A look at Windows 8’s tile interface (Screengrab from Building Windows 8 /Microsoft’s Building Windows 8 blog)

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.

“If the iPad ushered in the post-PC era, then welcome to the post-post-PC era,” wrote Zach Epstein at Boy Genius Report. He said that having tablet and PC integration will be key — at least as long as tablets offer fewer features than a full computer — and that Window’s integrated system will outstrip Apple until the company effectively merges iOS and OS X.

Industry speculation aside, Microsoft was able to show off some impressive attributes of its OS that should appeal to consumers. For example, the system consumes less memory than Windows 7, but still offers full Windows 7 support — and, of course, support for your mouse and keyboard. The system also has full USB 3.0 support.

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