Bill Gates Talks Windows Future, Touch Interfaces

On the eve of the Windows 8 launch, Microsoft managed to convince co-founder Bill Gates to take a moment from saving the world to talk about the new operating system.

In a YouTube interview with Microsoft executive Steve Clayton, Gates talks up Windows 8, calling it an “absolutely critical product” that would help extend the Windows franchise’s reach to lower-powered and touch devices. That he would praise the new operating system is totally unsurprising; but he did offer a few hints of where Microsoft plans on taking Windows in coming years.

“It’s evolving literally to be a single platform,” he said, referring to how Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 share a kernel, file system, graphics support, and other elements. At least in theory, that will allow developers to port apps from the desktop/tablet OS to the smartphone OS with relatively little work. The two operating systems already share the same design aesthetic, with Start screens composed of colorful tiles linked to applications.

Gates also praised natural user interfaces—which include touch and voice—while taking a subtle dig at Apple’s iPad and other tablets on the market. “People want to consume their mail, reading, video anywhere, and they want it to be awfully simple,” he said. “But you want to incorporate touch without giving up the kind of mouse, keyboard capability that’s just so natural in most settings.”

The major selling point of Surface, the Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets that Microsoft is building in-house, is the flexible keyboard that clicks into place along the bottom of the device. Windows RT, a version of the operating system designed to run on the ARM architecture that powers the majority of mobile devices today, looks virtually identical to Windows 8, which runs on the x86 architecture that dominates the desktop and laptop market.

Despite Microsoft’s giant marketing push behind Windows 8, however, some early users are exhibiting confusion over the new operating system’s redesigned user interface. “It made me feel like the biggest amateur computer user ever,” a New York copywriter told The New York Times in a widely circulated Oct. 21 article. But others in that same piece described the interface as “functional” and “clean.”

Initially at least, Windows 8 might find the most traction among tablet and touch-screen users, while those on traditional desktops and laptops opt to sick with Windows 7. In a meeting earlier this month, Intel executives told SlashCloud about their own internal testing of Windows 8 devices, which revealed users preferred touch-enabled devices by a very healthy margin over keyboard-and-mouse ones.

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