Microsoft on Wednesday offered the first sneak peak of the next version of Windows—a touch-friendly OS that the company is counting on to finally make it a player in the red-hot tablet market.
Windows 8, as the operating system is called, at least for now, borrows heavily from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 mobile OS. Its Start menu, for instance, uses Windows Phone's Live Tiles interface.
The tiles, which can be customized by the user, feed real-time data from social networks, e-mail accounts, messaging systems and other services directly to the home screen. The tiles can also be expanded to fill the whole screen to create a true tablet look.
Touch-enabled browsing will be assisted by hardware acceleration built into Explorer 10, Microsoft said.
The idea behind the layout is to make Windows 8 an OS that is equally at home on touch-screen tablets as it is on fully-powered desktops and laptops. "Windows 8 is a reimagining of Windows, from chip to the interface," Microsoft said in a statement.
Microsoft Windows division chief Steven Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 8 for the first time at the All Things D conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Most notably, the tile interface included direct links to Explorer, picture folders, and e-mail apps. One tile was simply titled "Store", an indication that Microsoft plans to launch an Apple-style app store for Windows 8 applications and services.
Microsoft has made little secret of the fact that it plans to fully attack the tablet market with Windows 8. In January, the company said it would essentially fork the OS into two streams—one for desktops that run Intel and AMD x86 chips, and one that runs on ARM's system-on-a-chip architecture for tablets.
Microsoft did not announce a launch date for Windows 8, but industry speculation has it pegged at some time between the 2011 holiday shopping season and early 2012. It's also possible that Microsoft could release the ARM-based version of Windows 8 for tablets ahead of the desktop version, in an effort to catch up with rivals Apple and Google.
Apple's iPad and Google Android-based devices are already well established in the tablet market, so Windows 8 will be playing catch up regardless of when it launches.