Microsoft recently held its BUILD conference, a developer-only event at which the highlight was the unveiling of Windows 8. It wasn’t exactly a shock reveal; there’s been plenty of information on Windows 8 available up in bits and pieces, but this was Microsoft’s first peek under the curtain at the nitty-gritty of Windows 8 itself. As you might expect, Windows 8 is expected to run more quickly than its predecessors, but then, Microsoft’s very unlikely to reveal that it’d run slower. A lot of small details emerged, such as the fact that support for NFC (Near Field Communications) will be built into Windows 8, as will simpler setups for refreshing a system prior to selling it, removing malware more efficiently and a revamp of some standard Windows user interface sections such as the Task Manager. Cloud syncronisation and a very Apple-like App store for Windows applications will also feature on the full desktop client, which at first glance looks an awful lot like Windows 7 does now. That could well change, but a lot of the real meat of what Microsoft had to show off was to be seen in how it’ll adapt Windows 8 for the tablet market.
Microsoft’s had tilts at the tablet market for years now, but outside certain specialised niches, they’ve never had that much success — especially in the era of the iPad. Windows 8 has a lot of tablet-specific features, including a full tablet user interface called Metro that Microsoft showed off at the Build conference on a Samsung supplied tablet that all attendees got to take away with them. Microsoft’s built on the interface ideas it first showed off with its Windows Phone 7 devices, and the results are quite spectacular. It’s also worth noting that while Windows tablets to date have all run on Intel hardware, Windows 8 will also run on more power-efficient ARM processors, although there will be tradeoffs for the ARM models, which won’t run legacy Windows applications, just the specialised touchscreen ones. Whether by whatever time Windows 8 launches it’ll be able to make a dent in the iPad’s near dominance of the tablet market remains to be seen; a good half dozen Android tablets haven’t managed that, and the rest seem to be bogged down in legal battles with Apple.
Microsoft haven’t announced a timeline for when Windows 8 will ship (except to say that it’ll ship “when it’s done”); at a guess I’d say we’d be lucky to see it on store shelves and in laptops, desktops and tablets before at least the middle of next year.