Windows 8 and Its Incredibly Cool New Touch Interface

So, this is the new Start screen for Windows 8. It's a brand new interface for tablets. It looks a lot like Windows Phone Live Tiles. And hey, that looks like an app store.

The whole point of Windows 8, which is just a codename, is to be one OS that'll run on regular computers or on tablets. So Windows 8 will run two kinds of applications: A standard Windows application ("It's Windows. Everything just runs," says Windows chief Steven Sinofsky) and an almost mobile-like app, written in HTML5 and JavaScript, which Microsoft is calling a "new platform." And of course, there's IE10 underpinning those apps.

Windows 8 and Its Incredibly Cool New Touch Interface

All apps can be viewed in this tile-based UI, which Josh from TIMN says is, "Very impressive. It looks super fast." You can totally see the Windows Phone influence on the interface, from the Live Tiles (which show info without having to open the app) to the touch keyboard, which even has a "thumbs" mode. (Sinofsky tells All Things D, "We were clearly influenced ourselves by phones.")

The animations and gestures and multitasking are all pretty damn smooth looking, as you can see in this demo video (or you know, up top). Swiping from the right reveals the taskbar, with the Start button, search, share and settings. Swiping from the left switches between apps, the background application zipping in and unfurling like a magic carpet. Snapping lets you have two apps next to each other, simultaneously. The main app takes up most of the screen, while the secondary app is like a docked sidebar; you can swap which you've got snapped very rapidly by swiping from the left to cycle through background applications.

Better still, it requires fewer resources than Windows 7, which is kind of crazy. Which all sounds great. And sort of what I expected. What sounds (and looks) a little dicey is that the awesome, modern tile UI is basically just a skin over Windows, though totally baked in and part of the OS. The rest of the "classic Windows desktop" is still there, looking underneath, albeit adjusted to be more touch friendly with "fuzzy hit targeting," so regular Windows applications will work with touch or keyboard/mouse. You can't turn either of the experiences off—it's always there. The regular Windows is always underneath the new Live Tile start screen. The Live start screen always is on top of Windows. But the two things together looks like a miscreant experience, even in Microsoft's demo. (That said, since old-school Intel Windows applications won't be able to run on the ARM version of Windows—there won't be any kind of emulation layer—maybe this won't be such a problem. And hence the HTML5 and JavaScript apps.)

The idea of running real, full Windows apps on a tablet (or anywhere) isn't a bad one—in fact, a ubiquitous OS that'll run on any device, perfectly, would be totally amazing—but mixing the two looks kinda gross and weird in practice, at least in its current state. Maybe the way Microsoft's gonna translate touch apps to keyboard/mouse and keyboard/mouse apps to touch to achieve this infinite OS will be downright magical in the end. But I'm not seeing this hybrid thing right now, even as impressed as I am by all of the incredibly cool modern interface stuff that's totally designed for tablets. (I really, really want that stuff on a tablet, to be clear.) And beyond that, at least when we're talking about tablets, it looks like Windows 8 still has a lot of the rest of the problems that made the current Windows less-than-good as a tablet OS—or it doesn't have the things that makes the other tablets as good as they are. Namely, utter simplicity. This. Is. Windows.

That said, we'll apparently see a lot more in September at Microsoft's Build conference. So I'm still hoping to be blown away as we get deeper inside Windows 8.

Microsoft's official list of new features shown off today:

• Fast launching of apps from a tile-based Start screen, which replaces the Windows Start menu with a customizable, scalable full-screen view of apps.
• Live tiles with notifications, showing always up-to-date information from your apps.
• Fluid, natural switching between running apps.
• Convenient ability to snap and resize an app to the side of the screen, so you can really multitask using the capabilities of Windows.
• Web-connected and Web-powered apps built using HTML5 and JavaScript that have access to the full power of the PC.
• Fully touch-optimized browsing, with all the power of hardware-accelerated Internet Explorer 10

[Microsoft, This Is My Next, All Things D, All Things D]