Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, talks at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, talks at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. REUTERS

Microsoft previewed its Windows 8 operating system at the BUILD Windows conference in Anaheim, giving techies their first peek at the long anticipated software for touch screens.

Windows 8 is expected to ship next year as Microsoft enters the tablet war with Google and Apple. The software giant has high hopes for the next iteration of the Windows operating system, the biggest overhaul since Windows 95.

Microsoft demonstrated several new form factors for Windows 8, including ultrabooks and every variation of the tablet.

The products look intriguing and could make Microsoft more competitive, but Windows 8 is still only in the developer's preview stage. We would still need to run a lot more tests on Windows 8 to determine its ultimate stability and appeal, Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brendan Barnicle wrote in a note to clients.

However, conference attendees were particularly enthusiastic about several new features in Windows 8.

First, Windows 8 requires only 281 MB of memory and 29 processes, down from 404 MB of storage and 32 processes in Windows 7. As a result of these changes and others, Windows 8 also has the fastest boot time of any Windows operating system.

Microsoft provided one demonstration of a high-end workstation that booted as quickly as the PC's monitor turned on, Barnicle said.

The lower memory requirements should keep Windows 8 devices affordable and the fast boot time should keep them competitive.

The analyst said the attendees also liked the touchscreen log-in capability. Instead of typing a password, the user can create a password by touching on parts of the screen. Windows 8 embraces touch technology as Microsoft has never done in the past.

In fact, Microsoft is working with the touchscreen manufacturers to improve the performance of the glass as well as the software.

In addition, Microsoft announced backward compatibility for Windows 8. Everything that runs on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8, Windows & Windows Live, President Steven Sinofksy said at the conference.

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Meanwhile, the conference took a more technical turn as Sinofsky and others demonstrated the new application programming interfaces (APIs) and tool kits in Windows 8. Essentially, the changes will enable Windows developers and non-Windows developers to more rapidly develop applications for Window's 400 million users globally.

Barnicle said one of the most interesting features of the tools demonstration was the store feature in Windows 8. Once a developer has completed a new application, he or she can post the application to the Windows app store and set the pricing, terms and conditions of the app sale.

These changes should help energize the Windows apps ecosystem, driving new applications, the analyst wrote.

Finally, Microsoft showed lots of form factors for Windows 8 systems. In addition to ultrathins and tablets, Microsoft demonstrated a teraflop gaming tower, which won loud audience approval, as well as HP's new Phoenix tower and slates running Qualcomm Snapdragon and Intel's 32 nm Atom system-on-chip.

Clearly, Microsoft and its hardware partners have been working closely to best take advantage of the new features in Windows 8 and regain some of their competitive edge, Barnicle said.

In addition, as consumers are accustomed to Windows on their PCs, they would likely embrace Windows 8 on their tablets as well, especially if they can use the same applications and software on their PCs and tablets.

Last but not the least, Windows 8 will also offer better integration with Windows Phone 7, and together, they will offer a complete ecosystem just like Apple's Mac OS X and iOS, which should make it the platform of choice for hardware manufacturers looking for a non-Apple unified solution.

But, Microsoft provided no details on official release dates. In fact, Sinofksy said specially that the products will ship when they are ready, not by any specific timeline.

It is likely that Windows 8 will be a disruptive new operating system, but it is unlikely to be available any time soon, Barnicle said.