At its BUILD conference in Anaheim, California, Microsoft senior managers spoke at length about the features of the new version. A good side-effect of this conference was the provision of an early developers' build of the operating system for download and evaluation. (You can get it here.)
Windows 8 has an entirely different interface from all previous versions. A significant strength of Microsoft has been its ability to provide backwards compatibility. It is venturing out into the open this time - its new avatar, called Metro-style , will require the rewriting of all applications in order that they will work. But old applications will work as well, though they will lack the new features.
The interface (screenshot below courtesy of Microsoft Australia) resembles that of Windows Phone 7 - both the open source GNOME desktop and Ubuntu GNU/Linux have already gone a similar route and are being used in the real world while Windows 8 will likely make it to release in 2013.
You can use gestures to put two applications side by side on Windows 8; you can also switch to the traditional Windows desktop (screenshot on Page 2) for the older applications. Once one goes to the old desktop, one click on the Start menu button brings one back to the new interface. Any old applications - meaning those that are not written to function in the Metro-style environment - installed will have shortcuts on the panel at the bottom of the old Desktop interface.
There is a great deal of emphasis on touch but it is difficult to visualise desktop or laptop users reaching out to touch the screen. The O-S seems aimed at tablet users more than anyone else.
The control panel looks new but there is a link to the old-style one right at the bottom of the screen.
It is difficult to evaluate the possibility of success or otherwise of Windows 8 but it is certainly stuck in some kind of logjam over at Redmond. Let me explain.