will release with an app store built in, and newly released Google Chrome OS has its Chrome Web Store. Application stores are a new thing for desktop OSes, but are integral to a tablet OS (Apple App Store for iOS, Android Market for Android, BlackBerry App World for QNX on BlackBerry Playbooks). Windows 8 will definitely need an app store of its own.

Better Power Consumption and Faster Boot-Up

The use of power-saving ARM-based chips in Windows 8 should greatly extend battery life on tablets running the OS. In addition, Microsoft is reportedly making changes to the kernel such as removing timers that normally interrupt Windows when it is trying to save power. Windows 7’s limited battery life has been a frequent complaint about the OS.

To accelerate boot-up and shut-down times, Windows 8 will reportedly merge the “hibernation” and “shut down” options to speed up the process.

Battery life and faster start times are important for a laptop, but they are essential for a tablet.

Built to Touch

Windows’ lack of touch-screen capability has been a black mark, but Microsoft is reportedly building a sophisticated touch-based UI within Windows 8, according to

A leaked video (that was pulled by Microsoft’s legal department) revealed that Microsoft will use its Metro user interface on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets. Metro is the UI used on Windows Phones, Zune and Windows Media Center.

Fluid touch-screen functionality is an absolute prerequisite for a tablet OS, and it appears that Microsoft is making touch a priority for Windows 8.

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at