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Microsoft BUILD: Windows 8, Microsoft’s big gamble

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Microsoft kicks off its BUILD conference in Anaheim, Calif., on Tuesday, where it will give an extended preview of its next operating system, which is being referred to as Windows 8. The company is talking to its developers about what has so far appeared to be a complete reinvention of its flagship product.

The biggest appeal of Windows 8 — or whatever it’s going to be called — is that it will offer the Windows platform on tablets for the first time in addition to personal computers. The biggest question is whether Microsoft is too late to make a stand in the tablet war raging between Apple’s iPad and various Google slates.

As the New York Times’ Steve Lohr pointed out in his Monday piece on BUILD, “Microsoft has a knack for comebacks.” And the company has taken pains to learn from its past mistakes (ala Vista) as it moves through the development process.

This is a very important moment for Microsoft, which needs to innovate now to keep a hold on it market share as users shift from using computers to using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. If the company can really find a way to bridge the gap between mobile computing and desktop computing, then it could have a winner on its hands.

Here’s are the highlights of what we know about Windows 8:

* It supports ARM architecture, creating a threat to the “Wintel” partnership Intel and Microsoft have shared for years. ARM chips are supposed to provide longer battery life, and — at least initially — fewer viruses, since the chip’s architecture differs from Intel, according to PC World. On the other hand, that report points out, lower power consumption most likely means lower performance, especially for gamers.

* It’s supposed to have faster boot times, USB 3.0 support and Hyper-V integration, which means that developers and IT departments will be able to run virtual environments.

* The interface is similar to the “live tiles” in the Windows Phone 7 system — and phones are supposed to get a flavor of Windows 8 at some point. Microsoft has also said that it’s adding the ribbon interface to Windows Explorer.

* The interface was designed as a touch-first interface, though it will work “equally well” with a mouse and keyboard.

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