In one of the most important events in its history, Microsoft on Thursday officially launched the Windows 8 operating system and its Surface tablet computer in a bid to establish a crucial foothold in the booming market for mobile and touch-screen devices.
The software giant has fallen badly behind Apple and other rivals such as Google in these new markets which have already made the company’s dominance in traditional PC’s far less important than it once was.
In a New York unveiling that Microsoft said was the biggest launch of new devices ever, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer predicted the sale of 400 million new PCs annually in addition to 670 million upgrades to the new Windows 8 operating system.
The new devices are available starting Friday in over 140 countries, and Microsoft said there were more than 1,000 computer models certified for Windows 8.
These include over 50 purpose-built laptops that feature touch screens to tap into the software’s touch-centric Metro interface. The new interface replaces the traditional Windows look with live tiles that group programs according to user activity, and may require a learning curve for customers used to operating computers via Windows’ famous Start button.
Coming three years after Windows 7, the new software comes in Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro versions, as well as Windows RT. This is the first Microsoft operating system intended for use with computers running on ARM processors rather than the Intel-based X86 architecture which has been the exclusive platform for Windows until now.
“Windows 8 PCs are the best PCs ever,” Ballmer said. “Windows 8 brings together the best of the worlds.” The company said that the new computers are thinner, boot in half the time and sometimes weigh one-third the weight of Windows 7 PCs.
While the software and Microsoft’s Surface tablet have earned strong reviews, analysts doubt that the devices will present much of an immediate challenge to Apple’s iPad or Android-based machines, both of which enjoy a huge advantage in purpose-built apps.
However the compatibility of Windows 8 devices with Microsoft’s widely used Office software could make them popular among business and enterprise users, who have been slower to adopt Apple and Google-based devices than consumers.