Windows 10 Consumer Briefing Predictions

Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2015 - 09:45 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, spartan, microsoft, dx12, DirectX 12, DirectX, cortana

Microsoft will hold a briefing tomorrow (Wednesday, January 21st at 12pm EST/5pm UTC) about “The Next Chapter” of Windows 10. This has been described as the Consumer keynote, mirroring the original one that was supposedly intended for the enterprise. Otherwise, there are few official comments regarding the event, but there are also things that we can speculate on.

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Here is what I expect to see:

A New Build for Windows 10

Maybe it will not be released on the same day as the speech, but it cannot really be too far behind. We are about two-thirds through January and December was skipped, so it must be happening soon. When 9879 was released, Microsoft said that it would be the last build of 2014 and that “We'll have something new to share with you early in 2015”. Whatever that is (or those things are) will probably be discussed at the event, which means that the build is probably not too far behind it.

DirectX 12

When the graphics API was announced, they specifically said the following (see our recap for the second slide that was posted at 10:48am PST):

  • Targeting Holiday 2015 games
  • Preview release coming later this year
  • Don't want to wait that long? Early access!

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The preview release later in 2014 did not happen, but the early access did. As such, I am guessing that the date slipped to either the next Windows 10 build, or maybe a build or two after. Whenever it happens specifically, I am guessing that it will be mentioned at this event and available for developers soon (and not just a hand-picked group of Early Access members). Sure, it could wait until Build 2015 in April, but the original slide sounds like they were targeting the end of 2014.

Also, the DirectX 12 Twitter Account just retweeted the live stream and Phil Spencer will be there.

'Spartan' Browser (Maybe with DirectX 12 Support?)

Speaking of DirectX 12, its goal is to utilize GPU shader cores as efficiently as possible, reducing the time it holds up the CPU and balancing its load across multiple cores. This leads to power efficiency and the ability to load many more tasks on the GPU.

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Image Credit: cnBeta.com via TheVerge

These are all things that a web browser vendor would love! Web standards are inherently difficult to multi-thread, because they are designed as sets of stages which build upon other stages. DirectX 12 could probably help immensely, at least with the drawing stage. Web content tends to be fairly simple, but there can be a lot of it, especially for complex Canvas animations (and especially for mobile devices).

It was also recently rumored that Trident, the rendering engine behind Internet Explorer and the not-quite-confirmed Spartan browser, was forked into two maintained versions. The expectation is that this was for compatibility reasons, where the new version can be developed to W3C (and other) standards without worrying about legacy, Internet Explorer-based compatibility cruft. If porting a DirectX 11 applications to DirectX 12 will be annoying, I can see why Microsoft chose to draw the compatibility line just behind that initiative. And honestly, how many people care about rendering, power, and multi-core performance increases for IE8-designed, and therefore desktop-based, web applications?

Continuum, Cortana, and Other Changes

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Again, this is what Microsoft considers a Consumer event. As such, it would make sense for them to describe an ideal consumer device, which probably includes two-in-ones. Cortana should also be discussed as well, which is intended to bring value to the users and probably lead them to Bing services. Leaks have also suggested that they are preparing a dark theme.

Am I right? We'll see tomorrow.

Source: Microsoft

Rumor: Microsoft Plans a New Web Browser

Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2015 - 05:39 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, internet explorer, spartan, IE11, ie12

Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a new web browser with Windows 10. We have talked about it in the past, and its rumored extension architecture in particular, but it was expected to become Internet Explorer 12. Even then, snippets have shown that the team was considering a name change away from IE, to some degree of seriousness. Now we are hearing that it might actually be a wholly new, standalone browser that is installed alongside IE11.

Yikes. Okay, so...

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Stick a fork in... ... Trident...?

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

I guess we, first, should talk about its rumored technical features. The browser is still expected to run on Trident and Chakra, the rendering engine and JavaScript interpreter for Internet Explorer, respectively. While they are not replacing it with something wholly new, Trident has allegedly been forked into two versions, which are expected to be split between the different browsers, one for the old and one for the new.

Browser rendering engines have been in flux over the last couple of years. First, Opera decided to deprecate their Presto engine and move to Webkit, along with KDE, Apple, Google, Valve, and so forth. Later, Google decided to fork Webkit into Blink, with Opera following them, to push updates with less inter-company politics. Meanwhile, Mozilla (and Samsung) started a research project, called Servo, which was developed from scratch to be a multi-threaded, efficient rendering engine. This is difficult, because Web standards were designed to be single-threaded; it may be a successful replacement, or it may just teach them a few new tricks for Gecko.

Developing a new engine from scratch is daunting but Microsoft could obviously afford it, if it is deemed a worthy project. With Trident being forked, it seems unlikely for a while though. After all, why would they fork an engine if they had something in skunkworks for years (because a standards-compliant rendering engine takes a long time to make)? Chances are that they have no plans to even start, but don't let that belittle Microsoft's possibilities with a Trident fork that is free of legacy Internet Explorer concerns.

A preview of the new browser might not make the January technical preview of Windows 10, but it is expected to be done in time for Windows 10. We will probably have access to a pre-release version before then and they might even show it off during their Windows 10 Consumer event on January 21st.

Source: ZDNet

Add-ons Might Be Included in IE "Spartan"

Subject: General Tech | September 15, 2014 - 04:49 PM |
Tagged: spartan, microsoft, internet explorer 12, internet explorer, ie12, extension

The next version of Internet Explorer is said to be codenamed "Spartan". The allusions to Halo from internal Microsoft names are strong this year. One exciting rumor is the ability to run native, x86 code as a browser extension. This is expected to be built upon the Xax browser plugin model, published as a white paper by Microsoft Research six years ago. Its age should be noted when reading how it discusses JavaScript compatibility and performance. A lot has happened since then.

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But why would Internet Explorer need extensions? The first, and most obvious, answer is that Microsoft is trying to win back some enthusiasts to their browser (and its platforms). If Microsoft relaxes certification requirements for extensions, compared to Windows Store, it could also bridge the gap between native app and web app for enterprises, especially smaller businesses, a give them a platform without the burden of sideloading.

We might also see this being used by third parties to contribute to Internet Explorer development. In much the same way as Nokia experiments with WebCL by a Firefox extension, others could use Internet Explorer add-ons as a testing ground. In fact, according to their aforementioned 2008 paper, Microsoft Research already tested an OpenGL rendering stack in Xax.

We will probably find out more about the next IE soon.

Source: ZDNet