Windows 8 beta folds in 100,000 code changes (live blog)

The software giant releases the beta of Windows 8 and promises it will create a more consistent experience across tablets, laptops, and desktops.

Windows 8 in its many forms, on display at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today. Aloysius Low/CNET Asia

Editor's note: We used ScribbleLive to cover Microsoft's presentation today at Mobile World Congress. You can see highlights in the story that follows, or skip down to the embedded ScribbleLive module to replay the event along with commentary from our readers and CNET reporters. You can also click here for a summary post of what was announced.

BARCELONA, Spain--Compromises are out when it comes to computers, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky said here today as he unveiled the beta for the Windows 8 operating system.

Consumers have been faced with too many decisions, the president of Microsoft's Windows business said during a press event at Mobile World Congress. Functionality vs. battery life? Tablet vs. phone?

Mobile phones, laptops, desktops, tablets are all coming together, he said, though there are still seams.

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky says the company has sought to create a consistent experience across devices. Aloysius Low/CNET Asia

Microsoft is trying to sew up those seams and offer consumers a "consistent" experience, regardless of what type of device they are using. The company is doing so by focusing simultaneously on the operating system, apps, and hardware.

As a result, using Windows 8 should be a "super fun experience," Sinofsky said.

Windows 8 has undergone more than 100,000 code changes since the Developer Preview was released and will feel much more "refined," Sinofsky said. He called Windows 8 a "generational change" in its design, function, and implementation.

"The last time we made a generational change was Windows 95," Sinofsky said.

Julie Larson-Green, vice president of Windows program management, and Antoine Leblond, vice president of Windows Web services, released details about both the OS and apps.

Larson-Green threw out "fast," "fluid," "fun," and "functional," as the key themes behind the development of Windows 8. She showed off the touch-screen tablet interface, which resembles the tiles on Windows Phone, and a "charm" bar that pops up when a finger is slid across the right side of the screen and that takes you back to the home screen.

She used Cut the Rope to demonstrate an Xbox interface designed for both casual and high-end gaming. Larson-Green also previewed an app for "pinning" friends and family to the start screen. A revamped messaging service is on tap as well.

Leblond switched the focus from tablets to laptops and noted that Microsoft put as much effort into the mouse and keyboard as it did into the touch screen.

The first big change: the end of ctrl+alt+delete to start up. Now you can just hit enter. Another big change: the start menu has been replaced by a start screen that pops up when the mouse moves over the bottom left corner. Meanwhile, mousing to the bottom right corner zooms out for rearranging tiles and pages, Leblond said. Moving the mouse to the top left corner lets you switch to the previous open app. And the top right corner brings up the "charm" menu.

A revamped app store is also part of the changes coming with Windows 8, Leblond said. The store's landing page features a spotlight section that includes top apps, new releases, and recommendations.

All apps are free to download during the Consumer Preview, or beta, he said.

The company announced the eight winners of Microsoft's first app contest. The winners' apps will be shipped with Windows 8. They are Air Soccer, Pew Pew, PuzzleTouch, SigFig Portfolio, Elements Weather, FlipSaw, CookBook, and Physamajig.

The home screen for Windows 8. Aloysius Low/CNET Asia

Microsoft then switched focus from consumer to enterprise. Michael Angiulo, vice president of corporate planning, brought a device onstage to demonstrate Windows 8 on an ARM processor.

A new generation of mobile PCs will offer a power profile like that of a phone and will be able to stay on standby for a long time, he said. Windows 8 will support four ARM chips: Nvidia's Tegra 3, Qualcomm's Snapdragon, TI's OMAP, and Intel's Cloverfield.

Angiulo showed off Office 15 on a tablet. Full versions of those apps run on ARM, just like on their x86 counterparts. The apps have also been tuned for touch capabilities, but retain mouse and keyboard use. Windows 8 uses less CPU, less power, fewer threads, and less processing, he said. Background tasks are resource managed so they don't block the user experience.

Ultrabooks were up next, with Angiulo demonstrating an 8-second boot on an Intel ultrabook.

Right now, tablets are about touch and PCs are about keyboard. Microsoft is "changing those assumptions," Sinofsky said, onstage with Angiulo.

Touch is an "and," not an "or," Sinofsky said. Users don't have to choose between the two.

Here are the eight winners of Microsoft's first app contest. Aloysius Low/CNET Asia

Microsoft also demonstrated a monitor/desktop that flips down and goes flat to be used as a gaming station or drafting board.

Finally, the company noted that cloud services can stitch together Windows 8 with Windows Phone and Xbox Live games.

The Consumer Preview is live today on Microsoft's site and is available in five languages. The next milestone is the release candidate, then release to manufacturing, and then general availability. There was no comment on the timing of the releases.

Windows 8 Enterprise will be shown off at CeBIT, which starts March 6 in Hanover, Germany.

Updated at 6:33 a.m., 6:41 a.m., 7 a.m., 7:10 a.m., 7:27 a.m., and 7:57 a.m. PT.

An edited transcript of the live blog starts here:

5:47 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Hi, everyone, welcome to the CNET Microsoft Windows 8 live blog from MWC. I'm Scott Stein, and I'm your humble moderator.

5:59 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: I think people who've been playing with the Dev Preview will be pleasantly surprised today, but answers to larger questions would surprise me.

6:14 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: Something to keep in mind is that MS is the only vendor to approach the tablet from the PC side. Google and Apple have come at it from phones.

6:18 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: Expect MS to make a big push that what they're NOT doing is scaling down the PC. They're going to argue, essentially, that they're upgrading the tablet.

6:23 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Steven Sinofsky takes the stage. "We started this project as we ended our Windows 7 project." Sinofsky is the president of Microsoft's Windows business--that's a pretty important part of the company.

6:24 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Sinofsky says we face too many choices where we have to choose between things: consumption or productivity? functionality vs. battery life? tablet vs. phone? Leads into Microsoft's "no compromise" message the company hammered during CES.

6:25 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Sinofsky says that all the services and software should go wherever you go on whatever product you are on. Mobile phones, laptops, desktops, tablets are all coming together, he says, but notes there are still seams.

6:26 to 6:28 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Says there is a new level of engagement with partners and ecosystem to develop Windows 8. Promises a huge array of devices, form factors, etc., but with a consistent experience. Sinofsky says there are significant changes since the developer preview software. There is a whole new level of functionality, he says, with over 100,000 code changes to Windows 8. The Consumer preview will represent a whole new product. Much more refined, he says.

6:28 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: If MS is truly significantly more engaged with hardware partners than ever before, this Windows 8 thing might just fly.

6:29 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Windows 8 is a generational change in how Microsoft designed the product, and the function and implementation. "The last time we made a generational change was Windows 95." He says Windows 8 is made to be easy for everyone.

6:31 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: The work we've done to make it easy to use is a "super fun experience," and comes naturally to people, he says. The idea of looking at things with a glance--which it touts for Windows Phone--is coming to Windows 8 too. Sinofsky says it will scale across multiple devices, experiences, and uses. Today, he says you have to use this app or that app. You should be able to get the apps you want, that connects to the service you want. The idea of adding apps.

6:32 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Says Metro style design language ties together everything in Windows 8. Metro designed to scale to different devices.

6:32 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: (The interface keeps reminding me of the Xbox 360. Which makes me wonder if the Xbox 720 will be Windows 8...)

6:32 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Xbox 720 with Windows 8 would be pretty cool, but makes me wonder why I don't just switch to PC gaming.

6:33 to 6:35 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Julie Larson-Green, VP of Windows program management, and Antoine Leblond, VP of Windows Web services, introduced. Microsoft gives the first vendor partner love to Samsung. Julie up first, says she will work with a Samsung Windows 8 device. Larson-Green pulling up the Samsung tablet device. Says it's designed to be personal. Demonstrating the touch password on a photo of her husband and son.

6:36 to 6:37 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Runs through the Start screen, which looks like the Windows Phone OS with live tiles. Fast and fluid were the key themes for the Windows 8 experience. It should be fun and functional, she says. She's using a tablet, so this interface makes sense. I wonder how it will work with a keyboard and mouse?

6:38 to 6:39 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Shows off the HTML 5-based browser and Bing page, which is nicely integrated into the Windows 8 experience. It may make some people think twice about using Firefox or Chrome. Goes through a "charms" bar that allows you to go back home. You pull it up by sliding your right thumb from the edge to the screen. That's sort of like the PlayBook or WebOS user interface. Now, she's running through an Xbox interface.

6:39 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: It is a bit of "WebOS done right," at least when it comes to navigation.

6:40 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Microsoft made it great for both high-end games and casual games alike. Showing off Cut the Rope. It's easy to take an HTML 5 game and turn it into a Windows app--says it took about 5 months.

6:42 to 6:43 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Instead of alt-tab, you can use your left thumb to slide through the various open apps. Or you can slide your thumb a bit to pull up a list of open apps. You can take your finger from the top and drag it down to close the app -- that's really like WebOS and QNX! Talks about pinning people to the start screen for updates on the individuals you care about.

6:43 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: I'm sure that's great for stalkers.

6:44 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Pulls up a revamped messaging service. It looks different and clean. It also uses a bit of the aero snap when juggling multiple apps like IM and video. If you pull it to one side, it'll snap to cover one side of the screen. The snap feature is a great idea, but I NEVER use it on Windows 7.

6:45 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Agreed.

6:45 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Windows 8 has a systems-wide sharing concept, she says. Apps don't need to know anything about each other for them to work together, she says.

6:46 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Now for Antoine Leblond, who will talk about the laptop experience. Pulling out a Lenovo ultrabook to demonstrate Windows 8. Notes how much attention they paid to touch for the tablet. He says they paid as much attention to the mouse and keyboard.

6:47 to 6:49 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Hey, they removed ctrl-alt-delete to unlock...just hit enter! WHY did it take so long to do that? Leblond using the mouse to scroll through the various screens, says you can roll through mouse to move from side to side. Leblond says a finger is great for pointing and gestures. A mouse is good at precise pointing, but not so great for gestures. Leblond says Windows 8 uses the corner for navigation.

6:49 to 6:51 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Move to the bottom left corner to go back to the start screen. Go down to the bottom right corner to zoom out. Leblond says zoom is great for rearranging tiles and pages. Move the mouse to the top left corner to switch the previous open app. You can cycle through the apps there. The corners make it really easy to move around the UI, he says.

6:52 to 6:53 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: You can also pull up a listen of active apps in a sidebar by moving the mouse to the left. Move your mouse to the top right corner for the "charms" menu.

6:53 to 6:55 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Leblond starts up the USA Today app by typing USA, which automatically pulls it up. Demonstrates the ease in which you can take the USA Today article and share it to Wordpress. Notes the apps don't talk to each other, but still works. Leblond says Windows 8 is an even better Windows than Windows 7. Yeah, they sort of have to say that, right?

6:56 to 6:58 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: He's switched back to the traditional Windows view. The traditional desktop look - it's another full-screen metro-style app, he says. The desktop-as-an-app feature is a pretty interesting concept.

6:56 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: Impressively, it's true this time!

6:59 to 7:01 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Julie back on stage to show off the all-in-one touch-screen-enabled PC. She says it's not one or the other, and that they can work together (touch or mouse/keyboard). She throws out a magical line! Demonstrates Skydrive and Skydrive app, which makes it easy to find her files. She's scrolling through her photos with her fingers, while navigating with the keyboard and mouse, demonstrating the back and forth and flexibility of the system.

6:59 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: This is going to be the hardest thing for people coming to Windows for the first time, the discordance between Metro and desktop.

7:02 to 7:04 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Now demonstrating email, pulling pics from local drive, and more pics from the Skydrive, into a single message. Nifty. You can also browse and search within an app. Pull up the "charms" menu to get search, including Web, video, Xbox Live games, etc. Sort of like the universal search on an iPhone. That means searching for content within apps, including news, maps, etc. Antoine is back out to talk about the app store.

7:04 to 7:05 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: He's running through a tour of the store. He says the store was designed to be easy to look for apps. The landing page of the store starts off with the spotlight section, including top apps, new releases, and recommendation. You can pan through the tiles for categories, similar to Windows Phone. The listing page for the app gives lots of details on the app, from reviews and ratings. It looks very much like any mobile app store. Or even Apple's Mac app store.

7:05 to 7:07 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: During the consumer preview, all of the apps are free, he says. So go crazy downloading apps! Says developers are excited about the process for adding apps to the store. Says they appreciate Microsoft has the best economics of any app store. Also liking the huge reach of Microsoft. Windows 8 will be a great opportunity for small developers, talks about an app content to spur development. The store makes it easy for developers to build and distribute apps, he says.

7:07 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: The free apps element is crazy. Crazy smart.

7:08 to 7:09 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Announcing the first 8 winners of its first app contest. Air Soccer, Pew Pew, PuzzleTouch, SigFig Portfolio, Elements Weather, are among the winners. They all look pretty slick. The other winners include FlipSaw, CookBook, and Physamajig. Check them out. After all, they're free!

7:11 to 7:13 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Hmm "no compromise" or "fast and fluid," can't tell which is the bigger buzzword today. Sinofsky is back on stage, by the way. The idea of apps pulling info from each other, and work with Skydrive and the computer itself is really enticing. When you use one app, the other apps get better, Sinofsky says. The Windows store is a marketplace for apps, and is a new opportunity for developers. Touts the fast and modern presentation.

7:13 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: One of the most interesting parts of Windows 8, and sadly limited to Enterprise at the onset, is going to be a thumb drive with W8 installed. Stick it in, boot up, log into W8 and go. Shut down, take your key and all your data is saved to the cloud.

7:15 to 7:16 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Sinofsky talking about hardware now. Working on differentiation across broad range of hardware. Going to preview some of those devices. Sinofsky will show off SOC (system on a chip) devices--also known as tablets. Designed Windows 8 to meet the needs of a broad range of customers, but especially professionals who live in front of the computer. Wanted to show how enterprise control was part of the build from the beginning.

7:15 to 7:17 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Sinofsky talks about moving from screen to screen. What about a mobile phone screen? Michael Angiulo, VP of corporate planning, is on stage to demo Windows 8 on an ARM processor. We are going to have a new generation of PCs with a power profile like a phone, which can stay on standby for a long time.

7:16 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: The hardware bit. This'll make Win 8 or break it.

7:17 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Something Intel doesn't do very well.

7:18 to 7:21 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Angiulo having a bit of trouble logging in, but finally unlocks it. Nvidia Tegra 3, Qualcomm Snapdragon, TI OMAP and Intel Cloverfield chips in devices on display. Sinofsky says Windows 8 will support all four chips. Notes the same app is running on an ARM device as well as X86. It's the same code, he says. Notes the same app is running on an ARM device as well as X86. It's the same code, he says.

7:19 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: I have a hard time understanding the point of W8 on ARM. Isn't W8's best feature that it's NOT stripped down? Aren't the ARM processors the dreaded "C" word? (Compromise)

7:23 to 7:24 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Windows 8 uses less CPU, less power, fewer threads, processing, he says. Background tasks are resource managed so they don't block the user experience. Says partners will get testing devices for apps and hardware testing. A shout out to AT&T for its LTE network, which will help with the development process. Now on to ultrabooks.

7:25 to 7:25 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Angiulo starts with an Acer and shuts it down for a cold start. Claims the boot will take only 8 seconds. Fast boots will be the normal for ultrabooks...although that's supposed to happen on Windows 7 too.

7:26 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Shows off an Acer laptop with a motorized door that slides out and exposes ports. Not sure how practical that is.

7:26 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Yowza. 8 seconds is...killer on a laptop.

7:28 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Talking about the Samsung Series 9, another thin laptop. Looks at the task manager, which shows how the software parks an app that isn't being used, which enhances battery life. You don't have to close apps because they are put in a state of sleep, and resume quickly when you go to it.

7:28 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: That's the Acer Aspire S5. Saw it at CES. That motorized door is Trouble.

7:29 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Yeah, I can see that breaking quickly.

7:30 to 7:31 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Says they've done work to make networking easier on these devices. You can manage your various radios, whether it's Wi-Fi, or even cellular. There's an airplane mode too.

7:32 to 7:33 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, another next-gen ultrabook with a touch screen. It can fold itself back around to be used like a tablet. We're in a world where tablets are about touch, and PCs are about keyboard. We're changing those assumptions, Sinofsky says.

7:33 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: The Yoga's sleekly designed, and could be the best current example of that tablet/laptop design working w/ Windows 8

7:33 to 7:34 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Says form factors will start adapting to increased use of touch controls. Demonstrates a monitor/desktop that flips down and goes flat, to be used as a gaming station or drafting board. That is really cool.

7:33 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: I'm wondering if a IdeaPad Yoga flip-hinge is going to be the new thin

7:34 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: We've seen these tablet/laptops before, but Win 8 and capacitive touch displays could re-invent the concept.

7:35 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Sinofsky says the mouse is 30 years old, and notes that when they were introduced, they were controversial. Sinofsky says to keep an open mind and not be locked into the old way of interacting with a computer. Bring the PC to you, he says. Says the combination of touch and mouse/keyboard will become natural after use.

7:36 to 7:38 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: They go to the big HD screen, which is an active touch-screen device! I'd want one in my apartment, please. Says it can support 100 fingers, so 10 people can use it at the same time. It's an 82-inch display. That's crazy big!! Says it feels natural because it sticks to your finger. Demonstrates a dual-core AMD system in a little box, which can be mounted to a display. Says the AMD box was held up at customs because they couldn't believe it was a computer.

7:38 to 7:40 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Now a demo of Windows 8 on multiple monitors. That's right up my alley! Engineered an improved toolbar that spans the multiple monitors. An NFC shout out! A demo of connecting a Bluetooth speaker to a computer via an NFC tap. That could be a Nokia thing, as Nokia has been big on offering NFC-enabled accessories like headsets and speakers. So look forward to NFC capabilities on Windows Phone...when Microsoft supports the tech.

7:38 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: The multi-mon feature in W8 is very cool. You guys are gonna dig this.

7:41 to 7:44 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Windows will treat all drives as one extended drive. Different speed or size drives will all act under one pool of hard drive space. Showing off a video player app, that can stabilize a video in real time. It's an example of the power of the PC. Surprise! That computer wasn't running Windows 8. It's actually a Windows 7 PC running Windows 8 via a UBS drive. That would be the Windows to Go feature, which is pretty sweet. Windows to Go is a cool enterprise capability, Sinofsky says. But he says Microsoft will talk more about the enterprise capabilities at CeBit. Whoopie, another trade show...

7:45 to 7:48 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: Touch PCs are on the way in all shapes and sizes, Sinofsky says. Sinofsky says touch is an "and," and not an "or." You don't have to choose between the two. "You choose the form factor, and Windows 8 will follow you," he says. Talks about how cloud services can stitch together Windows 8 with Windows Phone and Xbox Live games.

7:46 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: Windows to Go is the USB key-hosted W8 I was talking about earlier. Could be killer if they figure out a way to get it to the average consumer.

7:49 to 7:51 a.m. PT: Roger Cheng: General availability update: Windows 8 Consumer Preview today in five languages. You'll see updates to the OS, new drivers from partners, updated preview apps. it'll be a dynamic consumer preview. Windows 8 Enterprise will be shown off at CeBIT. Says the next milestone is the release candidate, and then RTM, then general availability. No comment on timing of the release. Windows 8 caused a network hiccup, he says. Notes downloads have occurred in 70 countries. Okay, Sinofsky has wrapped up. That means we're wrapped up too. Thanks again to everyone who tuned in for our live updates.

7:52 a.m. PT: Seth Rosenblatt: MS is currently sticking to a release schedule very similar to Windows 7. No official announcement, but don't be surprised to see an RC around June, RTM around the end of July, and on new hardware in October.

The original story is below.

BARCELONA, Spain--Microsoft may be dumping the Consumer Electronics Show, but it still has a lot of love for Mobile World Congress.

The software giant's massive presence at the world's largest mobile trade show here highlights the shifting priorities of technology companies. Microsoft could have used its final keynote address at CES last month to make a big splash with Windows 8, but instead opted to use a more mobile-focused venue.

The company has a lengthy and comprehensive press conference planned for Wednesday as it runs through the details of its Windows 8 operating system.

Windows 8 takes Microsoft one step closer to the ultimate integration of the PC, tablet, and smartphone experience--something that rival Apple is also racing to get to with its iOS and OS X platforms. Microsoft's Metro-style tiles, for instance, create a consistent experience between Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Microsoft hasn't been silent or slumbering leading up to its big press conference. The company has already lowered the spec bar on its Windows Phone platform. This allows vendors to make more affordable phones, as illustrated by Nokia's newly unveiled Lumia 610.

We'll be covering Microsoft's presentation with ScribbleLive, so come back here around 5:45 a.m. PT Wednesday. We'll start the live-blog at that point--about 15 minutes before the event itself--and then give you the blow by blow.

Oh, Windows 8, are you worth the wait? Microsoft

Editors' note: The original, barebones version of this story was posted February 28 at 2:12 a.m. PT.

 

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