Microsoft says Windows 8 is a reimagining of Windows, "from the chip to the interface".
It says that "a Windows 8-based PC is really a new kind of device, one that scales from touch-only small screens through to large screens, with or without a keyboard and mouse."
Indeed, the new OS appears to have two completely separate interfaces - one, a traditional (and, on the surface of it, unchanged) Windows desktop and the other a new touch-based interface that borrows heavily from Windows Phone.
Actually, as you'll see, it basically is Windows Phone. You can move seamlessly between the interfaces and even have both on screen at the same time. So that leads us to believe there will be a single OS for tablets and traditional PCs.
This shows the transition between the interfaces:
Windows 8 release date
We originally wrote that we expect the Windows 8 release date to be in early 2012 and on 23 May 2011, Ballmer confirmed that Windows 8 will be released in 2012. He didn't go as far specifying when in 2012, though.
Bizarrely, Microsoft later said: "It appears there was a misstatement," adding "To date, we have yet to formally announce any timing or naming for the next version of Windows." However, it now seems he was spot on - as you'd expect.
However, more stories are now adding weight to the 2012 date. Microsoft corporate vice president Dan'l Lewin, hinted that the Windows 8 release date is likely to be next autumn - late 2012.
Seasoned Microsoft-watcher Mary Jo-Foley suggested on 27 June 2011 that the RTM, or Release to Manufacturing, date could be April 2012.
Speculation is rife that a Windows 8 beta will surface at Build, a developer conference being held by Microsoft in mid-September 2011. Expect to see some Windows 8 action there for sure.
Windows-related jobs have also appeared online, presumably gearing up for the launch.
Windows 8 system requirements
The new demo shows Windows 8 running on touchscreens (potentially tablets too) - expect many Windows 8 devices to be touch-orientated - and this may make its way into the device spec.
Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 have system requirements of a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. Vista requires 15GB of free hard drive space, and Windows 7 requires 16GB.
Given that there's been no real jump in requirements from Windows Vista to 7 (unlike the jump from XP to Vista, where XP required a 233MHz processor and 64MB of RAM) we'd expect Windows 8 to happily run on a system that can run Windows 7.
On 13 July 2011, Microsoft confirmed our assumption that Windows 8 would have the same system requirements as Windows 7. At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, Corporate VP of Windows Tami Reller talked about "continuing on with the important trend that we started with Windows 7, keeping system requirements either flat or reducing them over time."
On 18 May 2011, Intel confirmed that there will be separate editions of Windows 8 that run on ARM processors and versions that require Intel's own chips. The Windows 8 ARM editions will be tailored to mobile devices and Windows 8 tablets. The Intel versions of Windows 8 will feature a Windows 7 compatibility mode, while ARM versions won't.
However, the following day, Windows President Steven Sinofsky said that Intel's statements were "factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading." Sinofsky didn't elaborate on how the statements were inaccurate, simply saying "[We] have emphasized that we are at the technology demonstration stage. As such, we have no further details or information at this time."
Windows 8 price
Windows 7 Home Premium costs £99 for an upgrade copy and £149 for the full version. Expect the Windows 8 price to be similar.
Windows 8 interface
In March 2011, we reported that Windows 8 could offer a cut-down version of its user interface, taking on some design elements from the Windows Phone 7 UI in the form of Aero Lite. And it appears that prediction was correct - what we've seen looks a lot like Windows Phone. Indeed, it essentially is Windows Phone.
And, what's more, you can swipe between any of the interfaces in a cycle - and that includes traditional apps on the Windows desktop.
"Fast, fluid and dynamic, the experience has been transformed while keeping the power, flexibility and connectivity of Windows intact," says Microsoft's head of Windows Experience Julie Larson-Green.
"Although the new user interface is designed and optimized for touch, it works equally well with a mouse and keyboard. Our approach means no compromises — you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love. This is sure to inspire a new generation of hardware and software development, improving the experience for PC users around the world."
Here's a full list of what Microsoft has announced about the interface:
- Fast launching of apps from a tile-based Start screen, which replaces the Windows Start menu with a customizable, scalable full-screen view of apps.
- Live tiles with notifications, showing always up-to-date information from your apps.
- Fluid, natural switching between running apps.
- Convenient ability to snap and resize an app to the side of the screen, so you can really multitask using the capabilities of Windows.
- Fully touch-optimized browsing, with all the power of hardware-accelerated Internet Explorer 10.
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, says Microsoft "from small slates to laptops, desktops, all-in-ones, and even classroom-sized displays."
"Hundreds of millions of PCs will run the new Windows 8 user interface. This breadth of hardware choice is unique to Windows and central to how we see Windows evolving."
Windows 8 features
The 'fundamentals' Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 8 include "a fast on/off experience, responsiveness, and a great level of reliability from the start".
You'll be able to use an encrypting hard drive to boot Windows 8 and they'll integrate with BitLocker and third-party security apps.
Improving battery life will be based on some deep changes to the kernel; removing an interrupt in the kernel scheduler completely and removing more of the timers that interrupt Windows when it's trying to save power.
Windows 8 might get the same option for powering down unused areas of memory to save power that's on the cards for Windows Server, it will block disk reads and writes and some CPU access when you're not doing anything on your PC and PCI devices can turn off completely when they're not in use (assuming the drivers for specific devices support it).
Windows 7 stopped laptops waking up automatically when they're not plugged in; Windows 8 will get a new 'intelligent alarm' that can wake them up for things like virus scans, but only if they're plugged in.
OEMs will get new test tools that check the performance, reliability, security and Windows Logo compatibility of the PC, as well as measuring performance in Outlook and IE. And depending on whether partners have "concerns" about it, Microsoft might give the same tools to journalists, IT pros and users.
Windows 8 is also set to feature a native PDF reader, meaning PC owners will no longer need to install a third-party app such as Adobe Reader to view PDFs. The new PDF reader is known as 'Modern Reader', and uses the new AppX application package type, which is similar to that in Windows Phone 7 and likely to be used in Windows Phone 8 .
Reports that surfaced on 18 April 2011, suggest that you'll be able to run Windows 8 from a USB stick, using a feature called 'Portable Workspace'. This feature is said to only be available in Windows 8 Enterprise Edition, though.
Microsoft has shown effortless movement between existing Windows programs and "new Windows 8 apps." Yep, that's right - Microsoft is going right down the app route...
A Windows app store and Windows 8 apps
More than 30 app stores have launched in the last year and Microsoft isn't the only company copying Apple here; Intel has its own app store for Atom PCs. PC makers like the idea - apparently at the first forum they commented that it "can't happen soon enough".
With an app store, Microsoft hopes to attract more of the type of developers who are currently building smartphone apps and it wants them to create apps that make Windows the best place to use web apps (a job advert last October claimed "we will blend the best of the web and the rich client by creating a new model for modern web applications to rock on Windows".)
There is "effortless movement between existing Windows programs and new Windows 8 apps. The full capabilities of Windows continue to be available to you, including the Windows Explorer and Desktop, as does compatibility with all Windows 7 logo PCs, software and peripherals."
"There's much more to the platform, capabilities and tools than we showed today," says Larson-Green.
The Windows Store will be branded and optimised for each PC manufacturer. Your settings will follow you from PC to PC, as will your apps (although some slides refer to this as a possibility rather than a definite plan) - but you'd need an HP ID to log into the 'HP Store powered by Windows' and get your HP-specific apps. Microsoft doesn't plan to make money from the store; the early slides called it "revenue neutral".
The full capabilities of Windows continue to be available to you, including the Windows Explorer and Desktop, as does compatibility with all Windows 7 logo PCs, software and peripherals.
"Windows 8 apps can use a broad set of new libraries and controls, designed for fluid interaction and connectivity," says Larson-Green.
"Apps can add new capabilities to Windows and to other apps, connecting with one another through the new interface. For example, we showed today how a developer can extend the file picker control to enable picking from their own app content or from within another Windows 8 app, in addition to the local file system and the network. We're just getting started."