Microsoft kicked off its Build conference by giving devs and members of the press a taste of Windows 8 running on a tablet. Both the hardware and operating are developer preview builds, of course, but it was impressively zippy and very intuitive to use according early impressions. As expected, the successor to Windows 7 borrows largely from its Windows Phone sibling by bringing its signature live tiles front and center. It represents a major re-think of how users interact with Windows, though the classic icons and windows interface is still there in the form of an app.
Windows 8 launches by default into the Metro interface with a lock screen showing quick notifications like battery life and your Wi-Fi connection. Within the Control Panel you can configure this screen with a regular password or set up a picture password, which lets you specify a set of three gestures that you'll use on top of a picture to unlock the device.
A swipe from the right edge pulls in a bar containing what Microsoft is calling "Charms" -- basically Search, Share, Devices, and Settings shortcuts as well as a Start button that takes you back to the home screen. With a swipe from the left edge of the screen you can navigate through other open apps, or snap them in place for a split-screen view. Lastly, swiping from the top or bottom of the screen brings up application-specific menus and options.
Microsoft bundled a bunch of apps with their test tablets for developers and press members to play with, including Internet Explorer 10, a basic RSS client, stocks, weather, social networking apps Tweet@rama and Socialite, among others. You can check out some of these in action as well as Windows 8's Metro UI in the video below:
As far the hardware is concerned Microsoft's test tablet was developed by Samsung and was running a 1.6GHz i5-2467M dual-core processor along a 64GB solid-state drive and 4 gigs of RAM. Other specs include a Samsung Super PLS 1366 x 768 display, full sized USB port, microSD, HDMI, and support for stylus input.
Microsoft will be giving each of the 5,000 Build attendees one of these to take home, complete with a developer build of Windows 8 and one full year of 2GB/mo AT&T 3G included for free. Unfortunately when the Samsung slate hits the consumer market (presumably) sometime later this year it will be running Windows 7, though.