Created in 2003 by Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher of The Wall Street Journal, the annual D: All Things Digital conference has become a platform for major players in the technology sector to make significant announcements. Microsoft recently made the decision to utilize the event’s following, choosing to unveil a reimagined version of its extremely popular operating system, internally codenamed “Windows 8.”

At the conference, Microsoft provided attendees with information about how it plans to bring Windows to touch-centric devices in the future, leverage ARM processors, and utilize HTML5 programming as the basis of a new application platform. Alongside all of the structural changes to the operating system, the technology monolith’s most notable shift can be seen in the department of interface.

Akin to Windows Phone 7’s iconic design aesthetic, Windows 8’s Start screen will feature a tiled interface that replaces the old and noticeably outdated menu with a full-screen view of installed applications. The company’s design team says that the additional space gives developers extra room to show off an application’s personality and provide users with important at-a-glance information.

Windows 8 also offers new gestures that increase productivity and give consumers intuitive environments to work in. By swiping left, you will return to recently used applications, giving users quick multitasking that requires little-to-no effort.

To ensure that Windows 8 does not feel like a mobile operating system scaled up for desktop use, Microsoft announced a new feature called Snap, which gives users the ability to view multiple windows at once. By simply pulling out a recently used tab and holding for a few moments, two applications can run and be managed simultaneously.

While it appears as if Microsoft has tailored the next installment in the company’s massively popular operating system for use on tablet devices, Microsoft’s press release says otherwise. “A Windows 8-based PC is really a new kind of device,” says Julie Larson-Green, one of the leaders of the user experience team. “Windows 8 scales from touch-only small screens through to large screens, with or without a keyboard and mouse.”

In the aforementioned press release, Microsoft also included a laundry-list of features that will be included in Windows 8:

  • Fast launching of apps from a tile-based Start screen, which replaces the Windows Start menu with a customizable, scalable full-screen view of apps.
  • Live tiles with notifications, showing always up-to-date information from your apps.
  • Fluid, natural switching between running apps.
  • Convenient ability to snap and resize an app to the side of the screen, so you can really multitask using the capabilities of Windows.
  • Web-connected and Web-powered apps built using HTML5 and JavaScript that have access to the full power of the PC.
  • Fully touch-optimized browsing, with all the power of hardware-accelerated Internet Explorer 10.

For developers, Windows 8 will mark a shift in design philosophy as well as programming methodology. Applications will be built using HTML5 and JavaScript that runs on top of the conventional platform. Though Windows Mobile differs dramatically from its current-generation desktop sibling, the two will grow closer over time as Windows 8 adopts a similar aesthetic appearance.

Microsoft announced a new shift that leverages the interest in HTML5 to deliver web-connected applications similar to HP’s webOS platform. They will run alongside legacy Windows apps on Windows 8. This HTML5 layer will work like the Dashboard layer of Mac SO X, except Windows 8 apps are intended to supply a layer of highly animated, touch-based applications that will be able to compete with Apple’s iPad.

Like iOS, Windows 8 is intended to be deployed on highly mobile devices that are based on ARM processors. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has struggled to gain mass appeal in its mobile sector. Meanwhile, PC sales have started to sag, especially because of the company’s radical experimentation with Windows Vista. Windows 8 may be Microsoft’s last opportunity to maintain its status as the dominant computer software manufacturer.

Microsoft undoubtedly has clout among its dedicated base of developers and hardware makers, who will likely embrace the company’s expanded interest in mobile technology. It may be the company’s biggest risk yet, but it will be software-maker’s last opportunity to remain relevant among a new generation of consumers.

Though we now know about certain aspects of Microsoft’s next operating system, the company announced that it will be giving developers even more information at BUILD, which will take place in September.

What do you, fellow PC users, think of Microsoft’s shift in design? Would you be willing to work with the minimalist interface of the operating system? Would you like to see it on a touch-enabled device? Sound off in the comments below.

[via Microsoft]