Federated Experience Manager (FXM)
I can see this being very popular with customers, particularly those who are large enough to have accumulated several sites on multiple systems over the years. FXM will allow them to consolidate many of their analytics and digital marketing activities until they make the only sensible choice - move everything into Sitecore :)
FXM is already available to download as a module for 7.x, but will be fully integrated as of Sitecore 8.
SPEAK Powered User Interface
Everyone knows that Sitecore's 10 year old user interface is looking tired. The Windows XP look doesn't really cut it in this day and age. That's why Sitecore 8's UI has been completely overhauled.
We've seen glimpses of the direction they're heading in the last couple of Sitecore releases with the occasional SPEAK powered dialog here and there. Sitecore 8 applies that treatment to the whole application, and every speaker at the Symposium appeared proud to be showing of the final result.
If you haven't already seen any photographs that came out of the Sitecore Symposiums, here's a few to whet your appetite:
The much-anticipated talk from Tim Ward was as impressive as expected. He explained that Sitecore 8 want's us to stop making assumptions about content, and test everything. Project Skynet integrates machine learning techniques in the MV testing framework, so it ill be able to identify trends and make suggestions for possible tests and personalisation rules.
I don't mind admitting that a lot of this presentation went over my head. It's a complex area of the application, and the challenge will be making the benefits of using it clear to customers. However, what I did take in was the fact that content editors and testers could not only test and approve content through the workflow of items as standard, but whilst doing that they will be able "approve with test" or "approve without test" - what this does is set a test running for 'x' amount of time. Once it ends, you can an review the results and take action accordingly.
A Few Concerns
Sitecore 8 is looking great and is going to be extremely powerful, but with great power comes great responsibility. As developers we need to be completely on top of the extra complexity that is coming our way. Sitecore 7.5 and above contain more moving parts than ever before, and that means that more things that can go wrong if handled incorrectly. I suspect that the coming months will be a steep learning curve for all Sitecore developers.
Customer understanding of the new features is something we need to be mindful of. One of the current challenges (even before thinking about Sitecore 8) is explaining the capabilities of Sitecore and DMS. Throughout the Symposium I found myself thinking "how do we relay this technology to our customers without confusing them?"
If everything goes to plan, we can expect Sitecore 8 before the end of the year, The Sitecore MVP's got their hands on a preview copy of a few days ago, but the rest of us will have to wait couple more months. Roll on December!