Microsoft hopes to open up new vision of future with launch of Windows 8


New operating system hopes to take advantage of popularity of touchscreen devices

MICROSOFT OFFICIALLY unveiled the new version of its operating system yesterday, promising it would be the best version of Windows yet as it tries to tap into the popularity of touchscreen devices.

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

Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer told the conference that 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 Windows 8 system, on sale today, is designed to work on both desktop PC and tablets, and is optimised for touchscreens. 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, including Microsoft’s own Surface tablet.

The Surface is not yet on sale in Ireland.

The Windows 8 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.

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 touchscreen-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 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.

Analysts with Informa Telecoms Media estimated that by the end of 2014, more than 70 per cent of users will be using Windows 8, with 36 per using hardware supporting touchscreen.

“This is probably the most important announcement in Microsoft’s history since the launch of its Windows 3.0 in 1990. This is not just a product announcement; it is a new strategic direction that will redefine the way computers are used,” principal analyst Malik Saadi said. “The goal here is to move away from the ageing PC paradigm, where the user experience is designed and locked into desktops and notebooks.”

However, Mr Saadi said slow replacement cycles for PCs may delay moving all its customers to the new interface, and it could face issues in the mobile market.

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