A new Microsoft ( MSFT ) Windows operating system is on the way, and some of its features mark a bold departure from the look of previous Windows operating systems.
At its BUILD developer conference in Los Angeles, the software giant rolled out a preview of Windows 8, which can be optimized for use on tablets and other mobile devices and holds a signficant visual debt to previous Microsoft products like the mobile Windows Phone 7 platform and the now-defunct Zune media player.
"We reimagined Windows," said Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division. "From the chipset to the user experience, Windows 8 brings a new range of capabilities without compromise."
In many ways, Microsoft's shifts here resemble some of the changes made to the Apple ( AAPL ) OSX operating system in the latest update, dubbed "Lion." In both cases, the emphasis is on integrating new features that maximize simplicity and ease of use in a touchscreen environment.
The new mobile-oriented mode is called "Metro," and the standard look and feel of Windows 8 will more closely resemble Windows 7, creating a sort of double-sided interface. It's a move that the company has basically been forced to make, given its weakness in the mobile market. Though the firm founded by Bill Gates was once dominant in the operating system market, the exploding popularity of touchscreen smartphones has delivered the advantage to Google ( GOOG ) and Apple with Android and iOS, respectively.
The research firm Gartner recently reduced its growth forecast for PC sales (not including tablets) to a rate of just 3.8 percent for 2011; previously, the estimate was for 9.3 percent growth.
Tablet sales, meanwhile, are projected to surge from just 17.6 million in 2010 to nearly 70 million in 2011 and on to almost 295 million by 2015.
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