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Windows 8 and Surface Launch Microsoft into New Era

Microsoft on Thursday began a crucial new era in its history as it launched its first-ever computer, the Surface -- a slick new system that functions as both a tablet device and notebook PC.

The launch of the Surface RT device was part of a two-pronged launch event in New York that kicked off hours earlier with the official but long-anticipated premiere of Microsoft's next-generation operating system, Windows 8. Both go on sale at midnight tonight.

The one-hour launch keynote to unveil Windows 8, the most significant change to Windows in its history with its new Windows UI (formerly known as Metro), was devoid of surprises. Microsoft did not launch any support for any marquee apps such as Facebook and Twitter in its new Windows Store, which also opens Thursday but nonetheless has several thousand apps already -- though far fewer than those in Google Play or Apple's iTunes App Store.

Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Windows 8/Surface RT launch event in New York. (Credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft officials demonstrated a number of new machines launched by OEM partners including Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, Samsung and Dell.

"Today, we are at the start of a new era of interaction with your PC," said Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows organization, in a keynote speech at Thursday's event.

"Windows 8 PCs are the best PCs ever," added Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "The lineup is both diverse and stunning."

After a reception to review PCs from a variety of partners, the second part of the event featured the launch of Surface RT. Weighing 1.5 pounds, the $499 device is available with optional keyboards, one called the Touch Cover and the other the Type Cover, priced at $119 and $129, respectively. One is a thinner keyboard that is sensitive to touch and available in multiple bright colors, while the other has movable keys and is black, for those preferring a more traditional keyboard experience.

"It's the ultimate expression of a Windows PC for us," Sinofsky said. "It's an extension of Windows." 

Panos Panay, head of the Surface team, demonstrated the device, showing that it can be dropped and emphasizing Microsoft's attention to ergonomics. The Surface RT has 10 hours of battery life, a USB port, a microSD slot and an HDMI interface. "We left no stone unturned on this," he said.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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