Microsoft unveils Windows 8 in challenge to Apple, Google

A screen shot of Microsoft's "Metro" user interface.

Story highlights

  • Microsoft has made available a preview version of its latest Windows software
  • Windows 8 upgrade marks computing giant's long-awaited move into tablets
  • Analyst says success of Windows 7 means there won't be stampede to upgrade

Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 for public testing on Wednesday in the hope that it will help the brand win back some of the ground it has been losing to Apple and Google.

The new operating system works on tablets as well as PCs and laptops, connecting them via the cloud to give users a more consistent experience as they switch between devices.

"It's beautiful, modern, fast and fluid -- it's a generational change in the Windows operating system," Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky said as he launched the consumer preview of the new operating system at Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain.

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Windows 8 scales across devices and screen sizes, Sinofsky said. "There's too many hard stops between phones and tablets and desktops. We want to make things more harmonious," he said.

The new operating system uses the "Metro" style of software currently being used on phones running the Windows 7 operating system, using tiles on the start-up screen.

A new Windows Store, which will be the marketplace for all apps for Windows 8, also launched on Wednesday. Apps will be free to download for the duration of the consumer preview.

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James Governor, a London-based tech-industry analyst, said Windows 8 was unlikely to galvanize Microsoft's market profile but its entry into tablet technology laid crucial groundwork for sustained relevance.

He said the popularity of Windows 7 meant that, as was seen with Microsoft's earlier XP operating system, there wouldn't be intense clamoring for an immediate update.

"I don't think it's an explosive 'Christ, we've got to have this new release,' "he said. "There isn't necessarily a pent-up demand for what Windows 8 represents."

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Governor said the move into the tablet market represented by Windows 8 marked a key step for Microsoft as it repositioned itself against Apple and Android-powered machines.

"Microsoft needs to be in the tablet game. It couldn't sit out two or three rounds of tablets without trying to have a more effective play and clearly Windows 8 is a big part of that," he said.

In terms of functionality, Governor said Windows 8 suffered from a "weird two-personality thing" as it switched between its user-friendly new Metro interface into functional areas of computing.

"A lot of people aren't going to be comfortable with that: here is this new Metro personality and then, oh by the way, now I really want some really hardcore web development. I found it OK, but I don't know how it will work with others."