How Windows 8 Works

Under the Hood
Getting an app in the Windows Store is the goal for every Windows 8 developer.
Getting an app in the Windows Store is the goal for every Windows 8 developer.
Courtesy Microsoft

So what's really going on beneath all the tiles and desktops? First, Windows 8 is actually version 6.2 of Windows, according to Microsoft. Windows XP is version 5.1, Windows Vista was 6.0 and Windows 7 is 6.1. Why is there a discrepancy between the version number and the name?

Part of the answer is to prevent application errors. Some applications contain code that sets an upper limit on the OS version number. The code might let the application run on a version 6.x machine but not on a 7.x computer.

Why set version limits at all? A cynic might say it helps guarantee a customer base for future versions of the software by forcing people to buy new versions as they upgrade their machines. But another reason is that some applications depend upon certain OS features, and using the OS version number as a guide is a shortcut to making sure those features are present.

Microsoft advises against this approach. The company urges developers to create tests to check for specific features instead of looking at the OS version number [source: Microsoft].

Microsoft built Windows 8 to run on devices with an Intel processor with either a 32-bit or 64-bit architecture. The architecture is an instruction set designed to move operations and data through a particular way. Because of this, Windows 8 will not run on a computer with a processor built on a different architecture.

To run Windows 8, your computer must meet a few minimum hardware requirements. You'll need a machine with:

  • 1-gigahertz (GHz) processor or faster
  • At least 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM for the 32-bit version of Windows 8 or 2 GB for the 64-bit version
  • At least 16 GB of hard-drive space for the 32-bit version or 20 GB for the 64-bit version
  • A graphics card with a Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver that's compatible with Microsoft DirectX 9

To take full advantage of Windows 8, you'll need a device with a touch interface.

Microsoft's move with Windows 8 marks a big change in computing in general as we move to smaller, more mobile form factors. Will we see future operating systems follow the same path?

Author's Note

When I first saw an early build of Windows 8, I was surprised to see such a dramatic change from earlier versions of the OS. I didn't expect such a daring move on the part of Microsoft, which has a lot to protect in the OS market. I'm glad to see the big companies are paying attention to consumer trends and are making preparations to support us whether we do our computing on a massive desktop computer or on a device that fits snugly in our pockets.

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