We hadn't seen Windows 8 until Wednesday, but most of us already had a decent idea of what to expect: a Windows/Windows Phone hybrid. It is exactly what we got and the reality is every bit as exciting and every bit as troubled as we had expected.
Having been a big fan of recent Microsoft moves we'll start with the positives and the most positive aspect of Windows 8 is its ambition. Microsoft is calling Windows 8 a "new platform" and it is the first radical shake-up of Windows' underlying code for more than 15 years. It offers both a Windows Phone-esque 'Metro' live tile touch friendly interface and a standard desktop experience with the ability to switch between and even merge them at will. According to Microsoft this is no mere skin, the live tile UI is a core part of the OS.
"This isn't just about touch PCs," proclaimed Julie Larson-Green, the Windows Experience corporate vice president. "The new Windows experience will ultimately be powered by application and device developers around the world - one experience across a tremendous variety of PCs. The user interface and new apps will work with or without a keyboard and mouse on a broad range of screen sizes and pixel densities, from small slates to laptops, desktops, all-in-ones, and even classroom-sized displays. Hundreds of millions of PCs will run the new Windows 8 user interface. This breadth of hardware choice is unique to Windows and central to how we see Windows evolving."
Yes Microsoft believes in Windows 8 it has a platform for all devices. "Our approach means no compromises - you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love," continued Larson-Green.
Given Windows 8's support of ARM chips this is more than simple marketing rhetoric. Laptop, PC and tablet can all coexist – three different form factors across two fundamentally different chipset technologies. In fact it makes Apple's tablet policy – essentially 'a big iPod touch' – look limited and short sighted. The problem is: what if the reality is actually the other way round?
In broad brush strokes both Apple and Microsoft are on the same page. Both believe the future is the merger of mobile and desktop platforms. In fact Apple has a head start. Mac OS X already has an App Store and Steve Jobs' admits Lion is inspired by iOS. That said there are crucial differences.