BUILD: Microsoft Announces Windows 8 Developer Preview

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a developer-preview release of Windows 8 at its first-ever BUILD Conference, ushering in a new era for both PC users and developers. Windows 8 is a "re-imagined" version of the world's most popular software, as Microsoft executives are fond of saying, offering both an iPad-like "touch-first" user experience as well as the traditional Windows desktop.

The question is, will it resonate with either?

"Windows 8 re-imagines Windows from the chipset to the UX," Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky said on Monday. "It provides a new range of capabilities, scenarios, and form factors. We've worked with Intel, our SOC (system on a chip) partners, our ARM partners, and will show phenomenal progress [Tuesday]."

Microsoft has high hopes for Windows 8, and my first hands-on look at the software on Monday suggested the company has reason to be excited. That said, Windows 8 in its current pre-release guise—the developer preview is described as "pre-beta"—is buggy, with occasional crashes, glitches, and other unexpected dead ends. More positively, a loaner slate PC running Windows 8 boots in about 5 seconds from a dead stop—yes, you read that right: 5 seconds—and the new Metro-style UI, with its full-screen apps, is beautiful and a delight to use, whether you interact with your fingers on the touch screen or via mouse and keyboard.

Of course, BUILD is a developer show, so I should answer the biggest question surrounding this release: Yes, folks, Microsoft is supporting its traditional software development languages—C#, Visual Basic, C, C++, and so on—in addition to the HTML 5 web technologies (HTML, JavaScript, and CSS) that it previously and exclusively touted. Why that needed to be a surprise is unclear, but there it is: If you prefer C# over HTML, you're good to go.

Windows 8 will also be the first version of Windows to run on low-power ARM chips in addition to the more traditional Intel-based x86/x64 chipsets. This means we're going to see a new generation of ultra-thin and ultra-light Windows 8 slates and other devices. But there's also a dark side to these new machines: They aren't backward compatible with the thousands of Windows apps already available today. Those will need to be rewritten—though it's not clear if Microsoft will provide straightforward ARM development tools—or redesigned to run in the new Metro-style UI. All new apps—which run with a new platform called Windows Runtime (WinRT)—will run on both ARM and x86/x64.

I've already written a lot about the Windows 8 developer preview, so please head over to the SuperSite for Windows to read my review, view several screenshot galleries of the new build, and see a photo gallery of the slate PC. I'll be posting more articles and blog posts throughout the week, live blogging the various keynotes, co-hosting a Build Blogger Bash party, and recording a live episode of the "Windows Weekly" podcast from Anaheim this week.

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