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Saturday, October 20, 2012 - Page updated at 08:03 PM

Windows 8: a pivotal launch for Microsoft

Microsoft launches Windows 8 this week and the stakes couldn't be higher. Windows 8 is not only a radical revamp of the company's flagship operating system. It also marks Microsoft's big competitive move in the mobile market — a space where it once had a sizable footprint but has now fallen far behind. Here's what you need to know about Windows 8 and Microsoft's development of it. Read related story →

Microsoft Windows through the years

1985: Microsoft ships Windows 1.0, a new operating system that allows users to point and click with a mouse through screens - or "windows" - rather than type MS-DOS commands.

1987: Windows 2.0 is released, with desktop icons and improved graphic support.

1990: Microsoft launches Windows 3.0, and Windows 3.1 in 1992.

1995: Microsoft releases Windows 95. It features built-in Internet support, dial-up networking and the first appearance of the Start menu, task bar, minimize, maximize and close buttons on each window.

2001: Windows XP is released.

2006/2007: Windows Vista is released (in 2006 to business customers and 2007 to consumers)

2009: Windows 7 is released.

October 2012: Windows 8 launches.

Source: Microsoft, The Seattle Times archives

Windows are everywhere

Here is the installed base of different versions of Windows in use worldwide in 2012.

Source: International Data Corporation (IDC)

Windows 8 tablet competitors

Rival tablet makers have a vast head start in the number of units they've sold since introducing them.

Source: International Data Corporation (IDC)

Computer makers have already announced devices featuring Windows 8

Surface

For the first time, Microsoft has its own branded tablets. There will be two versions: Surface RT (runs on ARM-based chips, launches Oct. 26) and Surface Pro (runs on Intel and AMD chips, no release date yet). Both have covers that double as keyboards.

Other tablets:

Samsung's Ativ Tab runs on ARM-based chips; its Ativ Smart PC and Smart PC Pro run on Intel chips and can be docked to keyboards. Asus' Vivo Tab RT, which runs on ARM-based chips, can also be docked to a keyboard.

Laptops, desktops:

Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook and HP Envy 23 and Envy 20 TouchSmart All-in-One PCs are examples of touch-enabled notebooks and desktops.

Hybrid/convertibles:

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 and 13, which flip, and Toshiba Satellite U925t, which slides, are examples of devices that can act as laptops or tablets.

Explore the interface

Windows 8 is markedly different from previous versions of Windows. It has two modes: the new tile-based mode and the traditional desktop mode. It's also designed to work both with mouse and keyboard and with touch on devices that have touch-screens. Here's what else you need to know to get started:

Hover over dashed areas to read more about how the interface works

Does not have Start button. Has Start screen instead. Click on tiles to open applications.

"Live tiles" replace icons. Some tiles can display up-to-date information - weather, headline news. Can "pin" tiles onto Start screen and rearrange into groups

Desktop tile enables switching to traditional desktop mode.

"App commands bar," which appears when users swipe up from the bottom of the touch-screen or right click on the mouse, has contextual commands allowing interaction with apps.

"Charms" bar - with Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings icons - allows users to complete tasks such as getting back to Start screen or searching across apps and sharing information directly from apps. On touch-screen, bar appears with finger swipe from right edge of screen. On a non touch-enabled screen, hover over right corners.

Power off device through Settings/ Power/Shut Down.

Obtain Windows 8 apps from Windows Store.

By the numbers

Despite having the dominant PC operating system worldwide, Microsoft's Windows division has seen a decline in revenue. Can Windows 8 change that?

Key staff

A large number of people worked to develop Windows 8. Here are a few of them.

WINDOWS DIVISION
ADMINISTRATION

Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division. Kept the train running on time, delivering several preview versions before Oct. 26 launch. A 23-year Microsoft veteran, he previously oversaw product development for Office.

Tami Reller, chief financial officer and chief marketing officer of Windows division; Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president of Windows division; and Mike Angiulo, corporate vice president of Windows planning, hardware & PC ecosystem, worked on design, development and planning of Windows 8.

DESIGN AND INTERFACE
SERVICES

Sam Moreau, director of user experience design and research with Windows division; Albert Shum, Windows Phone Design Studio general manager; Jeff Fong, design lead for Windows Phone; and Bill Flora, a former design director at Microsoft and currently founder of design firm Tectonic, were among those who worked on the tile-based design language that's the face of the new Windows 8 user interface.

Chris Jones, corporate vice president of Windows Services division, and Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, headed the development of services and products integrated into Windows 8, such as SkyDrive and Internet Explorer 10.

The four versions

The new operating system comes essentially in four different versions, each designed for a different market segment.

 

Windows 8

Windows RT

Windows 8 Pro

Windows 8 Enterprise

What is it? "Full" version. Designed to run on PCs with x86 chips such as those made by Intel and AMD. Has two modes: the new, tile-based interface and the more familiar "desktop" mode. Windows 8 "lite" of sorts. Designed to run on devices using power-sipping ARM-based chips. Has the newtile-based interface and the traditional desktop mode. The desktop mode includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The tile-based mode will run apps designed for that interface, which will be available in the Windows Store. Includes Windows 8 function, plus features for encryption, virtualization, PC management, domain connectivity. Includes Windows 8 Pro functions plus features for mobile productivity, security and manageability for large businesses. Includes Window To Go, a manageable corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick; DirectAccess, BranchCache and AppLocker, among other features.
What sort of hardware will it run on? Desktops, laptops, tablets, hybrid devices. Mostly tablets but could possibly be used in other form factors. Desktops, laptops, tablets, hybrid devices. Desktops, laptops, tablets, hybrid devices.
Will it run legacy Windows apps? Yes. It also won't run apps designed specifically for desktop Windows, aside from what comes with the device. (It will run apps featuring the new tile-based interface, available in the Windows Store.) Yes. Yes.
Ideal for... Content consumption and productivity purposes for individuals On-the-go uses and for content consumption purposes. Consumption and productivity with added organizational benefits. Large business customers.

Reporting by JANET TU, Graphics by MARK NOWLIN, Web design by DEAN KRAMER / THE SEATTLE TIMES