Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) unveiled an upcoming version of its Windows operating system that can run handheld touch-screen computers, aimed at narrowing the lead of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad in the market for tablets.
Software developers will be able to download a preview of the program, called Windows 8, tonight, the company said. The product lets users display favorite applications, people and information in tiles on the main screen. It will allow ultra- thin personal computers and tablets to turn on instantly and run all day on a single charge.
Microsoft is under pressure to put out a new version of Windows capable of running smaller, thinner tablet computers with battery life to rival that of the iPad. In the meantime, Windows sales have missed analysts’ estimates for three straight quarters and personal-computer sales have stalled as consumers favor tablets over notebook computers running the software.
“It’s very important for them to get this right,” said Sid Parakh, an analyst at McAdams Wright Ragen, who suggests buying Microsoft shares. “They can’t compete with what’s out there today in tablets.”
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft took the wraps off Windows 8 today at a conference for developers in Anaheim, California, without saying when it will go on sale. The product, previewed in June, is an attempt to vault Microsoft into a fast- growing market controlled by Apple and Google Inc.’s Android software.
Sixty million media tablets will ship in 2011, and 74 percent of those will be Apple’s iPads, according to an August forecast by IHS Inc. The global market is expected to rise to 275.3 million units in 2015, with Apple forecast to claim 43.6 percent of the market at that point.
In the quarter that ended in June, Apple sold 9.3 million iPads. About 20 percent of them went to customers who would have otherwise bought a Windows PC, estimated Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners LP in New York.
The need to compete has led Microsoft for the first time to offer a Windows computer operating system that runs on chip technology from ARM Holdings Plc. (ARM) The program is the biggest operating-system change Microsoft has made since Windows 95, Microsoft Vice President Julie Larson-Green said in June.
Windows 8’s design resembles Microsoft’s software for mobile phones in its use of digital tiles instead of icons to help users move between programs.
“From the chipset to the experience, Windows 8 re-imagines what Windows can be,” Sinofsky said in a keynote address today. Developers at the conference will get a prototype tablet computer with the Windows 8 preview software. The machine was made by Samsung Electronics Co. and runs an Intel Corp. (INTC) chip.
Like Microsoft’s Windows 7, the new software has touch- controlled tiles that can be automatically updated to display information from applications on the computer’s start screen. For example, a weather application can tell users that the forecast is sunny without requiring them to open the app.
The software also will run on desktop and laptop computers via a touch screen, mouse or keyboard. Windows 8 will run “virtually all” of the existing Windows applications, the company said in today’s statment.
Besides the new design, called Metro, the software also offers the option of switching to the regular desktop look available in Windows now. By switching to that mode, users can employ Windows 7 apps and devices.
The software will have a Windows Store for selling apps, and apps can work together and share information.
Microsoft first released a version of Windows for tablet computers in 2002, though the devices used a stylus and had few programs tailored to the new form. Many were as large as regular notebooks and had similar battery life.
Tablets caught on in 2010 when Apple released the iPad, promising 10 hours of battery life. Since then, companies including Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. have started selling touch-screen tablets running Google’s Android software.
Microsoft also said it’s approaching 450 million copies sold of its current operating system, Windows 7.
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