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Windows 8 launch in Australia Windows 8 launch in Australia

The “ow starts now” was my reworking of Vista’s tagline, but with Windows 8 and RT that both blend Microsoft’s tablet magic with the full power of a desktop OS, delivered in an amazing variety of form factors, sizes and styles, the Windows 8 wow finally gets to truly start now.

Microsoft has finally launched Windows 8 overnight in the US at a New York event (which you can watch on this Windows 8 Launch event webcast), in Australia at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion and in another 138 markets around the world, in 37 languages, finally bringing Microsoft’s “reimagined” vision of a Windows that blends a full-screen tablet environment with the existing Windows desktop more seamlessly and with the most heightened touch accuracy than ever before.

Microsoft has also had to do so while ensuring that keyboards and mice remained first class citizens, giving those without touch screens full access to the results of all of Windows 8’s touch controls through keyboard shortcuts and right mouse clicks.

Although Microsoft has tried doing this to achieve the kind of success Apple enjoys with its iPods, iPads and iPhones with most seriousness since the Windows XP Tablet initiative Bill Gates launched in late 2002, with the failed UMPC market move that unfortunately had the resource-heavy Vista as its “mobile” OS in 2006, Tablet efforts with Vista and then some more serious improvements tablet PC improvements with Windows 7, true success has taken Microsoft more than two decades of trying.

Microsoft first had to make the breakthrough with Windows Phone 7 and the Metro interface, which itself was seen earlier in Microsoft’s Zune product line – if not in Microsoft’s Windows Media Center even earlier.

But once Microsoft finally made the move to create a new version of Windows Mobile (now known as Windows Phone) to run on ARM chips, something WinCE and WinMo had long done, with the Metro interface (as it was called at the time) moving front and centre at last, it was only a matter of time before a Metro tablet arrived too.

Clearly, however, Microsoft could not simply abandon its desktop Windows users, or its rich software library of apps. It was too late to make a device with tablet-only interface and work towards blending two operating systems together as Apple is doing with iOS and Mac OS X over time.

Microsoft needed a blended OS to follow Windows 7, and Windows 8 is exactly that – Redmond’s best ever effort at completely integrating a tablet and desktop-class OS, while also introducing even better multitasking, allowing two Metro/Modern UI apps to share a single screen in 1/3rd and 2/3rd screen size panes, and even to have either of those panes representing the traditional Windows desktop.

It’s something that no iPad or Android tablet can do, despite the faux twin-screen multitasking on a very small and select number of Samsung’s own apps its Galaxy Note 10.1 is seen doing in TV ads.

On that note, given the Note 10.1’s ability to have those select apps display in a dual-screen mode where both apps equally share two halves of a screen will emerge in some Windows 8 update, even if it means developers need to ensure apps display properly in that half-screen pane size – currently only Windows desktop apps can be used with Aero snap to achieve the half/half effect.

Microsoft’s Australian launch focused on the consumer aspects of Windows 8 – the new Start screen, logging in with a picture password, where you swipe over elements of a photo with only swipes you know, then surfing in IE, gaming action with Fruit Ninja, then Westvaco's Modern UI banking app. We see the Charms menu being swiped into action, we see Windows 8's People app in action, a search for Guy Sebastian in the search "charm" and results in Xbox Music where Sebastian's latest album Armageddon can be played, with his Battle Scars track chosen to demo.

We got to see the Windows desktop for a short while, with the explanation that the interface was familiar to everyone, but as you can imagine, the absence of the traditional start button was skipped - as was naturally any mention of both free and paid Start button replacements.

We got to see a demo showing various apps running side by side - in this case, Battlescars playing in a 1/3rd side window with playback controls while other apps could be run in the 2/3rd section to the right.

The JetPack Joyride game was demo'd, looking just as you'd expect it to from iOS, followed by watching the a clip of the Battleship movie in Windows's video player, and then having that video "sent" by an Xbox SmartGlass app (in the only SmartGlass demo) for playback via an Xbox 360 from where it left off when playback was stopped on Windows 8 itself.   

Soon after this the Windows 8 demo ended, and a brief series of questions began - plenty more continues on page two, please read on!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks, including stints as presenter of Ch 10’s Internet Bright Ideas, Ch 7’s Room for Improvement and tech expert on Ch 9’s Today Show, among many other news and current affairs programs.

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