Microsoft launches Windows 8, Surface tablets
Microsoft Corp. on Thursday launched its new new Windows 8 operating system and Surface tablet, as the Silicon Valley behemoth embarks on an ambitious path to redeem itself in the fast changing world of personal computing.
Head of Microsoft's Windows division Steven Sinofsky opened the launch event in New York in front about 1,000 media and PC industry partners where the company announced the software and the devices to go on sale at midnight on Thursday.
Locked in a fierce battle with consumer technology rivals such as Apple and Internet sensations like Google, Microsoft has been cornered into reinventing its operating system that faces tough challenges after nearly two decades of domination.
With tablets chewing into the market for laptops and desktop computers, the Redmond, Washington-based company, that relies heavily on software for the traditional devices such as Windows and Office, is seen struggling to maintain its stature in the consumer technology world.
Following the release of Windows 7 in 2009, which was acclaimed by critics and consumers alike, the company said it wanted to venture into a new direction, with company CEO Steve Ballmer calling the upcoming version of the OS, its "most ambitious" one yet.
The operating system, that Microsoft says has been designed from ground-up after careful consideration of its almost entire feature base, retains almost the entire traditional Windows platform underneath, even though its exterior has been completely overhauled.
An entirely new user interface, dubbed "Metro", that borrows heavily from the clear and purposeful design language of public transit, has been brought in to bring the Windows ecosystem up to speed with the now-ubiquitous world of touch computing.
While at first glance the concept risks being written off as old wine in a new bottle or a seemingly dysfunctional marriage of touch and traditional input, reviewers of the pre-release editions of the software have come to agree largely that the attempt does indeed work well.
Bringing starling speed and agility to an operating system that has often been criticised for its lag and instability, the new interface, that is prioritised for touchscreen users, feels very "fast and fluid", even when used with a keyboard and mouse, a large section of bloggers and reviewers note.
Some critics however, predictably, do find issues with the significant changes mandated by the overhaul, complaining about decisions such as the removal of the Start button from the taskbar or the inclusion of two entirely separate application environments within one operating system.
The "Start screen", the new iteration of the Start menu that has been part of the Windows platform since its early days, with its colourful dynamic "tiles" which replace icons to form a vibrant mosaic, also has some users unconvinced.
However, in everyday use, nearly all uses noted significant improvements in speed and reliability over previous versions of the platform, with most of them praising the novel direction of the that few expected from the supposedly conservative Microsoft.
Breaking tradition in other fields as well, the company, that was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975, has for the first time in recent memory decided to go in a head-on competition with its hardware partners by announcing two tablet computers to showcase the new software.
Christened 'Surface', the 10.6 inch tablets will come in two editions -- a regular one and the other with capabilities of a full-fledged ultraportable laptop and will start from USD 499 -- same as the popular iPad from Apple.