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Windows 8 will be very, very tablet-friendly

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(Read caption) Windows 8 is geared at both desktop and tablet users. Here, a screen from Windows 8, which is expected to launch in the next 18 months.

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Microsoft on Wednesday took the wraps off Windows 8, a next-generation operating system designed to work on both desktop machines and mobile devices. (It's worth noting that Windows 8 is only a working title, which Microsoft could change before launch.) Company reps touted Windows 8's "touch-centric hardware" and cross-platform capability – a nod to the recent surge of interest in tablet computers.

"Our aim with Windows 8 is to make the user experience a natural extension of the device, from the time you turn on your PC through how you interact with the applications you know and love," Microsoft exec Mike Angiulo said in a statement. "This represents a fundamental shift in Windows design that we haven’t attempted since the days of Windows 95, presenting huge opportunities for our hardware partners to innovate with new PC designs."

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Microsoft will officially open the Windows 8 platform to developers at the BUILD conference in September; the operating system itself is expected to launch sometime next year – not this fall, as had been previously rumored. So how will Windows 8, which is centered around a tiled application set-up, stack up against competitors, including the next version of the Apple OSX?

Over at ZD Net, Mary Jo Foley notes that the bulk of the Windows 8 demos have centered around tablet applications. "If I am a business user with Windows Vista or Windows 7 installed on my existing PC, will I want to upgrade to a touch-centric Windows 8?" she asks. "Even if it has faster startup/shutdown/hibernate, a better built-in data-recovery mechanism, or a Windows Store for purchasing/keeping track of my apps? I’m not so sure."

Nicholas Kolakowski of eWeek has a similar concern. But he points out that Microsoft has assured "its audience that Windows 8 will work just as well with a mouse and keyboard; that, in combination with the new operating system’s backward compatibility with existing applications such as Excel, could be enough to satisfy most desktop jockeys."

More when we know it.