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9/13/2011
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Windows 8 Revealed: Touchy-Feely UI Favors Tablets

Touch-based capabilities inspired by Windows Phone are meant to give Redmond a boost in the slate market.

Top Features Absent From Windows 7
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Top Features Absent From Windows 7
Microsoft on Tuesday gave developers their first in-depth look at Windows 8, the operating system the company is counting on to restore the PC's place at the center of personal and business computing.

The company demonstrated the software, expected to be available later this year or in early to mid-2012, at its BUILD conference in Anaheim, Calif. "We reimagined Windows," said Stephen Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows unit, during a keynote address at the conference. "From the chipset to the user experience, Windows 8 brings a new range of capabilities without compromise."

The most notable difference between Windows 8 and all of its predecessors, including the current Windows 7, is that it borrows interface elements from its mobile cousin, Windows Phone 7. Taken directly from Windows Phone is the Metro interface, which is subdivided into blocks that Microsoft calls Live Tiles. The tiles are touch interactive and display real-time data from email services, social networking sites, instant messaging apps, and other information sources.

Microsoft made no bones about the fact that Metro is designed to give PCs a look and feel that's more in tune with what computer users have come to expect on smartphones and tablets. "Windows 8 introduces a new Metro-style interface built for touch, which shows information important to you, embodies simplicity, and gives you control," said Microsoft. "The Metro style UI is equally at home with a mouse and keyboard as well."

Courting developers, many of whom have defected from the Microsoft camp to build software for Google's Android platform or Apple's iOS-based devices, such as the iPad, Microsoft on Tuesday also unveiled a number new developer tools for Windows 8 and talked up the software's flexibility. "We will show the brand new tools that allow you to code Metro style applications in HTML5/JavaScript, C/C++, and/or C#/XAML," said Sinofsky, in a blog post that accompanied Tuesday's announcements.

"The investments you have made as developers in all of these languages carry forward for Windows 8, which lets you choose how to best make use of the Windows 8 system services. We talked about Windows 8 being a no-compromise OS for end-users, and it is also a no-compromise platform for developers," Sinofksy said.

Microsoft plans to release two main versions of Windows 8--one that runs on traditional, x86 chips from Intel and AMD, and one that is powered by tablet chips based on designs by U.K.-based ARM.

Sinofksy promised developers that tools for one version would work on the other. That's key, as many developers would likely be unwilling to learn the ins and outs of two sets of development tools. "The new development tools enable you to start today to build Metro style applications that will seamlessly run on x86 (32 and 64 bit) or ARM architectures," Sinofsky said.

Microsoft has yet to announce a formal release date for Windows 8. Some pundits predict a launch later this year, while others believe that early or even mid-2012 is a more likely scenario. The BUILD conference runs from Sept. 13 to 16 at the Convention Center in Anaheim.

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