Now we know. Microsoft's president for Windows, Steven Sinofsky, today revealed a "reimagined" Windows, which boasts a very different, tile-based user interface called Metro based on Windows Phone that is touch-savvy, runs on ARM processors as well as Intel x86 chips, and yet will also work on traditional keyboard-and-mouse PCs and run anything that runs on Windows 7. The new version, code-named Windows 8, is now in developer preview, with no release date yet set.
Sinofsky said Microsoft redesigned Windows because "things are a whole lot different now than three years ago. ... Touch is a whole new dimension. Mobility is a whole new dimension. ... We want Windows to respond to that." He also said Windows 8 uses just 281MB of RAM, down from 404MB in Windows 7, and that all the new capabilities are native to the core OS, not layered on top of it. That should ease development and aid performance, he said. Microsoft has said Windows 8 will not run on smartphones, which will use Windows Phone 7 instead.
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Like Windows 7, Windows 8 is designed for touchscreen PCs where users gesture on their vertical monitor screens, a contrast to Apple's strategy of restricting gestures to horizontal touch surfaces such as a touchpad. (Non-touchscreen PCs use traditional pointing devices instead.) It also runs on iPad-style tablets.
The new Start screen is no longer just an icon launcher but a series of tiles that can contain live data, application screens, communications screens, and more. When clicked or tapped, the tile opens the content or app in its own window. Apps can interact through common exchange APIs, in what Sinofsky called a "web of apps."
Windows 8 adopts several capabilities pioneered by Apple in Mac OS X, including full-screen apps, OS-wide search, and OS-wide spell-check. Microsoft is also working on an HTML5-savvy version of Internet Explorer. IE is the only remaining major browser that's not HTML5-savvy.
For developers, Microsoft has made its new WinRT APIs so that you can access them from the language of your choice, rather than have the IDE restrict your language choice. A UI tool based on a proposed HTML5 grid standard helps developers design their apps visually to work on multiple screen sizes and orientations. Microsoft also will introduce an app store similar to Apple's Mac App Store, except that it also let's customers try software before buying.
InfoWorld will update this story as Microsoft reveals more details. Come back to this story for updates.
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