Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) released the first broadly available test version of the Windows 8 operating system, giving consumers an early peek at software designed to rival the touch-enabled features on Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad.
The so-called Consumer Preview is available for download from Microsoft’s website. The Redmond, Washington-based company demonstrated the software, which lets users store applications in the Internet-based cloud in order to easily switch between computers and Windows Phones, in a two-hour session at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, today.
Revenue from Windows software, which runs most of the world’s personal computers, has missed analysts’ estimates in four of the past five quarters, in part because some consumers are defecting from laptops with Windows to tablets. Microsoft probably won’t be able to significantly change that trend until Windows 8 goes on sale, Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein said in an interview last month.
Julie Larson-Green, a Microsoft vice president, showed off the software’s tile design and the ease of switching between different applications on a tablet computer. The program allows users to “pin” people to the Windows start screen to communicate and maintain important contacts. Larson-Green also demonstrated how the software allows live video to run within an instant-messaging app.
“Windows 8 is really fast, fluid and responsive,” Windows President Steven Sinofsky said today. “It’s really an operating system for a new generation.”
Windows App Store
The company has declined to say when Windows 8 will be officially released, although analysts expect it later this year. Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) has said it plans to introduce a tablet based on the new software some time before the end of 2012.
Users have the option of signing in to a Windows account, which lets them connect to their information stored in an Internet-based cloud on multiple personal computers and Windows Phones. This lets them access e-mail and calendars, take apps and settings with them when they switch PCs and lets them use cloud storage, the company said in a statement.
The release of the test version also marks the opening of the Windows app store. Applications will be free during the Consumer Preview period.
The operating system marks the first time Microsoft will release a version of Windows for PCs that also runs on chips with ARM Holdings Plc (ARM)’s technology. Those are the kind of processors that dominate the tablet market, giving those machines better speed and battery life.
The test version available for download is the x86 version of Windows that will run the rival chips from Intel Corp. (INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) The ARM-based systems will get a narrower test audience, with Microsoft distributing thousands of them shortly, Sinofsky said in an interview earlier this month.
The ARM version of Windows will only be sold pre-installed on a computer or tablet and won’t run applications written for older versions of Windows, while the x86 product will run existing applications and can be sold separately, Sinofsky said.
Microsoft released an earlier preview of the program, designed for software developers writing apps for Windows, in September. Since them the team has made over 100,000 changes to the product, Sinofsky said today.
Microsoft fell 0.4 percent to $31.74 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 22 percent this year.
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