Microsoft

Microsoft Windows president Stephen Sinofsky introduces a test version of a touch-enabled Windows 8 at the Build conference in Anaheim. Reuters/Alex Gallardo

Windows has dominated the desktop computer battle for about as long as PCs have been around, but since the advent of the iPhone and iPad, Apple's insular system of products has begun to stem the tide. With Windows 8, however, Microsoft hopes to edge Apple by offering a single operating system for tablets, laptops, and PCs.

At the company's Build conference held today in Anaheim, Microsoft Windows president Steven Sinofsky provided developers with an in-depth look at the next version of Windows, giving them a head-start to commence building apps for the new OS. Going a step further, Microsoft distributed Windows 8-powered Samsung tablets runnin to each and every developer in attendance

In the presentation, Microsoft showed off tablets, laptops, and PCs all running Windows 8. Thanks to its investment in the cloud, all information is simplified, streamlined, and synchronized across every device. For instance, logging into Windows Live automatically loads your settings from any another Windows 8 device.

Yet, by far the biggest difference between Windows 8 and Apple's iOS is how applications are written and run. At Build, Microsoft announced two classes of applications across both PCs and tablets. While Desktop applications resemble old Windows programs, Metro-style apps are dynamic, immersive programs that be written or coded in almost any language, including C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, HTML 5/JavaScript, and/or XAML. The idea here, again, is to separate itself from Apple by making app-writing accessible to both software and Web developers alike. At the conference, Microsoft demonstrated this facility by writing an app called PhotoDoodle in just 58 simple lines of code.

We have a different point of view on how touch works and we have a different point of view on how apps work and it's been deeply thought out, said Jensen Harris, Windows' director of program management.

The Store sports an extremely clean and simple look, but was only shown to developers so they can start building apps that will be ready prior to Windows 8's launch.

Until today, Microsoft has been tight-lipped about its operating system, but the company revealed today it will forsake iOS' application icon look for a live tile system, where apps display up-to-date information and simple swipes navigate various menu options. Once clicked, applications launch in full-screen modes, which definitely seems like a more tablet-inspired move. The system was demonstrated on Microsoft's 

Microsoft will also compete with Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market with an app store of its own, called The Windows Store.  Additionally, files and applications across any device will be made much more accessible to users. This marks yet another departure from iOS and Android, two platforms that both keep app files confined in themselves.

While the new interface is slick and attractive, users that prefer the old PC feel to the new tablet interface can still click the traditional Windows start button in the lower left corner of the bar to browse through applications. Additionally, Windows 8 on a tablet also works with a mouse, keyboard, and stylus, as well as your fingertips.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says Windows 8 will arrive in 2012 on PCs and tablets, but Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's corporate VP of Windows, both refused to offer a specific date.

Windows 7, which was released in 2009, has sold 450 million copies to date.