This morning, Microsoft gave their first detailed demonstration of Windows 8 to an audience of developers at the BUILD conference in Anaheim, California (and via live video feed globally). I’ll tell you some of the highlights and how to download it.

And was it good? No, Windows 8 looks incredible. When compared with the difference between Windows Vista and Windows 7 this is a much bigger change. Actually Windows 8 is a quantum leap forward, and such a dramatic change in so many ways it leaves me wondering how Apple will respond.

So, what is new? Well first up Windows can now boot in as little as 2 or 3 seconds on some hardware. Oh, and the core operating system actually used about 1/3 less memory than Windows 7. So it’s fast and light.

Windows 8 uses a Metro style user interface. It’s a fresh approach to computing and one which I think users will grow to appreciate quite quickly (though I’m certain will put some users off).

This operating system is equally at home on a tablet as on a full blown desktop PC. And in many cases I think users will opt for a device that does both – operates as a tablet when needed but docks to deliver a full PC experience in the office.

With Windows 8 Microsoft have made it easy for developers of all types to put together great applications in a small amount of time. And rich applications that draw on the cloud, local content, and the Metro style user experience. I expect to see a lot of applications designed specifically for Windows 8 and ready by the time in launches.

Curious what features are in Windows 8? Here’s a sampling:

  • Support for sensors (gyroscope, compass, GPS, etc)
  • USB 3
  • Near Field Communications (NFC)
  • Smart handling of mobile data roaming (Incl 3G/4G)
  • Synchronisation and backup of key settings such as email accounts, favourites, photos between systems (via the cloud)
  • Runs 100% of Windows 7 applications
  • Built in spell checking functionality
  • Runs across existing Intel/AMD 32-bit and 64-bit systems and new ARM based systems
  • Security baked in including free Antivirus and Antimalware
  • A system level mechanism so applications can share data and images with other apps
  • ‘Reset & Refresh’ option to return a PC to an initial state without losing data and settings
  • Improved search across the web and Windows applications
  • Simple Metro style application development using multiple development methods including: HTML/CSS, JavaScript, C#, VB, C, C++ (and easy porting of apps to Windows Phone 7.5)
  • Friendlier Windows Update and notifications
  • Cloud storage built in to leverage SkyDrive
  • Includes Metro based Email and Calendar client
  • Lock screen shows key information such a new emails or missed IM conversations(similar to Windows Phone 7)
  • A user interface that is works well via touch, mouse or keyboard
  • Improve multi-monitor support
  • Windows Store for acquiring and distributing applications

So, what’s the cycle for bringing Windows 8 to release? It looks like this – with my predicated dates alongside:

  • Windows 8 Preview (today)
  • Windows 8 beta (early January 2012)
  • Release Candidate (February/March 2012)
  • Release to Manufacturing (April 2012)
  • General Availability (June 2012)

The preview release of Windows 8 is available now from this link.

The keynote presentation including Windows 8 demos and hardware is available to watch here.

I will update with further details as they come to hand. I will also be discussing Windows 8 in detail on the next episode of the NZ Tech Podcast – you can also follow me via Twitter: @paulspain