Microsoft unveils Windows 8 system


Microsoft has officially unveiled the new version of its operating system and its Surface tablet at a New York event as it tries to tap into the popularity of touch-screen devices.

Going on sale at midnight, the Windows 8 system is designed to work on both desktop PC and tablets, and it is optimised for touch screens.

The software will be available in two versions at retail, Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, with an enterprise version for businesses. A version of the software, Windows RT, will be available for ARM-powered tablets.

“Windows 8 is a new era, a major milestone in evolution and revolution in computing,” Steve Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live, said. "We shunned the incremental. We boldly reimagined Windows."

The operating system ditches the Start button in favour of a screen with software pinned as tiles, and makes the desktop an app in its new system rather than the default interface for users. It also brings in a new app store, Windows Store, that allows users to download software directly to devices.

Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer told the conference the new operating system pairs the best of PCs with the greatest qualities in tablets.

"Windows 8 shatters perceptions of what a PC now really is. We've truly reimagined Windows and kicked off a new era for Microsoft and a new era for our customers," he said.

The company showed off some of the 1,000 devices that have been developed for use with the new software, ranging from regular laptops and tablets to touch screen enabled ultrabooks.

The plans for Windows 8 were shown to the public last year, opening up the consumer beta testing in February 2012. The impact has been seen on Microsoft’s financial results. The latest quarterlies showed sales were down 7.9 per cent to $16 billion (€12 billion), and net income fell to $4.47 billion in the three months to September 30th.

In the same quarter, research from Gartner showed that global shipments were 8.3 per cent lower, down to $87.5 million.

But analysts warned that Microsoft may have some way to go to convince businesses to adopt the new system.

According to data from research company StatCounter Global Stats, Windows XP has just under a third of the global usage market, with Windows 7 at 52.2 per cent.

That backs up figures from Microsoft, which estimates about 50 per cent of its users have moved to Windows 7. To date, more than 670 million licences have been sold to consumers and businesses, and Microsoft said the enterprise adoption rate was the fastest yet.

At 27.6 per cent, Windows XP, which was released more than a decade ago, has more users than Vista, which has a share of less than 8 per cent worldwide. According to StatCounter’s research, usage of XP peaks between Monday and Friday, while use of Windows 7 dips, indicating that the XP usage is primarily business based.

“Our stats confirm the theory that business users in particular have been reluctant to move from XP," said StatCounter's Aodhan Cullen.

"The new Windows 8 interface represents a radical overhaul for Microsoft, allowing it to enter the tablet market with the new Surface. The scale of change of the desktop experience, however, may heighten the initial reluctance of traditional business users to upgrade to this new OS.”

Microsoft is hoping to tempt users from XP, Vista and Windows 7 with upgrade offers that range from €30 for those who already own Windows machines to 15 for those who bought a Windows 7 device between July 2012 and January 2013.

Early reviews of the Surface tablet, which starts at $499, have been mixed, with praise for its slick hardware, but concerns about battery life and limited software and applications available.

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