Unlike Apple's offerings, software built for one Windows 8 platform will run seamlessly on the other, Microsoft says.
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Slideshow: Top Features Absent From Windows 7
A Microsoft executive said applications built for Windows 8 will be cross-compatible across tablets and traditional PCs, a feature that could give Redmond a leg up on rival Apple in the personal computing wars.
Stephen Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows unit, told developers Tuesday that they would only have to write one version of their apps in order to access the entire Windows 8 user base, regardless of whether users were running the PC or tablet version of Windows 8.
"The demos we are showing you today are equally at home on ARM or x86," Sinofsky said at the Microsoft BUILD conference, in Anaheim, Calif. The desktop and laptop version of Windows 8 is intended to run on systems that use traditional, x86 processors from Intel and AMD. The tablet version also will run on devices that rely on SoC chips based on reference designs by U.K.-based ARM.
Sinofsky also said all Windows 7 apps will run on Windows 8 PCs. More consumers now use Windows 7 than Windows XP, Microsoft said. Total market share for all versions of Windows is 92.9%, while Mac OS's small but growing share stands at 6%, according to NetMarketShare.
Windows 8 represents the first time Microsoft has forked its operating system over two different architectures. If it works as planned, the cross-compatibility feature could give Microsoft an edge over Apple. Currently, apps built for the iPad won't run on Mac OS-based machines like the MacBook Air, and vice versa.
Microsoft believes consumers and business pros who are used to using touch-based apps on tablets and smartphones will embrace them on the desktop once Windows 8 arrives. "As soon as you've used touch on a PC, you want touch on all your PCs," said Sinofsky.
Windows 8 borrows the Metro interface from Windows Phone 7. Metro features interactive blocks called Live Tiles, which contain live data feeds from e-mail, social networks, instant messaging, and other services.
"People says touch is only for small devices or lightweight things. I promise you the minute you use a touch device with Windows 8, by the time you go back to your laptop or desktop you're going to be hitting that screen. You'll have fingerprints all over your monitor if it doesn't support touch," Sinofksy said.
Microsoft has yet to announce a formal release date for Windows 8. Some analysts predict a launch later this year, while others think that early or even mid-2012 is a more plausible arrival date. The BUILD conference runs through Sept. 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
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