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Windows 8 gets design-heavy update, and TV gets 'second screen viewing'

Wei Qing, General Manager of Consumer Marketing at Microsoft China introduces the company's new Windows 8 software to the media in Shanghai on October 23, 2012.

In a given day, you probably spend more hours gazing at Microsoft than you do your lover. Think about it: Microsoft controls the desktop of more than 80 percent of computers, and many of us have grown accustomed to that face. So when Microsoft proposes to radically change things, it is time to pay attention.

I got a test drive of Windows 8 that hits the market in the coming hours and I want to quickly answer four big questions. An eager Microsoft guy named Chris Flores did the demo at a Manhattan hotel.

First question: What's it like?

Well, no menus. You tap or click on rectangles that look like a set of multi-colored dominos on the screen. But unlike Apple's operating system, even before you touch the screen, the tile is doing stuff, such as listing the current Nasdaq, or showing who sent the last three emails.

Second Question: What's in it for us?

A couple of things. Windows 8 can work on finger-driven tablets and mouse-driven laptops at the same time. This ushers in a new age of convertible computers, half laptop half tablet depending on how the screen is flipped. Plus that workhorse set of programs, Microsoft Office, lives happily anywhere there is Windows 8 -- you don't get the bozo version for the tablet and the grownup version on the desktop.

Question Three: What if you hate the new look?

They've thought of that. Find the tile marked desktop, click on it and there is something that looks very much like a standard windows screen. It's something that will be familiar to millions of people around the world.

Question Four: It's new; what about bugs?

The CEO of microchip maker Intel, a Microsoft ally, reportedly warned that Windows 8 might still need work and that it was being released too early. Intel later called that report "unsubstantiated" and Microsoft points to its extensive beta testing. I noticed no bugs, but it was a just quick test drive.


Proof our attention spans are getting shorter. A report from Nielsen finds that 88 percent of people who own smartphones, tablets and laptops use them while supposedly watching TV. We tweet, we check email, and even look up stuff about the TV show on tablets. And our growing ADD has tech companies excited. So excited that they're willing to pay for special bonus content to use on that second screen. It's not chump change, either.

"We are providing an award budget of $300,000 for three pilot episodes,"says Eric Anderson, Samsung's Vice President of Content and Product Solutions. He is at the New York Television Festival this week, speaking about the grand prize money in a contest his company's bankrolling. Samsung picked five production companies out of 120 entries to create short pilots.

Each show presents extras for computer tablets to be seen even as the TV show is on. Finalists here added some camera angles plus footage in secondary locations that coincides with the main screen action.

Some of the best stuff came from a pilot called "The Conspiracist," which pitted aliens with super powers against government agents. The second screen content consisted of case files, and shots of officials tracking suspects with computer programs. Writer-director Barry Gibble says whether he wins the big prize tomorrow night or not, he is obsessed with the interactive possibilities.

"I think it's perfect for genre-type stuff," says Gibble. "The audience is so tech savvy and so information hungry and the narrative are so rich with details of information that you can provide that I think genre is where it's going to hit first."

And you can imagine the product-placement crowd latching onto this: Fight scene in front of the pizza place and a pizza coupon pops into the second screen? Don't blame me. I'm sure they're already onto this.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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