Microsoft Launches Windows 8

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Windows 8
Windows 8

Microsoft prepares to unveil the next generation operating system Windows 8. Microsoft has unveiled the new OS at its Build Developer Conference in Anaheim, California. The OS, a complete rebuild of Microsoft’s flagship product, is designed to work with both tablets and PCs.

Executives showed off the versatility of Operating System on a variety of mobile and desktop platforms, highlighting features such as cloud-based photo sharing, streamlined contact management and the Metro UI overhaul. The Windows 8 is Microsoft’s first earnest push into the tablet space and it looks, at first glance, anyway, like it’s a true competitor to mobile operating systems like Android and iOS.

We had a quick overview of Windows 8 earlier this summer. The Windows 8 is designed for PCs and tablets and uses a live tile-based touch UI with multitasking capabilities. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hinted that we’d be getting Windows 8 tablets next year. As promised, everyone attending BUILD got a free tablet.

Microsoft has until recently been tentative about entering the mobile space, and not without warrant — Microsoft’s legacy is software built specifically for the PC. Whereas iOS burst on the scene in 2007, followed a short time later by Android, Windows Phone 7 arrived in late 2010. Microsoft’s last OS, Windows 7, was clearly designed for the PC experience rather than the tablet experience.

Two major changes were made to Windows 8: it improves on Windows 7 directly (which means that everything that runs on Windows 7 will be compatible with Windows 8), and the company has redesigned what Windows can be.

One of the central themes of today’s keynote announcements was Windows 8 is a reimagining of Windows, from the user experience all the way down to the chipset.

Developers at the conference has received 5000 Samsung Windows 8 tablets. The tablet includes an accelerometer, gyroscope and a magnetometer, and NFC and built-in AT&T 3G. It also has a tool that shows you how much data your using, which is pretty cool. The slate pairs with a docking station and a wireless keyboard. From close-ups and screenshots during the presentation, it appears to have a 120 gig Intel G2 solid state drive.

Windows 8 can run on ARM or x86 architecture, and Microsoft showed off its OS running on multiple devices including ASUS and Acer ultrabooks, an Intel tablet and a Toshiba all-in-one setup. It’s interesting that Microsoft would choose to allow its OS to port to so many different devices, on different chipsets, with different screen sizes, particularly when we’ve watched Google struggle with Android’s ability to do that. But it looks like its user interface may be better suited to that task than Android’s.

Windows 8 allows developers to use a number of tools to create “Metro style” (that’s the name for their user interface) apps: HTML5/JavaScript, C/C++, and/or C#/XAML. Windows president Steven Sinofsky said that there are 1800 APIs and objects built into the system you can use to help build Windows apps. In Visual Studio 11 Express, there are also a variety of preset templates.

As Windows Mobile 7, Windows 8 has an important social aspect built-in. In a departure from the desktop-oriented OS of the past, Microsoft has revised or reskinned a number of services. Windows 8 also benefits from the growing cloud-based storage movement.

The new mail client seems pretty slick: It  is a two-panel configuration which meshes with the Metro look and feel, with an optional third panel that comes up when you’re going through email folders. A contacts app neatly arranges your friends and acquaintances as a grid of square photos, which you can click to get more information. The email client and contacts app won’t be shipping with the developer release of Windows 8.

The Photos app can take pictures of images from services like Flickr, Facebook and SkyDrive, after you are connected with your accounts. The app treats remote storage and SkyDrive’s cloud storage as if data is stored locally. Email and SkyDrive can sync with Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) devices. In the demos, there were a few features, such as photo sharing across SkyDrive, which bugged out in the keynote demonstration but worked fine in earlier press meetings.

Some keyboard shortcuts have been introduced: Windows – C opens up the Charm menu (a cross application searching and sharing toolbar with an option for switching between desktop and Metro views), Windows – Z opens the app bar and Windows – F does searches. Traditional Internet Explorer shortcuts still work.

No date for the beta launch of Windows 8 was announced.

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