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Microsoft launches Windows 8 preview

Kicking off Microsoft's BUILD conference, Steven Sinofsky pitches the company's next generation operating system

Microsoft will post the first developer preview beta of Windows 8 late on Tuesday, the company announced as it showed off the new OS running on a Samsung tablet. 

See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review

Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, announced the release at Microsoft's "Build" Professional Developers Conference, being held this week in Anaheim, California. The beta version, intended for developers, will be posted at 8 p.m. Pacific Time.

The 5,000 developers in attendance will each get their copies along with a tablet produced by Samsung, preloaded with this early edition of Windows 8. The "Developer Preview PC," as it is called, runs an Intel Core i5 processor, a 1366 -by-768 pixel touch sensitive display, a 64GB solid state drive, and 4GB of DDR3 memory.

Such a portable device is typical of the new tablets and touch screen devices Microsoft is hoping Windows 8 will power. "Things are a lot different than in 1995, the last time Windows went through a major change," Sinosfky said.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's first significant step beyond the traditional desktop-bound OS, as well as the first major challenger that company has presented to Apple's popular iPad.

Sinofsky, along with other Microsoft executives, spent over two hours explaining the many ways that Windows 8 differs from its predecessors. Most notably, they extolled the virtues of the new Metro interface, which emphasizes interaction with applications through touch interfaces. It will also be the first version to support processors based on the ARM architecture, paving the way for its use on mobile, low-powered devices.

Performance improvements abound with the new release. Memory use has been improved, for instance. Sinofsky showed off how, in a netbook, Windows 7 would consume more memory than Windows 8. When it ran Windows 7, the netbook used on average around 400MB of memory, while the same workload on Windows 8 consumed less than 300MB. The improvements come about thanks to a new routine that can identify duplicate code, such as a library used by multiple applications, residing in memory.

Microsoft also showed off support for USB 3.0, which can speed transfer times. USB 3 copies at 166MB per second compared with about 40MB per second for the older version of USB.

For the business market, Sinofsky also demonstrated a remote desktop access application in Windows 8 that will allow users to log into and make full use another Windows 8 computer, through the touch interface. He also showed Windows 8's virtualization capabilities, designed to allow users to build and run a virtual machine. The presenters demonstrated a new task manager that shows CPU, disk, networking usage and performance. They also showed off a system wide spell checker, which can be used by any application. Developers can also make use of other routine tasks embedded in Windows 8, such as search and networking.

Another big change for developers is the option to use Web standards, such as HTML5, JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to write Windows Metro-style applications. "This is a departure from prior operating systems," said IDC software analyst Al Hilwa. "This is a smart way of attracting new developers who have moved to standard technologies."

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is [email protected]


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