With new Windows, Microsoft will show whether it can go mobile

By Janet I. Tu | The Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The next version of Windows is being billed as a radical reinvention of Microsoft Corp.’s flagship operating system – the most extensive overhaul since Windows 95.
But just as importantly, it comes at a time when the market has evolved, with computers and mobile computing devices being used in ways vastly different from even a few years before.
It’s a world in which sales of Windows – though still, by far, the most dominant operating system on PCs worldwide – have declined and Microsoft’s competitors have charged ahead on mobile platforms.
With Windows 8, Microsoft has to show that Windows can continue to dominate computing as computing moves to new hardware platforms.
So there’s a lot of interest in Microsoft’s conference this week for developers, called Build, where Windows 8 and other new products are expected to be shown.
Starting today, developers worldwide will congregate in Anaheim, Calif., to hear from Microsoft’s top executives, get road maps for the company’s new offerings and attend sessions to help them build for, and work with, Microsoft products.
Here’s what we know about it so far.
Q: How is Windows 8 different from Windows 7 and other previous versions of Windows?
A: Windows 8 – which is still just a code name – is the first version of Windows designed from the beginning to run on both PCs and Web tablets. It will have a touch-screen interface as well as the more traditional mouse-trackpad-keyboard interface.
Aside from the touch-screen interface, which computer makers can choose to incorporate, another noticeable difference will be the start screen, which will use “tiles” instead of icons.
That tile interface, called Metro, is similar to the one now used in Microsoft Windows Phone smartphones. The tiles can include real-time updates from applications and touching or clicking on the tiles launches the apps, which can be Web-powered or Web-connected. The interface should also allow for a faster, more fluid switching between running apps.
Q: Because Windows 8 incorporates touch, will those using Windows 8 on a desktop still be able to use a mouse and keyboard with it?
A: Yes. Microsoft has said that although the new user interface is designed and optimized for touch, it works equally well with a mouse and keyboard.
PC makers will still make desktops and laptops with mouse or trackpad and keyboard.
Windows President Steven Sinofsky said in a post on Microsoft’s “Building Windows 8″ blog that users will be able to choose which interface to use: traditional desktop style or the new, tile-based Metro style. And they can switch between the two.
This will definitely apply to PC users. And going by the words of Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows Experience, it may be true for tablets as well.
“The user interface and new apps will work with or without a keyboard and mouse on a broad range of screen sizes and pixel densities, from small slates to laptops, desktops, all-in-ones and even classroom-sized displays,” she said.