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Will Windows 8 revamped look propel microsoft back into competition with Apple?

Microsoft unveiled a preview of its Windows 8 operating system, which looks to revamp the brand and introduce a new, smoother interface designed to accommodate touchscreens. As Faster Forward’s Hayley Tsukayama reported :

Completely reimagining Windows, Microsoft gave an in-depth preview of its next operating system, Windows 8, at its BUILD developer’s conference Tuesday. Developers interested in using the system and developing apps for it can now download the toolkit from Microsoft.

“Things are a lot different than they were three years ago in computing,” said Steven Sinofsky, the head of Windows and Windows Live. “And they’re a lot, lot different than they were in, say, 1995, the last time Windows went through a pretty significant and bold overhaul.” He said that Windows 8 “reimagines what Windows ban be” as the company moves into a more mobile era of computing.

The new system embraces touchscreens and was designed as touch-first. Sinofsky said that he expects that touch screens on PCs will take off once the system is in larger use. “I promise you, the minute you use a touch device with Windows 8, the moment you go back to your laptop or desktop, you’ll have fingerprints all over your screen.”

Microsoft heavily emphasized the touch capabilities of its new system, which is set to run on tablets and PCs — the company’s answer to Mac OS X and iOS.

Some observers said that Microsoft’s gamble appears to have paid off, and that Windows 8 could send Microsoft into fierce competition with Apple and Google in the tablet space.

InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman said “for the first time in a long time, Microsoft may challenge Apple on the design and innovation fronts, and it could even relegate the iPad to runner-up status after a couple years” without serious innovation from Cupertino.

Even the iconic “blue screen of death” that has confronted Windows users for years is getting a makeover. As TechCrunch.com explained:

While Windows 8 was widely expected to have a black screen of death, the developer build released yesterday has revealed that Redmond has opted to stick with the historic blue. It does, however, come with a peculiar twist. Rather than inundate people (who hopefully remembered to save their work) with a breakdown of why their computer stopped working, it seems Microsoft has chosen to take things in a more compassionate direction.

Unlike the classic, wordy blue screen of yore, the latest version instead makes a sad face at the user. In addition to flashing that large frown, the new BSoD also provides some key search terms just in case the user feel likes digging into what just happened. Users are given a few seconds to write it down or commit it to memory before before the PC automatically restarts, and voila: it’s back to business.

It’s a step in the right direction, as the classic blue screen was nigh unintelligible to most users. This latest version manages to make the process a little less headache-inducing, but I (perhaps naively) long for the day when Microsoft can tell me in plain English why my computer just failed.

Many analysts have questioned whether an operating system designed for tablets and PCs will allow Microsoft to make up ground against Apple and other competitors. As Hayley Tsukayama reported:

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.

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