Windows 8 Billed As Biggest Change To PC In 17 Years

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Microsoft faces an important crossroads as it launches the new operating system, Windows 8. The software is based on touch screens and gives users a much different experience than previous Windows systems. Windows 8 is seen as critical for Microsoft as it seeks to expand to tablets and smartphones, areas where it has lagged badly.

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After plenty of hype, today Microsoft officially released its new operating system, Windows 8. The company calls the software its biggest change in 17 years. For the first time, the system runs on personal computers and on tablet devices, and Microsoft is banking on it as the companies take it to the future, as NPR's Steve Henn reports.

STEVEN SINOFSKY: Welcome, everyone, to Windows 8.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: When Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's president of Windows, welcomes everyone, he's not really exaggerating, at least not that much. If you work in a cubicle or an office pretty much anywhere in the world, chances are excellent you spend a lot of your life interacting with Microsoft's products. And the company is determined to make sure that doesn't change.

SINOFSKY: Having surpassed over a billion people using Windows, it is now that we're looking forward to the next billion.

HENN: The precious few of those billion users are likely to describe working in Windows or Microsoft Office as magical or exciting. Safe to say almost no one wakes up hoping to find a better spreadsheet application under their tree on Christmas morning. With Windows 8, Microsoft executives hope they've created software that will power devices consumers actually desire.

They're building a music, games and streaming movies.

STEVE BALLMER: So we're launching the Xbox music service, Xbox video and Xbox games with Windows 8.

HENN: Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer.

BALLMER: With Xbox music, you create your own playlist and you stream from this global catalogue of 30 million songs for free.

HENN: With this new update to Windows, Microsoft is desperately trying charm consumers, delight them.

FRANK GILLETT: This one is huge.

HENN: Frank Gillett covers the personal computer industry for Forrester Research.

GILLETT: Windows 8 is vital to the company. It's the foundation of everything else that they do.

HENN: Windows is the hub Microsoft hopes will connect your work life to your home, and mobile devices are key. So the biggest change in Windows 8 is touch. That enables Windows to work on tablets and phones. But embracing touch means the new Windows looks almost entirely different. The start button is gone. Instead the home screen's dominated by brightly colored boxes for each app.

Microsoft calls them live tiles, and these apps update automatically. Microsoft's also built its own tablet to show off the new operating system. It's called the Surface. And this morning I took it to my favorite coffee shop.

ALEX HERMANN: It's pretty nice. How much is it gonna cost?

HENN: The version I have sells for just under $520, including the bright pink cover that doubles as a keyboard.

HERMANN: That's not bad at all, comparatively.

WILL CULLER-CHASE: The keyboard feels really good. I like the feel.

HENN: After playing with it, Alex Hermann and Will Culler-Chase were impressed, but reviews from professionals have been mixed.

SARAH ROTMAN EPPS: You know, honestly, Microsoft may have bit off more than they can chew with this release.

HENN: Sarah Rotman Epps, who's also with Forrester, says this tablet runs on chips that are designed for mobile devices. And that means a lot of the programs you expect to work on a PC simply don't work, even some websites fails. And she says, if Microsoft is really going to break into mobile in a big way it still has a lot of work left to do.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

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