It’s no secret that tablets are revolutionizing the way people use personal computers, just as the laptop gradually took precedence over the desktop in households. Technology allows computers to be manufactured in even smaller and more compact units, whether it’s in the form of a smartphone, tablet, or something in between.

With its next-generation Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft will soon be releasing products that align with this technological shift. The Redmond, Wash.-based company has been consistent with its PC software throughout its 37 years of existence, but Windows 8 is unlike anything the company has ever done.

Now, less than a week before its release, Microsoft chairman and co-founder Bill Gates has spoken out on what’s next for the company he helped found in 1975.

“Steve Ballmer said this is an absolutely critical product,” Gates said in a video interview with Microsoft’s Steve Clayton. “It takes Windows into the world of touch, low-power devices. [It’s] really giving people the best of what you think of as a tablet type experience and the PC experience.”

Alongside Windows 8, Microsoft will be releasing a slew of mobile products such as its first self-branded tablet, known as the Surface, and its upcoming Windows Phone 8 handsets. Manufacturers such as Lenovo, Acer and Samsung are working on a batch of touch-screen enabled laptops that will be optimal for the new interface that comes with Windows 8.

The new software will feature apps in the form of tiles, and users can perform various tasks in the interface through the use of gestures. For those wishing to stay traditional, the software will also be keyboard and mouse compatible, resulting in what Microsoft is hoping to be a smooth transition for its audience.

“[It’s] evolving literally to be a single platform,” Gates said when referring to these mobile devices and Windows 8. “This is a big milestone for all Microsoft products, in terms of connecting to cloud services… People will be pretty amazed about the energy Microsoft’s putting behind this new wave of products. We’ve really saved up in terms of knowing that this was such an important set of innovations, whether it’s great new apps or ISV engagement or just plain marketing; this is the big time for us.”

Launching an entirely new product is a risk for any company, but Microsoft has yet to make a dominant impression in the market with its mobile products. With its 2010 Windows Phone 7, the company was forced to bounce back from the failure of its KIN feature phone, which sported a similar interface to WP7 and was discontinued only 48 days after its release.  

Microsoft released the first generation of its Zune MP3 player in 2006, but it was nearly impossible to edge Apple’s iPod out of the digital music player spotlight. Microsoft answered Apple’s iPod Touch with a Zune HD in 2009, but during that winter the company reported a drop of 54 percent in Zune platform revenue.

The Surface tablet will be a different story, according to Gates.

“[The] Surface is an unbelievably great product,” he said. “I mean, it’s really amazing and it embodies this idea [that] you can get an even better tablet that also has what you expect in a PC. A tablet that’s got a stand, a tablet that you can attach a keyboard to and point at things, but also gives you the classic software you want.”

Time will tell if Gates is correct, but if pre-sales are any indication of the Surface’s success, he may be right. Pre-orders for the Surface launched on Oct. 16 and sold out in the United States just days later on Oct. 20. However, the Microsoft Chairman says that users will need to see the device for themselves to get the full experience.

“You can’t appreciate it without seeing it,” he said. “The way you put that keyboard on and off; the richness of the swiping that takes touch interface to a new level. Just the beauty of the device, it is absolutely incredible.”

Watch the video below to see what else Gates had to say about the future of Microsoft.