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GUI Microsoft Operating Systems Software Upgrades Windows Technology

Windows 8 Desktop 'Just Another App'? 375

CWmike writes "Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, said this week that Windows 8 will let users treat the traditional desktop as 'just another app' that loads only on command. When it unveiled Windows 8's UI in June, Microsoft said it would feature a 'touch-first' interface to compete in the fast-growing tablet market. Underneath that, however, would be a traditional Windows-style desktop. 'Having both of [the] user interfaces [work] together harmoniously is an important part of Windows 8,' Sinofsky said in a blog post on Wednesday. The Metro-style UI — the one inspired by Windows Phone 7's tile-based design — will be the first to show up when a user boots a device. At that point, users reach a crossroads. 'If you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop — we won't even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there,' Sinofsky said. 'If you don't want to do ... 'PC' things, then you don't have to and you're not paying for them in memory, battery life or hardware requirements.' If using a conventional PC with keyboard and mouse, Windows 8 users will run an 'app' to load the desktop, he said. 'Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.'"
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Windows 8 Desktop 'Just Another App'?

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  • But (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Thursday September 01, 2011 @01:54PM (#37277074)
    This is the version of Windows that you skip, right? Every other version is the good version?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by grub ( 11606 )

      s/good/less shitty/

    • depends on how you count it (there was nothing wrong with windows 2000, nor was windows 95 or windows 98 the "skipable" release), but if you didn't know this was a version to skip just based on what's been revealed so far... you'll find out soon enough once you "upgrade" to it.

      Also, side note, Isn't this just disabling the auto-load of explorer.exe???

      • Well, 95 you went with OSR2. 2k you waited for SP2.. So maybe that's what they mean?
        • Don't forget Windows 98 SE....

        • Re:But (Score:4, Funny)

          by N0Man74 ( 1620447 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @05:08PM (#37279914)

          And XP wasn't useful until SP 2 also, right? (Yes, that is sarcasm)

          Win95 was worth upgrading to (from Win 3.1 or 3.11) even when Win95 was in beta. In fact, the only 2 versions of Windows that I can recall there being much resistance to were ME and Vista. You *could* skip Win98 if you already had 95 (in most situations), however there was no good reason to choose 95 over 98 if you had to choose one from the start (as might have happened between Vista vs XP, or ME vs 98SE).

          I think you are confusing Windows versions with Star Trek films..

          • Actually funny thing that, quite by accident I tripped over the reason why WinME sucked when i found a machine to this day that runs WinME beautifully. After doing some tests I found what the problem was in WinME it was....VXD drivers. the perfect machine had ONLY WDM drivers, and every test i ran on older machines around the shop showed WinME became unstable as hell with VXDs and just a pile of shit and bugs with VXDs and WDMs, which is what most machines were shipped with.

            Vista was just released waaaaay

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        depends on how you count it (there was nothing wrong with windows 2000, nor was windows 95 or windows 98 the "skipable" release)

        You forgot Win95 OSR2. Aka 'you have to buy a new PC if you want USB support'.

        • by armanox ( 826486 )

          NT SP4, 95 OSR2, 98 SE, XP SP2, shall we continue?

          • Actually, I think my windows OS experience (on computers I owned myself) went: 3.11, 95, 95osr2, 98, 98se, 2000, xp (waited until sp1 though. I liked 2000), vista, 7

            I didn't really skip any version except ME, and that's only because I had already upgraded to superior technology in the NT kernal with win2000. Looking back on them, the only one I think I really would have skipped would have been Vista, and maybe the original 98, and that's only because 98se came out so quick on the heel of 98 and remained the

        • I wasn't counting the non-named releases (although I ran them).

          If anything, the original win95 was the "it sucks" release compared to osr2. vanilla win95 is very much the "vista" to osr2's "win7". The thing is, even in all it's buggy crashy laggy form, The UI on vanilla win95 was a breath of fresh air compared to the suck that was windows 3.1 (and 3.11), so it doesn't fall in to the "it sucks worse than its predecessor" behavior that ME and Vista exhibit, only the "it sucks worse than its successor" behavio

      • Well to be fair with win2K you really needed to wait until SP2 before it was nice and stable, and Win98SE was a hell of a lot better than vanilla Win98.

        But everyone here seems to be missing the forest for the trees on why this has UBER FAIL written all over it, and frankly the only good that will come from Win 8 IMHO is Ballmer finally being forced to "pursue other interests". so what is the uber fail? Simple it is Placing Windows on ARM and calling it Windows which is a Titanic level disaster. It was like

    • I hope so. 2000, ME, XP, Vista, 7, 8, Next Version That Doesn't Suck.

    • by jo42 ( 227475 )

      I'm still running Windows XP you insensitive clod!

      • I wish I could still run Windows 2K - I would never had upgraded to XP if my computer had been able to run it. Although XP SP2 is a pretty good OS - even now.

        Come to think of it, My work computer has XP but with the classic 2K interface and the Lubuntu on my laptop at home has a grey task bar and 2K-style start menu. I guess I'm just old school.

    • It looks like they're not changing much on that one, just the shell (hey, several graphical shells that you can pick and choose ! that's Innovation ! oh, wait..), and a handful of drivers. I've given up hope on ReadyBoost for SSDs. So, MS might manage to not screw too badly up that mild update. Might not even be worth upgrading on the desktop. Stay tuned, though.

    • by dabadab ( 126782 )

      No, this is the version they never ship (like Cairo and Longhorn). What they ship instead is what you skip.

    • by bonch ( 38532 ) *

      Some of us aren't superstitious about numbers, thanks.

    • You're thinking of Star Trek movies.
    • There are good ones? Windows XP was tolerable, I suppose...

  • Finally (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mensa Babe ( 675349 ) * on Thursday September 01, 2011 @01:54PM (#37277076) Homepage Journal
    Before anyone jumps on the band wagon and says that we all have perfectly usable [] user space desktop apps for 28 years in the UNIX world, let me say that it is actually very important that now even Microsoft starts to understand that modularity is the way to go while designing complex systems. Moving various operating system components to the user space is just a logical conclusion of the research done during the last four decades. Look at the direction of modern OSii development, from MINIX [] to GNU []. Started by GNOSIS [], KeyKOS [], EROS [] and Coyotos [] this trend seems to suggest that it is much more natural and reliable to design a secure capability []-based system when all of the services are separated from each other. Now when even Microsoft is going in that direction - and it is not a trivial change for them, trust me - we can expect Apple and other OS vendors to follow which is a Good Thing. After all, even if people like you and me are using secure operating systems we still don't want to get spammed and dossed by all of the legacy machines out there. It turns out that the rumors that Microsoft is starting to take the latest research in operating systems seriously turned out to be true. This is good news for everyone.
    • It would be really nice for them to acknowledge that their OS is mostly mature and they're really only changing the GUI between releases. Of course, they can't completely act like that because it would kill one of their cash cows, but I could dream of no more MS-Windows installs, and just service pack releases to fix/change the GUI (and therefore ignore them when I don't like a release).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) *

        Why would it kill their cash cow? Let's take for example Windows XP which is considered mature by now. Don't give me the "security" aspects, as I know it is perfectly possible with modern applications to run XP in Limited User. Software doesn't spoil. Set up a small maintenance team for XP to roll out security patches. Sell XP for 35€ per license and from 2014 on (when the official support stops), charge a 5€/year subscription to fund the maintenance team.

        This would be an instant success, esp

        • Please let XP die.

          It is hard to support as I do not have all the options memorized on XP anymore as I stopped using it 4 years ago. I do not want to write workarounds for IE 7 and delay HTML 5 because XP users are stuck with IE 7 & IE 8 on XP. Firefox is not an option to support anymore anyway.

          It is 10 years old. It is like whinning that you need DOS and Windows 3.0 when XP first came out and refusing to upgrade demanding USB drivers be backported to DOS. That is silly.

          Keep in mind MS loses money and wh

        • Running as a limited user in XP is a complete pain for many things. Want to install an MSI package? You'll probably need to manually elevate msiexec.exe; XP won't do that automatically or give you a "Run as Administrator" option on an MSI file. Want to modify permissions on a file you don't own? Unless you're really good at running cacls from an elevated command line, you'll need to start an elevated Explorer session. Want to use any of the management consoles? Manually invoke MMC.exe elevated, or use eleva

    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Informative)

      by EvanED ( 569694 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [denave]> on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:17PM (#37277444)

      ...even Microsoft starts to understand that modularity is the way to go while designing complex systems. Moving various operating system components to the user space is just a logical conclusion of the research done during the last four decades.

      MS has understood that longer than you think; in fact, Windows is rather better in that regard than Linux is. Vista in particular was a big turning point with the introduction of the usermode driver framework (UMDF), which put a lot drivers in userspace. (I'm not sure of the details, e.g. whether the UMDF is the only option if you're writing such a driver.) Heck, the first version of NT back in 1990-whatever even put the graphics driver in usermode: if your graphics driver crashed, the system would just restart it. (Graphics drivers were moved into the kernel for performance reasons and remain there now.)

      As for explorer, I don't think it's ever run in kernel mode. It's always been "just another app" from the system's perspective. You can even replace explorer with another desktop environment if you'd like; I remember running Litestep back in Windows 98.

      What this article is about is the user's perspective. The standard desktop is no longer going to be the first thing you see when you turn on or log onto your computer, and you'll have to explicitly start it.

      (And their new "tile" thing will continue to run in userspace.)

      • by nomel ( 244635 )

        I remember running Half Life 1 as my desktop back with windows 95. It would, how should I put it,
        "If you don't want to do ... 'PC' things, then you don't have to and you're not paying for them in memory, battery life or hardware requirements."

      • My understanding was the printers, gamepads and the like got moved into UMDF, but most hardware wasn't. UMDF is the only option for non-signed drivers, and I've had trouble getting some to work properly (such as the PS3 controller in Windows). You still need to reboot to reload or change a driver.

      • they still can't "design" an attractive interface for shit! I give you the Windows 8 Explorer Toolbar Ribbon [].

        I've yet to meet the office worker that likes the Office style ribbon, which is exactly what it looks like.

    • by smelch ( 1988698 )
      Maybe I'm wrong, but explorer.exe has been user space for a while now. This sounds like they're just not loading explorer.exe on startup but instead loading metro.exe. I guess there would be some drivers and such that they may not load, but those wouldn't be user-space either way. You've been able to change the shell in windows for a long time. Even more than that, when the shell crashes, the machine and all the applications stay alive - you just need to restart explorer.exe through the task manager.

    • by bonch ( 38532 ) *

      You're making a big deal out of something trivial and, in my opinion, dumping a bunch of links for karma. You've always been able to change the shell in Windows. Some computer vendors even shipped their own shells for Windows 3.1, replacing Program Manager.

      Windows 8 simply doesn't load the resources for the desktop process if you don't use it, which is logical since this is intended to run on tablets.

      • With new Windows server OSes you can choose a "full" installation or a "core" installation. The core installation lacks a whole lot of shit, including the GUI. I mean you still have a mouse cursor and window manager, but the GUI as in explorer itself is missing. All command line interfacing (though as noted apps can run graphically if they wish). You can do it to save resources, though it can be a bit of a pain to administer.

        Sounds like this is just the next step in making shit like that easier. It can appl

    • by Misagon ( 1135 )

      Apple seem to be ahead of Microsoft already using capability-based security in the way that apps can be sandboxed in Mac OS X 10.7 ("Lion").
      In a sandboxed app, the app does not have complete access to the file system. The file-requester is part of the system and hands the app access to only those files that the user has selected.
      This reminds me a bit of how access to files was handled in "capdesk".

  • quitting the Finder on a Mac, since Finder runs as a (rather persistent) application.

    • Fun fact: So does Windows Explorer, which is responsible for generating the desktop, all "My Computer" windows (which are just Explorer windows without the sidebar), and the task bar.

      But that being said, I think this is a little less like quitting Explorer and a bit closer to quitting one's entire window manager.

      • by smelch ( 1988698 )
        Maybe I'm wrong, but when explorer.exe is closed, you don't see ANY windows until it is restarted. When it is restarted, everything is back in its rightful place though, so I'm not sure how far away explorer.exe is from the actual window manager since windows is... weird... about the distinction between a window manager, the shell and the window system.
        • No, the desktop disappears but your windows are fine if Explorer dies, unless they're Explorer windows that piggybacked on the original Explorer process. If you minimize a window it has nowhere to go and just disappears (alt-tab still works though). When Explorer starts back up it restores the desktop and repopulates the taskbar, but not without its glitches (clicking on the taskbar button to minimize is glitched, and the icons in the system tray don't always come back).

        • As you've already been informed, Explorer is equivalent to Gnome's Nautilus + panels. It does the desktop, file-managing, and the task bar (though it can do additional bars, as of Windows 98 and NT4 SP3.) Actual window management (the part that draws borders) is done by GDI and its manifold successors, directly by the system, though if you minimize windows while explorer isn't running, they'll stack up in the bottom-left corner as compact titlebars, in a way that behaves like Windows 3.1's iconification.
    • Explorer.exe is almost exactly analogous to Finder on a Mac: just an app that provides the familiar UI environment.

      What's ironic is that this is pretty much doing Win98/IE4 in reverse. That was when Microsoft decided that not only did you have to load the standard UI at boot time, you had to load their web browser too, so they combined the browser and the UI into a single program. Unbundling the UI from the OS... hell, that's almost like rolling back to before Win95! First boot the OS, then (if you want)

  • Explorer.exe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Crizzam ( 749336 )
    I can't imagine they could do away with much more than explorer and maybe a hand full of DLL's. So, basically, we are given an extra step to load our desktops... probably while we are inundated with news feeds or advertisements. I wonder which HKey will turn this off.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It will probably be HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\ with a DWORD named "IDontHaveAFuckingTablet" set to 1.
    • by bonch ( 38532 ) *

      They're just making the desktop launch on demand, which is what they need to do to run on tablets. Your comment about news feeds and advertisements doesn't seem to actually be based on anything.

    • I'm sure they'll probably use the same key they're using now to set Explorer.exe as the default shell for Windows. You can change this now, if you want to set up a web kiosk, for example.

    • This is the problem. We're being asked to take one more step to achieve the same task, and this is called progress. People still have Windows 7 as a massively better UI than XP, and while I love Aero Peek and the Task Bar, most of the Vista regressions remain. For so many tasks in Windows I'm expected to perform an extra step or two.

      Their UI keeps getting less and less efficient, though it looks better. And yet people praise it.

      And from what I'm hearing, Alt-Tab has been changed significantly in Windows 8 b

  • It already is (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:00PM (#37277164)

    Since the dawn of time, the Windows "Desktop" has always been an application. Before 95 it was progman. After, it was explorer. You've always been able to switch to a new shell with ini file or registry modifications.

    • I believe the new thing is that now it doesn't need to be running at all, only on-demand. If I just shut down explorer.exe in XP and try to go about launching applications and trying to get the OS to do various things, I think some things will fail since the shell isn't running. In fact, it's pretty hard to do anything at all in XP without the shell running.

      • If I just shut down explorer.exe in XP and try to go about launching applications and trying to get the OS to do various things, I think some things will fail since the shell isn't running.

        Have you tried? Sure, launching things from the Task Manager is inconvenient, but nothing really breaks because Explorer isn't running.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        you never gave litestep a spin? []

        and let me make a prediction about windows 8. the explorer will be there, underneath, running 100% of time. it's just that by default they'll launch you into the revamped windows media center big screen retarded ui, unless you at install time specify that fuck no.

        you see, they don't have new ideas about driver architechture or stuff like that. so it's come to that, and windows 7 sold so well and osx is doing the fullscreen-let's-go-back-to

      • Well you can run task manager and have access to the run command... but anything that relies on explorer.exe will fail if it isn't running.... Some things however don't mind explorer.exe being gone and others do... So your mileage may vary...

  • Old news (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:00PM (#37277166) Journal

    Explorer has always been "just an app". You can edit system.ini and replace 'SHELL=explorer.exe' with any other application. e.g. LiteStep, a MAME front end, XBMC, etc.

    • by gmueckl ( 950314 )

      system.what? system.ini is gone for more than a decade now. I have not seen any viable shell replacement for Windows in the last couple of years, only half-baked unfinished solutions so far.

    • The difference is making it easy for common users to switch desktops, or even understand such a thing is possible. Linux users are familiar with switching desktops and the numerous ways options available. Most of us have toyed with Gnome and KDE and XFCE, E17, Nextstep, ect....

      If Windows users had an option drop down in their login screen I wonder how many would replace their desktop environment. How long will it be before the common windows user installs a OSX clone? (not just a theme, but a true work-a

  • Customizable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by milbournosphere ( 1273186 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:02PM (#37277198)

    The Metro-style UI — the one inspired by Windows Phone 7's tile-based design — will be the first to show up when a user boots a device.

    I sure hope it'll be easy to turn that off. It makes sense on a consumer box with a touchscreen, but for my work station, I have no intention of using the Metro UI.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Did you not read the summary? Yes, you will have a choice.

  • This is an interesting idea that should not be too difficult to implement in a Linux Distro. How often do I boot up my laptop just to check email or look up something on google? Having an option to login quickly in a kiosk-mode with only a limited number of apps or full desktop might come in handy. Anyone set something like this up already? Pros - Cons? Probably just have something like TWM as well as my trusty XFCE-4 as an option at login.
    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      Having an option to login quickly in a kiosk-mode with only a limited number of apps or full desktop might come in handy.

      Considering that Gnome 2 takes about five seconds to log in since I uninstalled all that zeitgeist crap and deleted the thumbnails directory on shutdown, I'm not sure how much faster you could make it.

      Oh, but yeah, I guess Gnome 3 is going to take as long as KDE to load all its crap before I can do anything useful.

    • by armanox ( 826486 )

      I did that for a while on my old laptop, and found myself creating a script to switch to full desktop (I did FVWM -> KDE3) if I decided I wanted more...eye candy? Anyway, it was great for fast startup. (I also for a while had it auto-login to my fvwm setup).

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Turn off [xgk]dm and just boot to a console.

  • this sounds like a good choice. Granted, people like me may be up in rage because of the unfamilar feeling, but the fewer calls I get because people totally screwed up their own rig is a good thing in my book. As the first major desktop/notebook/netbook/whatever OS to embrace this idea (as in it's not a phone or PDA), it could verywell lead how it's really supposed to be done. Just please tell me I don't have to jailbreak my own computer...
  • Move Along (Score:3, Funny)

    by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:11PM (#37277350)

    That's not the Droid I was looking for.

  • by s_p_oneil ( 795792 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:28PM (#37277594) Homepage

    Sounds like Windows 3.x. You booted into DOS and Windows installed and ran as an application on top of it. Of course, at the time my favorite DOS command was deltree, and my favorite folder to use it on was the root Windows 3.x folder.

  • It already was (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:29PM (#37277612) Homepage
    The Windows desktop was already an app. It was called "Explorer.exe".
  • by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @02:33PM (#37277640)
    This is an interesting idea that has shown up elsewhere... In OS X, there is the "full screen" mode, and many windows also have an oblong button in the top right which is used to show/hide extra toolbars, and many apps also use this to switch between "Simple" and "complex" modes, including the Finder.

    The merit would be to force developers to include different interfaces for the same underlying program, and to consider this type of workflow during development. This definitely sounds like a good thing, because many desktop programs are very robust but lack similar tools in the burgeoning touch interface market.

    Tablets are already very powerful and capable of handling these applications, but quickly porting them over would be clunky. Many of these apps would be perfectly usable with a touch interface, but are not available for those platforms despite the practicality. Audacity could work great with a touch interface for example, but we don't want to create an entirely new application when the same one could be used with a slightly different interface.

    I think that positioning the interface choice so predominantly on the desktop will spur the maturation of touch interface on already existing applications, and it will be good for users because they will already be familiar, and will be able to switch back if they can't find a certain option. They'll be able to learn at their own pace without having the rug pulled out from under them. It will also help developers design more modular programs, and slowly build up the touch interface portion instead of having to design two separate applications and make either/or trade-offs for both of them.

    It would be great to re-use all of our code and be able to switch from a touch interface to a mouse/keyboard interface at will. Dock your tablet and it becomes a desktop... for real this time. Take the screen off your desktop and you can walk around with it. Maybe future monitors will have lower-powered hardware built in so we can do this, and snap the monitor back on when we need more horsepower or different input options.
  • Windows 3.x was just another MSDOS executable.

    and 5 years before that, Amiga Workbench was a multitasking GUI that ran on AmigaDOS

  • So instead of "dropping to shell" we now go to the Desktop to "do PC stuff"?

  • But since Windows 2000, nay, NT it's just been incremental improvements. I still run Win7 in "Windows classic" Let me tell you what's impacted me over the years... Nothing. The kernel has improved (less blue screens) and now I have fancy window docking options. That's about it. Explorer.exe is still king. All the pain and suffering of Vista and its predecessors were introduced by different driver models that were only incrementally better than the last.

    Apps have seen the biggest change, with ribbons (which

  • Ahm, so? It's the default on Linux, you have several tiers, you can use no graphics or windows at all (shell), "just X" with twm or just a root window, a full blown desktop like kde. You can even use something sophisticated like clutter without X (direct FB backend).

    Sooo...What's the news, Microsoft?

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved." -- Butler