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Microsoft courts mobile lifestyles with Win 8

SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft on Friday will release a new version of its flagship Windows operating system tailored for a world shifting from personal computers to smartphones and tablets.

The software giant gambled by changing long familiar user interface features to make Windows 8 compatible with trends toward keeping programs and data in the Internet “cloud” and relying on mobile gadgets at work and at home.

“Microsoft has this vision where they want to go; and it is Windows in the cloud,” said analyst Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft, an independent firm that tracks the Redmond, Washington-based company.

“The chasm is very big and Windows 8 is a good first step,” he continued. “But, all of these transitions come with a little pain.”

The arrival of Windows 8 will coincide with the availability of Microsoft Slate tablet computers to challenge Apple's market-ruling iPads and rivals built on Google's Android software.

Slate tablets will be among Windows 8-powered devices sold in real-world Microsoft stores that will “pop up” on Friday in the United States and Canada.

Microsoft promised that the temporary, holiday-season shops will feature a “curated collection of Microsoft's coolest products.”

Windows 8 and an accompanying version of Microsoft's free Internet Explorer web browsing program, were designed to optimize touch-screen capabilities.

“This is an absolutely critical product,” Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates said in a video interview posted on the company's website.

“It takes Windows into the world of touch, low-powered devices, really giving people the best of what we think of as a tablet-type experience and the PC experience,” he continued. “It is a big step.”

Windows 8 will support a wide range of devices, including touch- and stylus-based smartphones and tablet PCs as well as desktop and laptop machines.

Microsoft would “get software developers behind this,” Gates added.

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