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Thursday June 2, 2011 1:24 pm

Windows 8 reinvents Windows interface by bringing in Windows Phone 7 shell

Microsoft finally figured out how to effectively bring full-blown Windows to tablets: make it look a lot like Windows Phone 7.

In the first public unveiling of the upcoming Windows 8 interface, Microsoft's president of Windows, Steven Sinofsky, showed off a radically altered Windows start screen that features user-configurable tiles and looks almost nothing like Windows 7. The demo took place during this week's D9 conference in southern California.

The new interface supports gestures, snap, pin, cloud apps, new concepts like a basket for files you'll want to share between apps and services, and a hidden task bar on the right side of the screen. The updated OS is designed to work on "the hundreds of millions of PCs already out in the market," Sinofsky said.

Since it's still Windows, all devices and apps that work with Windows 7 will run on Windows 8, said Sinofsky, adding that consumers will only have to choose which device to run it on. "The interface scales from about 7-inches to a wall-screen display," explained Sinofsky.

In addition to the development screen, Microsoft showed Windows 8 running on tablets from Samsung and Lenovo.

This interface overhaul, possibly the most radical update since Windows 95, is virtually unrecognizable from the most recent OS update, Windows 7. During the demo, Sinofsky browsed the web on Internet Explorer 10, manipulated photos, and Tweeted on a prototype tablet device (actually a touch screen with a full-blown PC hidden under the desk). He also launched Microsoft Office, which, jarringly, drops the user back into the old-fashioned Windows 7 display.

A Microsoft exec explained that they didn't want to fully redesign the app just to run on a mobile experience. That said, Microsoft held out the possibility that the Office team could redesign the suite for the new interface. In answer to a question about whether or not Windows 8's new interface is simply an overlay, Microsoft execs said, "It's not a layer," and noted that unlike layers written by OEMs, Windows 8's new interface was Windows, and will run the same on millions of PCs.

As you would expect, there's an on-screen keyboard, which can appear in standard mode or as a split keyboard for thumb typing. Microsoft is keeping the Windows key on Windows 8's virtual keyboard to help you return to the new Start screen.

On the development side, Microsoft is offering new HTML 5 and JavaScript tools for building Windows 8 apps. Walt Mossberg pressed Sinofsky on Windows' continuing need for security software. If it has full blown Windows underneath, does it still need protection? While not exactly saying yes, Sinofsky said the need is not going away for anyone. "I think it'll always be a good idea to keep running security software," he said. "Anyone who thinks those smartphones out there are not targets…"

Microsoft will dive deeper into the OS update during its developer's conference this fall. Sinofsky wouldn't divulge when Windows 8 will ship to consumers, but reminded everyone that a good Windows release happens roughly every three years.

This article, written by Lance Ulanoff, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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