The Windows 8 launch today seemed designed to put to rest any rumors that Microsoft is running away from the PC. Instead a parade of executives made the case that Windows 8 is the foundation for the "best PCs ever made"--ones designed to work as both laptops and tablets, and for both work and play.
The purpose of the event was really to launch several products. New Windows 8 devices and software upgrades go on sale at 12:01 am local time tomorrow. The Windows Store--the app store, not the Microsoft retail stores--is also officially open for business. And Microsoft and its hardware partners will also begin selling Windows RT devices at the same time.
CEO Steve Ballmer said that there were 670 million existing Windows 7 PCs "just waiting to be upgraded" and he cited estimates that another 400 million Windows 8 PCs will be sold each year. And Steve Sinfosky, the head of the Windows and Windows Live group, said the Windows Store has more apps than any existing app store had at launch (though he did not mention the company's stated goal of 10,000 apps at launch).
There were few surprises at the launch, which was streamed live. Most of the features of Windows 8, and the apps and services that are currently available, are well-known at this point. I was surprised that the company didn't announce any additional big-names apps coming to the Windows Store--perhaps that is coming over the next few days--and I expected to hear more details on new services such as Xbox Music. Instead Microsoft execs largely focused on new Windows 8 convertibles, laptops and desktops from their partners (they'll apparently be talking about Microsoft's own Surface hardware in a later session).
Sinofsky talked about some of the key improvements in Windows 8 including longer battery life, faster boot times, a smaller memory footprint, and compatibility with existing Windows apps. He said that around 1,000 new PC designs have already been certified for Windows 8. He also talked a bit about Windows RT, noting that while it doesn’t run legacy Windows apps, the experience and Windows 8-style apps will get better over time through Windows Store updates and it already supports some 420 million hardware peripherals. That's a competitive advantage over IOS and Android tablets.
Mike Angiulo, who is in charge of hardware and the PC ecosystem, and Julie Larson-Green, the Vice President of Program Management for Windows, demonstrated some of the basic features of Windows 8 and showed off several Windows 8 PCs including laptops (Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the Acer Aspire S7-191), tablets and convertibles (the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 and Dell XPS 12) and all-in-ones (the Dell XPS One and Sony VAIO Tap 20). Angiulo said Windows 8 PCs with touchscreens will start at $499. The pair also highlighted several Windows RT tablets from tablets Asus, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and of course Microsoft.
Ballmer gave the big picture on Windows 8. He said that, for the first time, Windows has "first-rate tablets," in addition to desktops and laptops adding that touch "pushes the boundaries of what a PC really is." He talked about the content and services that Microsoft is developing around these devices including a new version of Office; Internet Explorer 10; the Bing Apps (News, Finance, Travel, Maps, Weather and Sports); SkyDrive; Skype; and the Xbox music, video and games. Finally, he talked about how these Windows 8 services will work with smartphones running Windows Phone 8, which the company is set to announce on Monday (October 29).