Speculation about what features Windows 8 will include is sizzling as Microsoft continues to remain tight-lipped about details of the new operating system.
However, Redmond has talked to some extent about the upcoming OS’ handling of Explorer, the Windows file management system.
Posts on the Windows 8 blog indicate Explorer will have the ribbon GUI Microsoft Office users know — and, in some cases, hate. It will also let users mount VHD and ISO drives, possibly doing away with the need for optical storage media.
Company spokesperson Emma Mahoney directed TechNewsWorld to the blog in response to a request for comment.
Boldly Going Where Everyone’s Gone Before
Microsoft says it has three main goals for Windows 8 Explorer: Optimize it for file management, create a streamlined command experience, and restore the most relevant and requested features from Windows XP that will fit.
Research through telemetry — where Windows users agreed to let Microsoft harvest data about their usage patterns of the operating system without tying it to them — formed the basis of the decisions Microsoft made about Windows 8 Explorer’s features.
Telemetry showed that more than 70 percent of usage is for core file management, and that the top 10 commands constitute almost 82 percent of usage, for example.
It also showed that almost 55 percent of commands are invoked with a right-click and another 32 percent using keyboard shortcuts, while only about 11 percent are invoked with the Command bar. Further only two of the top 10 commands invoked in Explorer are available in the Command bar.
After evaluating several approaches, Microsoft decided to use the Office-style ribbon as the user interface for commands. Among other benefits, this offers familiarity to users of Office, Microsoft Paint and Windows Live Essentials, so there’s little to learn.
The ribbon will have Home, Share and View tabs; a File menu; and various contextual tabs.
Existing add-ons will work in the right-click menus in Windows 8 but they won’t be able to plug into the ribbon UI, Microsoft said.
You can see a demo of Windows 8 here.
Ribbons Aren’t for Everyone
At least one analyst is none too excited about having the ribbon as a UI in Windows 8.
“In Explorer, where you’re looking at files or documents, you’ll give up space to see your commands,” groused Michael Cherry, senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft. “Ribbons take up a lot of real estate on the screen, and seeing all the commands isn’t as important to me as seeing all the files and documents.”
Another possible problem with the ribbon is that it may not be suited to touchscreens, which will increasingly penetrate the PC and laptop market.
DisplaySearch predicts that touchscreen module revenues will hit US$14 billion by 2016, undergoing strong growth in all-in-one PCs, mini-notebook and slate PCs, education and training, and information and self-check-in kiosks.
For example, touch functionality in mini-notebooks and slate PCs will grow from 1 million units in 2010 to 50 million in 2016, DisplaySearch forecasts.
“I’m not convinced ribbons will work with touch and gestures,” Cherry told TechNewsWorld.
No More Optical Drives?
Apple has done away with the optical drive with the MacBook Air, and it looks as if Microsoft may be anticipating the death of the disc drive with Windows 8. Redmond’s adding native Explorer support for ISO and VHD files in Windows 8.
This means users won’t necessarily require a physical CD-ROM or DVD drive. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Windows 8 PCs will not have optical drives.
“Microsoft doesn’t build the PCs, so it’s up to the OEMs to decide whether or not they want to build them without optical drives,” Directions on Microsoft’s Cherry pointed out.
“I don’t think optical drives are as necessary as people think they are,” Cherry added.
However, if Microsoft does away with the need for optical drives, then users’ music and image files have to be transferred over a network, and this means Explorer must enable rapid file transfer, Cherry said.
“The biggest thing about Explorer that frustrates me right now is that, somewhere in the Vista timeframe, file copies became very, very slow,” Cherry stated. “Rather than making things pretty [with a ribbon] I’d prefer they made them extremely fast.”
One other complaint Cherry has about Explorer is its estimates on how long copying a file takes.
“Their estimates on how long a copy will take are worthless,” Cherry remarked. “I’d prefer they give me an accurate estimate of how long it’ll take to copy files so I know how long it will be before I can start working with data.”