Microsoft held a big party for itself in New York City on Thursday ahead of the U.S. launch of its Windows 8 operating system and Surface tablet.
The event, which the company opted to stream over the Web, was meant to give consumers one last look at Microsoft’s products — as well as PCs and tablets from partner companies such as Asus and Dell— ahead of their big retail debut Friday.
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer also took to the stage to give his final pitch to consumers and drive home the fact that Microsoft is shifting to become a devices and services company.
“You can imagine what your own Windows 8 device will look like and how incredibly personal it will be,” he said.
Microsoft’s Windows head Steven Sinofsky opened the show by saying that Microsoft sold 670 million Windows 7 licenses, the fastest OS launch it’s ever seen. But with Windows 8, Sinofsky said, the company “shunned the incremental” and opted for a radical reboot.
Sinofsky offered some final summaries to consumers as the company launches what essentially amounts to two new Windows systems and a new app store.
Windows 8, he emphasized, adds touch navigation to the operating system but will still work with the keyboard and mouse. Every version of the operating system, he added, will come with a how-to on how to navigate the changes.
Windows RT, Microsoft’s tablet OS, he clarified, does not run Windows 7 applications but rather will run apps that users can download from the new Windows store.
The Windows store will be filled with a variety of apps from partners such as Netflix, Hulu, Box as well as Xbox Music and others, Sinofsky said , to make sure the things Windows users want most are already on their new tablets, notebooks and desktops.
Over 1,000 PCs have been certified for the launch — many with touchscreens. Sinofsky said that Microsoft’s reach and deep bench of developers allow the company to have a large number of apps at launch and will be able to fill out the store quickly.
Those interested in Windows RT devices but worried about legacy support should note that all those will come with a preview release of Office Home and Student made specifically for the RT system. They will automatically receive a full release of the application a few days after using the new device, Microsoft has said.
Executives also showed off a handful of new devices from partners, particularly highlighting PCs and laptops with touchscreens and convertible form factors that let users use the netbooks and PCs as tablets as well. Touch-enabled laptops will start at $499, the executives said.
The company also, of course, showed off its own Surface tablet, but didn’t rehash the details it revealed at the company’s launch event in June.
Consumers looking to upgrade their system but not their computer, Microsoft executives noted, get a benefit from Windows 8. Computers can boot up 33 percent more quickly than they did on Windows 7, Microsoft’s Mike Anguilo said, and users can still use the system with a keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft’s new systems will be available to U.S. consumers online and at Microsoft stores starting Friday. Ballmer also said that the company will be holding an event for its smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 8, on Monday.