Microsoft Australia this morning staged a local launch for the latest incarnation of its Windows operating system: Windows 8.
Windows 8 is equipped with an all-new, touch-friendly interface, and Microsoft has showcased a number of Australian developed third-party applications that take advantage of the new design and features, such as the context-aware Charm bar that enables access to settings and sharing through multiple media, such as social networks.
In pictures: Microsoft stages Australian launch for Windows 8
The Westpac banking app for Windows 8 uses Microsoft's Metro design language (although Microsoft dumped the Metro branding for marketing its interface earlier this year) and integrates with the new Windows 8 Start screen.
The Start screen, which uses the 'live tiles' style first seen on Windows Phone 7, lets apps, people and files to be 'pinned' to it. In the case of the Westpac app, a pinned tile can display a gauge that gives a visual indication of a bank account's balance. Microsoft also demonstrated the app's integration with its People contact management app.
Other Australian developed Windows 8 apps available include All The Deals, which aggregates details of deals available to consumers; SBS On Demand, which delivers access to the broadcaster's multimedia library; Take 40 Entertainment, which can play music videos; a Domain real estate app; and a number of games, such as Fruit Ninja from Queensland's Halfbrick Studios.
Microsoft also collected Australian celebrity endorsements for the launch, V8 Supercar driver Rick Kelly and solo sailor Jessica Watson.
Windows 8 Pro will retail for $69.99 in Australia, although users of XP, Vista or Windows 7 systems can upgrade for $39.99 until the end of January 2013; PCs purchased since 2 June and before the end of January 2013 can upgrade for $14.99.
The Enterprise edition of Windows 8 adds features such as Windows To Go, which can create a bootable flash drive with applications and files that belong to a user, AppLocker for permissions management, DirectAccess for seamless VPN-style corporate network access and features to facilitate applications deployment in the enterprise.
However, analysts have predicted that most enterprises won't look at widespread deployment of the new operating system until at least 2014. In addition to the typical concerns about rolling out a new desktop operating system, Windows 8's radical interface overhaul means that training staff may be a big concern for businesses.
However, the touchscreen interface revamp reflects Microsoft grappling with a new era where traditional PCs face growing competition from tablets and smartphones when it comes to activities, such as email and Web browsing, that were once largely the domain of the desktop. Analyst firm Gartner has predicted that tablet sales will hit 119 million units this year, a jump of 98 per cent from 2011.