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What the Windows 8 leak tells us

Although things can certainly change between now and whenever Microsoft actually ships the next version of Windows, this week's leak offers an unexpected peek into Redmond's mindset.

A leaked series of Windows 8 presentations offers insight not just into what Microsoft wants to accomplish with Windows 8 but also how it plans to go about developing the next Windows.

The company appears to be following much the same blueprint it did with Windows 7--talking early with computer makers but saying next to nothing publicly until the company is sure what it will be able to deliver. Of course, the leaked documents have thrown a bit of a wrench in that plan.

That said, while there is quite a bit to learn by reading through the leaked Windows 8 planning documents, it would be wrong to just assume that Windows 8 will be the sum of those PowerPoint presentations.

Microsoft has a long history of shipping Windows products that are very different than their initial incarnations. Windows Vista, for example, was a significantly different operating system than the original Longhorn plan unveiled at the 2003 Professional Developers conference. It's also possible that the gang in Redmond also may yet have a trick or two up its sleeve that aren't part of these documents, which were designed to be a starting point for a dialogue with computer makers rather than a feature list for customers.

Among the Windows 8 details outlined in a leaked presentation are plans for a Windows Store, where consumers could go to directly buy PC software. Courtesy of Microsoft Kitchen

In the slides, which were presented around the time of an April forum with PC and hardware makers, the company even notes that, although it wants input on which ideas to pursue, there are already "more ideas than there is time to implement them."

Still, the documents offer the clearest look yet into how Microsoft is thinking about the next major release of Windows.

To recap, the documents outline a few key areas of focus for the next Windows, including a focus on improved boot time, simplicity, and ease of use along with changes aimed to make Windows more power efficient and simpler to manage. There are also some specific details, such as plans for an App Store-like Windows store as well as plans to de-emphasize support for FireWire and TV Tuners while increasing support for location-based services.

With Windows 8, Microsoft clearly wants to have a better competitive answer to tablet devices such as Apple's iPad and also to build on some of the things that made Windows 7 popular on traditional computers. Microsoft also clearly wants to create a little more room for PC makers to stand out from one another, with hopes of working with individual computer makers to support features such as 3D or wireless displays.

On the power side, Microsoft wants to do better when it comes to both starting up a Windows 8 computer as well as resuming from sleep, both longtime challenges with Windows use, particularly over time as more applications and services attempt to load at startup.

The documents also show Microsoft is toying with the idea of using a Webcam as a broader input device, potentially using face recognition to authenticate users and also sensing whether someone is actually at their computer, putting the system to sleep when the user walks away.

So, just how did this information fall into our collective laps? The documents appear to have been prepared for Hewlett-Packard and many are dated April 2010. They showed up earlier this month for download on Windows enthusiast site. Among the first articles based on the documents were a June 26 posting on Microsoft Journal and a story early Monday on Microsoft Kitchen.

The Microsoft Journal post, and in fact that entire blog, were taken down, apparently for having violated Microsoft's terms of service (the site is hosted on Windows Live Spaces). Assuming the request to take down the site came from somewhere inside Microsoft, that would appear to be direct confirmation that the documents are indeed genuine. That's something Microsoft has refused to confirm publicly, but also has not denied.

What is clear is that Microsoft had no intention of talking about Windows 8 anytime soon. The company decided not to have either a Windows Hardware Engineering Conference or a Professional Developers Conference this year, and executives had said that the focus for all of 2010 would be on Windows 7.

But, with these documents, we got a lot more of a sense of what the Windows team has been up to, and not just with regards to Windows 8. The documents also include a timetable for both Windows Live and Internet Explorer 9. According to the documents, Windows Live Wave 4, currently in beta, is scheduled for a final release in August, while Internet Explorer 9 is due to hit beta that month.

The documents also discuss a significant "air cover" marketing campaign planned for this year's holidays designed to tout the combination of Windows 7 and the new Windows Live, something Microsoft had indicated it planned to do.