updated 01:07 pm EDT, Thu October 25, 2012
Microsoft says platform is biggest for app developers
In a special media event today, Microsoft finally launched the newest version of its flagship product, Windows 8, an update the software giant hopes will spur a flagging PC industry to life and help Microsoft regain ground against Apple and Google. The event saw Microsoft representatives exploring the features and capabilities of the new operating system across a range of older and newer hardware units with multiple form factors. Microsoft also sought to stress the viability of Windows 8 as a platform for developers, noting that it would have the largest potential install base of any operating system on the market.
Microsoft kicked off the show with a few numbers on Windows 7, hoping to drive home the market potential for Windows 8. Windows 7, Microsoft Windows unit chief Steven Sinofsky said, is now installed on more than 670 million devices. Windows 8 is built on Windows 7's base, and Sinofsky referred to analyst predictions that the new operating system would be on 400 million devices within a year.
Microsoft representatives then went on to explore the features of the new OS, starting first on existing notebooks and tablets running Windows 7. The new Windows largely dispenses with the traditional desktop, opting instead for a tiled layout known as the Modern UI.
Microsoft stressed the speed of the operating system, noting that where Windows 7 had an average Wi-Fi reconnect time of 15 seconds, Windows 8 does so in about a second. The company also showed off some novel features of the operating system, including a multitasking feature that appears more flexible and advanced than anything available on either Android or iOS, Windows main competitors in the shifting computing environment. They also showed off a unique password/login feature in which users tap on or make gestures involving certain portions of a picture to unlock a device.
The new interface works with mouse and touchpad input, but it is largely designed for touch input of the like seen on tablets and smartphones, which have come to dominate the computing sector even as traditional computer sales have sagged.
Windows 8 represents Microsoft's attempt to push its platform to the forefront in this new computing era, and the company made sure to stress that during this event. Microsoft reps continually described the software as "Windows, reimagined," showing it off across form factors that blur the line between notebook and tablet. The company showed off devices from a number of major PC manufacturers, including tablets from Samsung, folding touchscreen notebooks from Lenovo, and keyboard-docking tablets from Asus.
Microsoft also briefly showed off the Surface RT, its own first foray into the realm of computing hardware manufacture.
The event ended with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer running through the extensibility of the new operating system. Windows 8 is part of a larger move on the part of Microsoft to offer more services along with its software -- and now hardware -- offerings. To that end, Ballmer pointed out the new Xbox-branded entertainment offerings Microsoft is rolling out, including Xbox Music and video content. Ballmer also noted that Xbox owners can expect greater integration between their gaming console and Windows 8 devices, with Microsoft's SmartGlass project arriving on the console.
Windows 8 goes live at 12:01 AM Eastern tomorrow morning around the world. Consumers will be able to upgrade their computers through a download for $40. Customers who've bought a Windows 7 machine since June 2 will be able to download Windows 8 at a discounted rate of $15.