CES 2012: Second Windows 8 Pre-Release Set for February, With App Store (and Maybe More)

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Lenovo beat Microsoft to the punch in introducing a new Windows 8 tablet at CES, and Microsoft hasn’t announced many details of a second Windows 8 build, either. Yet, in a keynote on Monday, Microsoft did point to a second Windows 8 preview version at the end of February, somewhat after the release of Microsoft’s Kinect “natural interface” platform for Windows. Beyond that, at some point down the road, Kinect will step from one-way communications between person and machine to two-way communications, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

The second pre-release of Windows 8 is set to arrive some four months after the initial pre-release, in which Microsoft took a radical departure from its own tradition by making the emerging new OS available to all users, not just software developers.

Many of the Windows 8 features demo’d on Monday night — such as a customizable Start menu, and “charms,” for quickly configuring settings for individual apps — came as old hat to keynote attendees already familiar with Windows 8 from its first rollout at Microsoft’s Windows Developers Conference in September.

Although Microsoft did supply some more information about Windows 8 during Monday night’s keynote, other questions are still unanswered as the CES show opens its doors to the public on Tuesday.

Paid Windows 8 apps are on the way, but when?

Microsoft did announce on Monday that its forthcoming app store — still missing from the Windows 8 prerelease — will be added in the February follow-on edition, and that users will be able to start downloading free apps from the Win 8 store in late February. Ultimately, the Windows 8 store will include paid apps too, Ballmer said, although he didn’t specify when.

In a demo of the impending app store — centering on a finger painting app and a game called “Cut the Rope” — Microsoft showed how you’ll be able to use Microsoft’s Bing to search the store. You can then use your finger to swipe through the results.

You’ll also be able to run multiple Metro apps concurrently, side by side, and to switch between them. The Metro apps will be navigable by either touch, mouse, or keyboard.

Highlighting the recent announcements of a plethoria of Windows 7 PCs, and another one by Dell at CES on Tuesday, Ballmer and his demo crew reiterated that Windows 8 apps outfitted with Microsoft’s new Metro UI will run on both existing Windows 7 PCs and future Windows 8 x86 PCs and ARM-enabled tablets.

More Windows 8 tablets are out there, but not at Microsoft’s keynote

Microsoft, though, mentioned only one Metro-enabled tablet during the keynote — the same unit distributed to developers in September. Just hours before, however, Lenovo had announced the IdeaPad Yoga, a 13.3-inch dual-hinged tablet/notebook combo unit.

At a press conference even earlier on Monday, NVidia demo’d Windows 8 running on a tablet powered by its Tegra 3 processors. On Tuesday, Qualcomm followed suit, showing off a Windows 8 tablet outfitted with its Snapdragon chips.

Tablet makers ranging from Texas Instruments (TI) to Kupa have pre-announced plans to show Windows 8 tablets. Why Ballmer didn’t demo any other tablets during his keynote remains a mystery.

Windows 8 will also run Windows 7 apps, since the OS consists of the Metro UI layered on top of Windows 7. Development is definitely under way, though, for new Windows 8 apps. For example, at CES this week, CyberLink has already announced three Metro apps: the PowerDVD Metro media player; YouCam Metro, for capturing videos and applying special effects; and PowerDirector Metro, for video editing.

When will Windows 8 get a ‘natural UI’?

Meanwhile, also as part of the keynote, Microsoft made a string of partnership announcements with Fox News, Comcast, and Sesame Street, around Kinect, a sensor-driven hardware device that provides the “natural interface” for Microsoft’s XBox machines.

Furthermore, on February 1, Microsoft plans to deliver Kinect hardware and software for Windows computers, Ballmer announced during his keynote.

In a demo of a prototype Sesame Street app, Microsoft showed how Kinect is now moving from “one-way” to “two-way” TV experiences. A young girl enlisted to help with the demos was able to influence the outcome of a Sesame Street vignette by deciding whether or not to virtually “throw coconuts” to Elmo. After complying with Elmo’s initial request to pitch a coconut to him, the girl said “nope” to a second request, forcing Elmo to get a second coconut from Cookie.

These “two-way” kinds of TV experiences will be coming to Kinect “soon,” Ballmer said, although again, he did not specify when.

Will Windows 8 apps ever run on Windows phones?

Ballmer also touted new Windows Phone 7.5 smartphones such as the Nokia Lumia 900 and AT&T’s HTC Titan II. Although Windows Phone 7.5 uses the same Metro UI as Windows 8, it cannot run Windows 8 apps.

Ballmer didn’t touch on speculation that an upcoming Windows 8 Phone OS might include the same core kernel elements as Windows 8, a move that could give Microsoft a leg up against Apple and Android by making its own phone and tablet/PC OS interoperable.

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