Microsoft on Wednesday provided what it calls a “sneak peek” at Windows Phone 8, the next major version of its smartphone platform. Unlike previous Windows Phone versions, which were based on Windows CE, Windows Phone 8 is based on the same core technologies found in its desktop versions of Windows.

“Windows Phone 8 will unleash a new wave of features for consumers, developers, and businesses,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore writes in a post to the Windows Phone Blog. “We’ve based the next release of Windows Phone on the rock-solid technology core of Windows 8. It means Windows Phone and its bigger sibling will share common networking, security, media, and web browser technology, and a common file system. That translates into better performance, more features, and new opportunities for app developers and hardware makers to innovate faster.”

Due in late 2012 alongside Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 won't be made available as an upgrade to existing phones, since those devices lack the hardware capabilities—multi-core processing support, NFC, and so on—that make Windows Phone 8 unique and powerful. But Microsoft isn’t abandoning its early adopters: All users currently running Windows Phone 7.5 will receive an update to Windows Phone 7.8 sometime this year, providing access to one of Windows Phone 8’s best new features for users: an enhanced Start experience with better customization features.

You can find out more about this coming release in the Windows Phone 7.8 Preview and see the new Start screen in my Windows Phone 8 Start Screen Shots gallery.

Windows Phone 8 will ship on new devices from Nokia, HTC, Samsung, and Huwaei. A “truly global” release, Windows Phone 8 will be available in more than 180 countries and in 50 languages, Microsoft says. And it’s coming with a stunning set of new features, only some of which were announced this week.

Key among these new features are:

A new Start experience. The new Start screen features a third live tile size, the ability to customize any tile to any of the three sizes, new color schemes, and a new design that takes up the whole screen

Multi-core processor support. Windows Phone 8 handsets will ship with dual-core processors this year and with quad-core processors in 2013. Thanks to the Windows 8 foundation, the system can scale well beyond the needs of tomorrow’s smartphones, and can currently support up to 64 cores.

Higher-resolution screens. In addition to the currently supported screen resolution of 800 x 480 (WVGA), Windows Phone 8 will support two HD-class resolutions, 1280 x 720 (720p) and 1280 x 768 (WXGA).

Micro-SD support. Windows Phone 8 will fully support removable micro-SD storage.

NFC wireless sharing. A new Near Field Communication (NFC) capability called Tap To Share lets Windows Phone share data with other NFC-compatible devices, including Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT tablets.

Wallet. Windows Phone 8 features a digital Wallet that can store debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes, membership cards and other important data securely. Using NFC, you can pay for items in retail stores by tapping your phone on a compatible pay terminal.

Internet Explorer 10. Windows Phone 8 features the same web browser that Windows 8 does, including features like SmartScreen antiphishing and IE 10’s improved web browser and JavaScript engines.

Maps. Nokia’s superior mapping technologies are being integrated deeply into Windows Phone 8, offering offline support, turn-by-turn navigation, and a maps control for developers.

New app capabilities. Developers will be able to write games and apps in C/C++ native code, utilizing the same powerful DirectX and Direct3D gaming libraries found in Windows. Windows Phone 8 will support in-app payments for the first time, and will allow some form of app-to-app communication. And it will be supported by a new Visual Studio 2012-based development environment that uses Windows 8 Hyper-V to host its device emulator.

Integrated VoIP capabilities. Windows Phone will let Voice over IP (VoIP) apps integrate deeply into the OS, run in the background, and work and look just like the normal Phone experience. Skype will be included, but third-party apps will get all the same capabilities available to Skype.

Multitasking improvements. Location and VoIP-based apps can now run in the background.

Business and enterprise features. With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is erasing all the deployment blockers that dogged Windows Phone 7.x. It supports device and memory card encryption (in fact, Windows Phone 8 devices are encrypted by default), better security features like Secure Boot and EUFI firmware and app sandboxing, remote management, and a company hub for side-loading line-of-business (LOB) apps.

Microsoft also revealed that Windows Phone 8 will run all existing Windows Phone 7.x apps. In fact, the Windows Phone Marketplace has now published more than 100,000 apps.

Looking ahead, Microsoft will release a beta version of the Windows Phone 8 developer tools later this summer, will provide some form of developer education (perhaps through local events), and will divulge much more information about new end-user features in the months ahead. But you can learn a lot more about Windows Phone 8 via my two fairly exhaustive articles, Windows Phone 8 Unveiled and Windows Phone Summit.