The long-awaited Windows 8 operating system from Microsoft is finally here, the company announced on Thursday. It'll be available to consumers and businesses around the world starting Friday. The Redmond, Wash-based software giant is touting 8's "beautiful new user interface," featuring a look that's quite a bit different from what Windows users are accustomed to.
Also coming Friday is the grand opening of the Windows Store, which features a wide range of applications. The previously announced Microsoft Surface – the company's first official tablet PC – makes its debut on the same day, marking one of the biggest days in Microsoft's storied history. It's all part of the company's strategy to target the whole computing ecosystem.
“We have reimagined Windows and the result is a stunning lineup of new PCs," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “Windows 8 brings together the best of the PC and the tablet. It works perfect for work and play and it is alive with your world. Every one of our customers will find a PC that they will absolutely love."
You can download the update for existing PCs at http://www.windows.com/buy. There will be two primary versions available at stores: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, as well as Windows 8 Enterprise for large organizations. Anyone currently running Windows XP, Vista or 7 can upgrade for $39.95. Also launching is Windows RT, designed for ARM-based tablets and available pre-installed on new devices. In addition to Microsoft Office 2013, Windows RT is designed exclusively for apps in the new Windows Store. A Windows 8 version of the Surface is slated to debut later.
The Windows Store will launch with approximately 10,000 apps, making it a real uphill climb against Apple and Google's Android, which each have several hundred thousand in their respective stores.
"The unified user experience of Windows 8 across various types of device also faces a number of challenges, most notably in the mobile market where Microsoft is a new entrant," noted Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. "How will the software giant manage its partnership with mobile OEMs and create a single marketing message? How will it aligning its platform roadmap with reference designs and points of differentiation of the various vendors? These are not simple tasks; they will require significant investment in terms of time, money and human resources.
Informa expects more than 70 percent of Windows users will be on version 8 by the end of 2014, and 36 percent will use new hardware supporting touchscreens.