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Microsoft partners are also enthusiastic about Windows 8 opportunities. Modern Networks, a London, U.K.-based Microsoft partner, expects about 50 percent of its Windows customer base to upgrade to Windows 8 within the next year, said Rob Thursfield, the solution provider's business development director and Microsoft alliance manager. Those customers now have a mix of Windows XP and Windows 7 PCs installed.
During the portion of the press event devoted to Windows 8, Microsoft executives seemed to take extra care to promote Windows-based laptop and tablet computers from Microsoft's OEM partners, including Lenovo, Asus, Samsung and others, as much as they did Microsoft's own Surface tablet.
"Just look at these gorgeous, gorgeous machines and how alive they are with activity," Microsoft's Ballmer said, noting the devices surrounding him onstage. "Our partners have come up with incredible new designs. People are going to love all the new Windows 8 devices and all they can do."
Ballmer said Windows 8 and Windows RT have become the center of Microsoft's development efforts, noting that many of the company's products have been updated or optimized to work with the new operating systems. Those include Internet Explorer 10, the Bing search engine, MSN, Outlook.com and Skype. "Skype on Windows 8. It's fast, it's easy, it's beautiful," the CEO said.
During the Surface tablet portion of the event, Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft Surface, demonstrated the tablet's capabilities and its innovative "Touch Cover" keyboard.
Panay showed off the device's ruggedness by dropping it on the floor a couple of times. And, he and Microsoft's Sinofsky showed a pair of Surface tablets with skateboard wheels attached and a photo of Sinofsky riding on the tablet-skateboard.
"It's not just a tablet, but it's the best tablet I've ever used," Sinofsky said, hugging the device to his chest while onstage. "It's also a laptop, and it's the best laptop I've ever used."
Surface for Windows RT goes on sale tonight online in eight markets and will be available in 60 Microsoft stores starting Friday. The Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablet is scheduled to be available in January.
But, Mazzanti at eMazzanti said that for the immediate future, he expects to recommend that his customers purchase Surface tablets based on Windows 8, saying they will be easier to centrally manage, secure and provision than Windows RT tablets will be.
Friday also marks the opening of the Windows Store, the online store for Windows 8 and Windows RT applications. "The grand opening of the Windows Store represents a major opportunity for developers," Sinofsky said. The store will be available in 231 markets in 109 languages.