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Windows 8 rumor mill heats up as Microsoft eyes tablet market

Microsoft has begun shipping to hardware makers an early build of the OS

The Windows 8 rumor mill is heating up, with talk that Microsoft has begun shipping to hardware makers an early build of the OS with a "ribbon" interface, enhanced support for tablets and a backup feature similar to the "Time Machine" available in Apple's Mac OS X.

Microsoft said "We are not commenting on future versions of Windows." But at the recent Consumer Electronics Show the company revealed that the next version of Windows will support ARM processors used in smartphones and tablets, and hinted it will be released in late 2011 or 2012.

See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review

A VISUAL HISTORY: Microsoft Windows after 25 years

The WinRumors site kicked off a new round of speculation by reporting that Microsoft has begun distributing early copies of Windows 8 to HP and other OEM partners.

Now there are reports that Microsoft is bringing its Office "ribbon" interface to Windows 8, which will supposedly make Windows more "tablet-ready."

Windows 8, according to other reports, will also get a "History Vault" feature similar to Apple's Time Machine, which gives users a simple way to back up and restore their computer's applications, data and settings. Also being talked about is a system reset feature that will make it easier to reset a computer to its original factory settings.

We don't actually know for sure that the next version of Windows will be called "Windows 8." In job postings, Microsoft is calling it "Windows.next."

At CES, Microsoft did not show off the user interface of its next version of Windows. But since Windows Phone 7 is not being ported to tablets, the company's biggest priority will likely be overhauling the interface to be easier to use on touch screens. Microsoft is far behind Apple and Google's Android in the emerging tablet market.

Although Microsoft hasn't revealed much about Windows 8 publicly, job postings have suggested that Microsoft is working on a cloud-based backup and deep integrations with Microsoft's online services.

Windows 8 planning documents shared with hardware partners last year also indicate that Windows 8 will use facial recognition to log users in; boot up much faster than Windows 7; allow user settings to move with a user from one device to another; and provide an app store. (See also: "8 amazing things you'll do with Windows 8")

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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