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Windows 8 Bridges PC-Tablet Divide

Microsoft says its new operating system will deliver cross-platform performance over multiple form factors.

A Microsoft official said that applications built for Windows 8 will run on both the tablet and PC versions of the new operating system, regardless of the underlying hardware.

If the promise holds up when a final version ships, it could give Microsoft an advantage over competing platforms that force users to choose between devices that can run zippy tablet apps or PCs capable of hosting full business productivity programs like Word or PowerPoint.

Windows 8-based systems will run "the same app, completely cross-platform, based on the Windows 8 development platform," said Michael Angiulo, a VP in Microsoft's Windows group, during a demo of the new technology at the Computex show in Taiwan.

Angiulo demonstrated a version of Microsoft Word running on a Windows 8 tablet running Nvidia's new quad core Kal-El chip as well as a number of other applications that appeared to port seamlessly from one device to the next.

"From day one we started engineering these systems with a much closer integration of hardware and software than ever," said Angiulo, who called Windows 8 "a reimagining" of the OS, which has been on the market in various editions for more than 25 years.

Windows 8 borrows significantly from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 interface. Its Start menu, for example, uses Windows Phone's Live Tiles. The tiles, which can be customized by the user, feed real-time data from social networks like Facebook, e-mail accounts, IM systems and other services directly to the home screen. The tiles can also be expanded to fill the whole screen to create a tablet look.

If Microsoft can deliver real cross-platform compatibility on Windows 8, it stands to gain a significant share of the still early corporate market for tablets. While consumers may be satisfied with tablets, like Apple's iPad or Google Android-powered devices, that are geared toward Web viewing and messaging, businesses are likely to truly embrace slates only if they can give workers access to the full range of productivity apps and tools they have on their desktops.

"The bet is that the tablet isn't a distinct third device, but rather a different PC form factor," said Wells Fargo analyst Jason Maynard, in a research note. "There are clear use cases for rich Office apps, and iOS/Android tablets don't completely fit the bill."

There's still a hitch. Only new apps that have been built specifically for Windows 8's HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS programming environment will be able to jump between platforms. Apps developed for older versions of Windows, even those as recent as Vista and Win7, are only likely to run on Windows 8 PCs or laptops powered by Intel or AMD x86 processors and not on ARM-based tablets.

That means it's likely to be at least a couple of years before Windows 8 PCs and tablets attain a significant presence in the enterprise market, as corporations tend to move slowly when it comes to updating applications for new platforms.

Microsoft has not provided a definitive ship date for Windows 8, but industry speculation has it pegged at somewhere between late 2011 and the first half of 2012.

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