Windows 8 revealed: Microsoft goes tablets and tiles with next OS

Windows Phone 7-style interface aimed at slates - and desktops too...

Windows Phone 7-style interface aimed at slates - and desktops too...

Microsoft has unveiled an early version of its next operating system, codenamed Windows 8, as a tablet-friendly OS with an interface closely resembling that of the company's Windows Phone 7 mobile OS.

As part of the work to optimise Windows 8 for tablets, Microsoft has ditched the Windows Start Menu in favour of a tile-based Start interface similar to the one used by Windows Phone 7.

According to Microsoft, the change will bring faster launching of apps and the introduction of live tiles to the Windows desktop OS. Live tiles feature the latest notifications and information from apps on the device, such as the most recent forecasts for a weather application or new tweets from Twitter.

Microsoft has redesigned the user interface for Windows 8

Microsoft has redesigned the user interface for Windows 8 to make it more suitable for tablet devicesImage: Microsoft

Microsoft VP of Windows planning, hardware and PC ecosystem Mike Angiulo told the Computex show in Taiwan on Wednesday that Windows 8 represents a "fundamental shift in Windows design", the like of which hasn't been seen since Windows 95.

According to IDC program VP Al Gillen, a new approach for the Windows user interface is important if the OS is to successfully translate to slate devices. "The traditional user interface on the Windows operating system is not compatible with a device like a media tablet, so they have to do something to address that," he told silicon.com.

Despite the focus on tablets for Windows 8, corporate VP of Windows experience Julie Larson-Green wrote in a blog post that it will still cater to more traditional set-ups. "The user interface and new apps will work with or without a keyboard and mouse on a broad range of screen sizes and pixel densities, from small slates to laptops, desktops, all-in-ones and even classroom-sized displays," she said.

Quocirca service director Clive Longbottom said greater continuity of the OS between devices is important. "The same underlying kernel should run through from phone, tablet, desktop, server and embedded systems, so providing a better level of integration and coexistence," he told silicon.com.

Windows 8 will also work with the PCs, software and peripherals officially supported by Windows 7, Microsoft said - a key requirement to avoid Windows 8 being disruptive to the Windows 7 customer base, according to IDC's Gillen.

After announcing in January it was to work with AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to develop Windows 8 for a low-power system-on-a-chip approach, Microsoft this week demoed Windows 8 as a system on a chip on both x86 and ARM-based architecture. System-on-a-chip capability should also help the OS work on as wide a range of devices as possible.

Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 8 to developers at events in Taiwan on Wednesday and the US on Tuesday to kick-start the development of devices and applications for the operating system.

Microsoft is now working to get Windows 8 ready for early testing, and plans to work with developers through its engineering blog as it did with Windows 7. Microsoft's Dutch website suggested in October 2010 that the finished version of Windows 8 will emerge towards the end of 2012.

While the suggestion gained credence after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told an audience in Tokyo last week that Windows 8 "will come out next year", Microsoft subsequently said that a "misstatement" had been made and that "to date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows".