NEW YORK — Microsoft Corp. is releasing a new version of its Windows operating system, one designed to make desktop and laptop computers work more like tablets. It represents the software company’s effort to address the growing popularity of smartphones and tablet computers, namely the iPad.
The new software is a radical departure from previous versions of Windows.
The familiar start menu on the lower left corner is gone, and people will have to swipe the edges of the screen to access various settings. There will be a new screen filled with a colorful array of tiles, each leading to a different application, task or collection of files.
Windows 8 is designed especially for touch screens, though it will work with the mouse and keyboard shortcuts, too.
There will be several versions.
Windows 8: Like its predecessors, Windows 8 will run on computers with processing chips made by Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. There’s a basic version designed for consumers and a Pro version for more tech-savvy users and businesses.
The Pro version has such features as encryption and group account management. Large companies with volume-licensing deals with Microsoft will want Windows 8 Enterprise, which has additional tools for information-technology staff to manage machines.
Windows RT: For the first time, there will also be a version running on lower-energy chips common in phones and tablets. That version will run on tablets and some devices that marry tablet and PC features. While tablets with Windows 8 can run standard Windows programs, the RT devices will be restricted to applications specifically designed for the system.
Borrowing from Apple’s playbook, Microsoft is allowing RT to get applications only from its online store, and apps must meet content and other guidelines.
Windows Phone 8: While Windows 8 and RT will be out Friday, the phone version won’t be available until an unspecified date this fall. Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. already have announced plans for new Windows phones.
You can get Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 only by buying devices with the software already installed, while Windows 8 can be purchased as an upgrade as well.
How to get —or avoid getting— Windows 8.
Buy a new PC: Desktop, laptop and tablet computers with Windows 8 already installed are on sale. Microsoft will also have its Surface tablet with Windows RT out, with a Windows 8 version coming later.
Upgrade your PC: Those who have bought a Windows 7 PC (other than the Starter Edition) since June 2 will be able to buy Windows 8 Pro for $14.99. Those who bought a Windows PC before June 2 will be able to upgrade for $39.99. Those who prefer buying a DVD to upgrade will have to pay $69.99.
Keep older Windows: Do nothing if you do not wish to upgrade to Windows 8. After Windows 8 is out, most machines on sale will have that version of Windows. Expect to be able to buy Windows 7 as an upgrade for another year or preinstalled on a new machine for two more years.