Appearing at an industry conference Wednesday night, Microsoft President Steve Sinofsky provided the first peek at the Windows 8 user experience, with a demo of a tiles-based UI that closely resembles that of Windows Phone. Sinofsky said that this UI could be used on iPad-like slate PCs, but still provided the normal Windows desktop—and, most crucially, compatibility with traditional Windows applications—as needed.

"Windows 8 is a reimagining of Windows, an example of coloring outside the lines," Sinofsky said. "We have an approach that is different, but builds on the value of an OS that sells 400 million or so units a year. Laptops, slates, desktops can all run one operating system."

And yes, Sinofsky has finally admitted that this next version of Windows is indeed called Windows 8. Previously, he required Microsofties to refer to this next release as "the next version of Windows," or similar. But now the gag order is over: It's Windows 8, at least for now.

"We're just calling it Windows 8 for now," he said. "It's a code name."

What Sinofsky showed off was the much-rumored tiles-based UI, which I exclusively revealed back in January. This user experience will be complementary to the normal Windows desktop, and can be used as is an iPad, with multitouch gestures. It looks and works much like the Start screen in Windows Phone 7 but actually uses completely different technologies under the covers. So there are Live Tiles, as with Windows Phone, but apps in this environment are based on HTML 5 and JavaScript, not Silverlight.

win8_start_experience_0
The Windows 8 Start experience.

There's also a Windows Store (also revealed back in January), and the demo included peeks at a number of built-in tiles for stocks, email, calendar, weather, and so on. Sinofsky describes the new Windows 8 user experience as "the biggest change to Windows since Windows 95." He noted that the new UI would work only in full screen and would work equally well with keyboard and mouse, and on TVs, as it would on slate PCs.

Microsoft will reveal more about Windows 8 at the BUILD conference, which it will host in Anaheim, California in September. (This conference was previously to be called PDC'11 and then WDC, for Windows Developer Conference; I'm not sure what necessitated the name change.) At that point, the company is expected to release at least a private beta of Windows 8, with the final version due sometime in 2012.

Sinofsky hinted at this schedule, noting that he plans to ship new Windows versions "every two to three years." With Windows 7 hitting in October 2009, does that mean a late 2011 release for Windows 8 is possible? No, Sinofsky said. "It won’t be this fall."

For more information, please refer to my article, Steven Sinofsky Live: First Windows 8 Preview. I'll have an additional, more thorough analysis of the day's Windows 8 announcements available on the SuperSite for Windows soon as well.