The first thing you should learn about Windows 8 is that Microsoft wants its next generation operating system to be a one-stop destination for devices spanning 8-inch tablet screens all the way up to high resolution 30" desktop monitors. The software giant showed the OS for the first time at the D9 conference yesterday.

Taking a strong cue from the Metro UI used in Windows Phone 7, an all-new start screen gets rid of icons in favor of big tiles that can be customized to show live information or launch applications. The interface is optimized for touch-based input and in that sense it seems to be better suited to a large screen than it ever was to a smartphone's display.

The new interface looks gorgeous as long as you stay within boundaries of applications specifically written for it. The demonstration included video playback, photo browsing and sharing, some multi-tasking and task switching concepts, a custom Twitter application that took full advantage of the new user interface, and a sneak peak at Internet Explorer 10.

Launching "legacy" apps like Microsoft Word defaults you back to a standard Windows 7-style interface, which may be underwhelming to an extent, but backwards compatibility means all devices can run Windows applications no matter the form factor. Moving forward Microsoft expects developers to take advantage of its developer tools to create mobile-style applications using HTML5 and JavaScript.

Windows 8's release date and final product name for that matter are still unknown, but sometime in 2012 appears to be the goal. While Apple has built its iOS empire from the ground up, inheriting to the iPad all that was learned by developing for handheld devices (Google is following that same approach with Android), Microsoft is doing the opposite, putting the heftier desktop OS front and center and pushing it into mobile devices. The advantages to this could be rewarding and is Microsoft's way to leverage its dominance on the desktop, but performance and battery life implications remain an utmost concern.

If anything, we've been surprised by Microsoft's showing and certainly look forward to hear more Windows 8 details in the weeks and months to come.