Microsoft unveils Windows 8 as stakes rise in Apple fight

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Microsoft Corp. introduced the biggest overhaul of its flagship Windows software in two decades Thursday, reflecting the rising stakes in its competition with Apple Inc. and Google Inc. for the loyalty of customers who are shunning personal computers and flocking to mobile devices.

"This is the biggest product we've ever done," Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said, comparing it with the arrival of the PC in 1981 and the introduction of Windows 95.

Microsoft packed the new Windows with touch-screen capabilities, designed to vault the company into the tablet market dominated by Apple's iPad. To avoid being left behind as computing increasingly shifts to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, the company radically altered Windows' familiar design and scrapped a strategy that had it relying entirely on partners to produce Windows computers.

"In creating Windows 8, we shunned the incremental," Windows President Steven Sinofsky said at an event to mark the product's release Thursday at New York's Pier 57. Windows 8 and the company's first-ever computer, the Surface tablet, go on sale today.

Microsoft shares slipped less than 1 percent to $27.88 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 7.4 percent this year.

More than 1,000 computers have been certified for Windows 8, Mr. Sinofsky said. Besides Microsoft's own Surface, the list includes computers from Dell Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Lenovo Group Ltd. and Asustek Computer Inc. These run a version called Windows RT. Machines with Windows 8 that run chips from Intel can run older Windows programs.

Still, Surface and the other Windows RT machines will be constrained in competition with Apple because they can only run apps from Microsoft's new Windows store, which won't feature applications for Facebook Inc.'s social-networking service or Apple's iTunes music store.

Microsoft won't say how many apps are available for the operating system, and the lack of a broad range of games, tools and other downloadable software will detract from the Surface in a head-to-head comparison against the iPad and its more than 275,000 apps.

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