Microsoft Offers Windows 8 Preview, Free Tablet PCs For Build Conference Attendees

Microsoft and Samsung have co-developed a Windows-8 based tablet PC that Microsoft is handing out to the 5,000 developer attendees at the company's Build developer conference in Anaheim, Calif., this week.

In a series of keynote speeches Tuesday Microsoft unveiled Windows 8's full development capabilities before an enthusiastic audience. That comes after weeks of dribbling out bits of information about of the nascent desktop operating system in a "Building Windows 8" blog.

Microsoft, however, did not disclose a target date for making Windows 8 generally available, a date widely expected sometime in 2012. "We're going to be driven by the quality, not a date," said Steven Sinofsky, Windows and Windows Live division president.

The unnamed Samsung tablet uses a 2nd generation Intel Core i5 microprocessor and has 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of solid state disk, said Michael Angiulo, Corp. vice president of Windows planning and ecosystem, while demonstrating Windows 8 running on a broad range of hardware devices. The device uses an 11.6-diagonal Samsung Super PLS display and will come with one year of AT&T 3G service.

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Holding up the Samsung device, Angiulo said to wild applause: "I've been told it's impolite not to share, so I've got 5,000 in a warehouse nearby."

"It's a machine for developers," Sinofsky said, casually dressed onstage in jeans and a gray sweatshirt. "It's a real way to experience the preview of Windows 8 on hardware that's preview as well."

Reports of a Samsung Windows 8-based tablet began leaking out last week. But Microsoft and Samsung made no announcement Tuesday about if and when the tablet device might be commercially available.

Angiulo also showed Windows 8 running on what he described as an unannounced "Ultrabook" laptop computer developed by Intel, a reference hardware system based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon ARM chip, a new Toshiba ultra-thin laptop, and a system with Epic water-cooled graphics processors and 4.7 teraflops of computing power.

While Windows 8 isn't expected until sometime in 2012, Sinofsky made clear this marked the new operating system's formal debut. "It's a launch," Sinofsky said early in the keynote. "We're launching a new opportunity for developers," he said. "Every Windows 8 PC is your potential customer."

Before Tuesday, Microsoft had released only limited information about Windows 8, including planned support for desktop virtualization. Microsoft did show off some of what the company calls Windows 8's "Metro-style" user interface at an industry conference in June.

Next: What's In Windows 8 For Developers

Sinofsky and a number of Microsoft managers devoted a two-and-a-half hour keynote Tuesday to showing off Windows 8's tile-based user interface, its advanced development capabilities, and its ability to run on a range of ARM- and x86-based devices.

A key element for developers is Windows 8's support for many development languages and tools through a new WindowsRT (for "run time") set of APIs natively built into the operating system, said Antoine Leblond, senior vice president of Windows Web Services. That will let programmers develop Metro-style applications using HTML and JavaScript tools for Internet Explorer, Win32 apps using C and C++, and .Net applications using Visual Basic and C#.

"You can have your choice of world-class development tools and languages," Sinofsky said. He also repeated Microsoft's promise that all applications written for the current-generation Windows 7 will run on Windows 8.

The Windows executive also promised to avoid creating bloated, inefficient code as Microsoft adds new features to Windows. As an example, he demonstrated how Microsoft Task Manager running on Windows 7 on a two-year-old Lenovo laptop used 404 Mbytes of memory while the same software running on Windows 8 on the same machine used only 281 Mbytes. "We are very focused on the fundamentals of Windows 8," he said.

Sinofsky touted Windows 8's touch capabilities that will allow it to run touchscreen-driven tablets as well as traditional PCs that use a keyboard and mouse. "I think touch is going to become a big part of user interaction," he said. "I promise you that once you use touch, when you go back to your laptop you're going to be tapping your screen, getting fingerprints all over it."

He defined the new generation of tablets and smartphones as "not just devices you carry, then use, but devices you use as you carry them."

Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft corporate vice president of Windows program management, demonstrated the Windows 8 interface – including logging on by touching specific points on a photograph rather than typing in a password. She also demonstrated new utilities or "charms" in Windows 8 that developers will use to extend the operating system's capabilities.

Chris Jones, senior vice president of Windows Live, demonstrated Windows 8's ability to work with the Windows Phone operating system and with cloud services such as Microsoft's SkyDrive online document storage and file-sharing service.

Developers will be able to download the Windows 8 developer preview from beginning at 8:00 p.m. PT Tuesday, Sinofsky said. At some point the developer preview will be followed by a beta of Windows 8, a release candidate version, a release to manufacturing version and general availability – but Sinofsky did not attach any dates to those milestones.