Ina Fried

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Windows 8’s Big Day

It’s a big day for Microsoft, as the company gets set to launch Windows 8, the biggest change in years for its flagship operating system.

Windows 8 moves Windows into new directions. It can run on traditional PC processors as well as those traditionally used in phones and tablets. It is designed to be equally at home on a touchscreen slate as on a desktop PC with keyboard and mouse.

The move is also Microsoft’s effort to regain ground lost to the iPad in the tablet arena.

One of the key concerns, though, is that Windows 8 introduces a new kind of apps, and many programs for both PCs and mobile devices have yet to make their way to the new Windows Store.

AllThingsD will have live coverage from the New York launch event, which is due to kick off in about 20 minutes. The software itself, along with new PCs running the operating system, is set to go on sale Friday.

In the meantime, here’s Walt Mossberg’s review of the operating system, and of the Surface RT tablet.

8:11 am: We’re probably about five minutes away from the start. To set the scene, we’re at Pier 57, near the edge of the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.

8:18 am: Lights dim. “The World is Ready” in white type on a black screen. Cue video.

There’s a spinning globe, then a brief clip of Windows boss Steven Sinofsky at the China launch of Windows 8, from earlier this week.

Lots of people from around the world, interspersed with clips from Microsoft’s developer events, and shots of Windows 8 in action.

Onstage now is Sinofsky. Mostly recapping. Windows 7 has sold 670 million licenses so far.

The world is really different now than it was a while ago, etc.

“In creating Windows 8, we shunned the incremental,” Sinofsky said. We boldly reimagined Windows.

8:24 am: Sinofsky now talking about the 650 pages worth of blogs written about the development of Windows 8 (the longest of which he penned personally).

If you are familiar with Windows 8, most of this is old hat. But, while we are going through it, I’ll summarize the basics.

Windows 8 has two modes: The desktop, which looks a lot like Windows 7, and a new-look Start menu that links to both classic Windows apps as well as a new breed of touch-centric apps designed specifically for the new OS.

8:28 am: Starting at 12:01 am, the software is available as a $39 downloadable upgrade for Windows 7 users, as well as on new computers.

Sinofsky notes that Windows 8 has been through 1.24 billion hours of public testing

“No product anywhere receives this level of external usage and testing prior to release,” Sinofsky said.

There are more than 1,000 PCs certified to run the new operating system.

Full-featured Windows 8 PCs will start at under $300, Sinofsky said — less than most tablets.

8:31 am: Sinofsky is talking about apps — perhaps the biggest question mark when it comes to Windows 8.

“We’re just getting started today,” Sinofsky said. The company isn’t giving out an official number, but it is estimated that by the end of the week there will be somewhere around 10,000 apps globally.

8:32 am: Peeking at the logos behind Sinofsky … Vimeo, Kindle, FX, Kobo, Rakuten, Box, PopSci, CW, USA Today are some of the logos I see — we’ll have a photo soon of the slide.

Netflix and Hulu are there, too.

8:34 am: Now Sinofsky is talking about Windows RT, which runs on ARM-based processors from companies such as Nvidia and Qualcomm.

So far, Windows RT machines are being made by Asus, Lenovo, Dell, Samsung and Microsoft itself — with Surface RT.

Sinofsky is clarifying that, unlike Windows 8 PCs, RT machines only run built-in apps — Office, as well as those designed for the new Windows Store.

8:36 am: Windows RT can use existing peripherals, though, Sinofsky notes, including all the best-selling printers. In total, there are 420 million existing devices that will connect to Windows RT devices.

Microsoft had a tighter-than-normal partnership with chip and hardware makers when it came to Windows RT — limiting the number of hardware makers that any one chipmaker could work with.

8:37 am: Now onstage are Windows executives Mike Angiulo and Julie Larson-Green to show off some of the Windows 8 PCs.

But first, another video.

8:38 am: First up, the duo are showing off Windows 8 running on existing Windows 7 PCs.

Larson-Green logs in by touching specific places on a picture of her kids — a new option with Windows 8.

“Windows 8 is really easy,” Larson-Green said. “Everything you need is right under your thumbs.”

Built-in Xbox Music service offers free streaming of 30 million songs.

“It’s a really great update for all Windows 7 PCs,” Larson-Green said.

Angiulo shows Windows 8 running on a Lenovo X1 Ultrabook, which he said boosts start-up time by 33 percent on that device.

Importantly, desktop apps and new-style apps can be run side by side.

They demo Excel 2013 running alongside a weather app. Colleague Lauren Goode says she can’t remember ever seeing two people so excited about Excel.

Angiulo talks up Windows Phone 8, and the experience. (Of course, plug in an iPhone to a Windows RT machine, and all it can do is charge the device.)

8:46 am: It’s PC show and tell time. First up, an Intel-powered device from Acer and Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet 2. Lots of adjectives.

8:49 am: There are PCs in all shapes and sizes, laptops, tablets, convertibles, all-in-ones.

8:50 am: More app logos: Lots of magazines and newspapers and TV stations.

On to Windows RT — PCs that will offer better battery life, improved security. Microsoft is showing off five machines, starting with Lenovo’s flexible Yoga device (a version of which was first shown at CES back in January).

There’s also Dell’s XPS 10 and Samsung’s Ativ Tab, which Larson-Green says has 12 hours of battery life. Asus has its Vivo Tab RT and, last, there’s Microsoft Surface.

(Microsoft is being smart by touting its partners’ machines first, though we’ll be hearing a lot more about Surface later today.)

8:56 am: PC show and tell is done, and it’s time for another video.

8:57 am: CEO Steve Ballmer takes the stage

“It really is an exciting, exciting day,” Ballmer booms.

“Windows 8 shatters perceptions on what a PC really is,” Ballmer said.

Ballmer notes that the home screen is personal, with the apps, Web sites and people that matter most to whoever is using it.

By logging into a new Windows PC with a Microsoft account, lots of your information just flows down to the machine.

“It will all be there — everything and everybody that you care about,” Ballmer said.

Lots of great PCs, Ballmer said. “For the first time, though, Windows also has first-rate tablets in addition to desktops and notebooks.”

9:03 am: Ballmer gushing more, noting how many different parts of the company went into Windows 8, including Bing, MSN, SkyDrive, Skype and Xbox.

Oh, and Office.

9:06 am: Ballmer: “Are these new designs PCs? Yes. Are these new designs tablets? Yes.”

9:08 am: Now Ballmer is talking up Windows 8’s entertainment chops, including a SmartGlass feature that links a Windows 8 machine with Xbox and the Xbox video, music and movie services.

Enterprises will also like it, Ballmer promised.

Ballmer also promises more to come from Microsoft on the business front, relative to Windows 8.

Windows Phone, meanwhile, works in a similar way to the new desktop OS, Ballmer said, highlighting the similarities from that. (Microsoft is having a separate Windows Phone 8 event on Monday.)

Ballmer talking up the opportunity for software makers, noting that there are 670 million PCs just waiting to be upgraded to Windows 8.

Analysts forecast sales of another 400 million new PCs, most of which will run Windows 8. Those are big numbers, Ballmer said, even in a market known for big numbers.

We’ve grown very fond of this term “Windows reimagined,” Ballmer said. “You’ve heard it today, and you are going to see it in our ads.”

“Windows 8 does bring together the best of the worlds — PCs, tablets, work and play,” Ballmer said.

But, he said, people won’t take his word, and they shouldn’t. Go out and see the new PCs and touch them, he said, heading offstage.

I think this is it for this part of the event. There will be more from here, but not for a bit, so I will stop the liveblog and update you later with any other news.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik