Flanked by a small army of Windows 8 devices, Steve Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division, took to the stage in New York City’s Pier 57 on the eve of the operating system's official release to kick off the launch festivities.
Today, a day earlier than general availability, Microsoft is opening up the floodgates to the Windows 8 upgrade program. Buyers can now download Windows 8 and upgrade from Windows 7. Prices start at $39.99, although recent Windows 7 PC buyers may qualify for a free upgrade.
Today also marks the "grand opening" of the Windows App Store in 231 markets, informs Sinofsky. Currently, the Windows app marketplace has more apps than competing stores when they first launched, he says.
For Windows 8, Microsoft is clearly hoping to capitalize on the popularity and market momentum of its predecessor, Windows 7. "Windows 7 has sold over 670 million licenses to businesses and consumers," informed Sinofsky.
But computing landscape has changed radically in the few years since Windows 7 first arrived. Mobile devices, particularly Apple's iPad, have invaded the enterprise and sparked the "bring your own device" (BYOD) phenomenon.
While Windows is no stranger to the tablet form factor and various iterations have supported touch input, it has been eclipsed in the mobile device market by iOS and Android, operating systems that prioritize touch. So Microsoft made the bold decision to replace the default UI.
Windows 8 boots up to a colorful interface -- formerly called Metro -- with bold, self-updating tiles that launch apps and Web favorites. Desktop traditionalists can quickly transition to a Windows 7-like environment.
Microsoft's cloud also factors heavily. Skydrive, the software giant's cloud storage service, conspicuously pops up as a default option during file save operations. Windows RT -- a version of Windows 8 for devices powered by ARM-based mobile processors – is bundled with core Office 2013 applications, namely Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
This new, touch-enabled, cloud-connected model is poised to radically transform the Windows computing experience and bring tablets into the forefront. For Windows 8, Microsoft has "shunned the incremental," says Sinofsky.
Steve Ballmer later stepped onto the stage to drive the message home. "For the first time ever, Windows has first-rate tablets," said Ballmer.
Further reading on Windows 8 from our network of technology websites: