Last week in Anaheim, Microsoft debuted its new operating system, Windows 8, and much of the developer experience that goes along with it. This conference is for developers of software as well as for OEMs who work for hardware companies and even IT professionals looking to get the inside scoop on the new operating system.

I’ve been around the Microsoft developer scene since the days of DOS 4.11 (yeah that’s right, I had it on 5.25″ floppies…) and I’ve been developing for other platforms, including Unix/Linux, OS/2, and Mac, off and on for nearly as long. I am accustomed to the “OMFWTFNEW!!” feeling that developers get when they see a shiny new technology, operating system, or device. So, with that in mind, I generally take a cynical or even jaded approach when I sit through keynotes for fancy new shinies. So when I say the following, hopefully it has the right amount of impact:

I was absolutely shocked.

After watching a few keynotes and then watching a few of the deep-dive technical sessions outlining how Microsoft built some of the technology they showed in the keynote, I remember saying to a friend and colleague:

Windows 8 is to Windows 7 as Windows 3.1 was to DOS. It is that much of a paradigm shift.

Let’s look at Microsoft’s past attempts at bringing a desktop operating system to mobile devices. Windows CE and the 30 other OEM variants of CE and XP embedded, Pocket PC, and then of course Windows Mobile. All of those were attempts at shoehorning the desktop operating system into a mobile device. Windows Phone 7 was a complete re-imagining of how Microsoft wanted their users to interact with applications… Note that I said interact with applications and not interact with the OS. The Metro style is very much about getting out of your way and letting you do what you want and how you want it, with as little wasted time as possible.

Now Microsoft is using what they call a touch-first approach. A Metro-style app supports and embraces touch first, but can use the mouse as a fallback option. Swipes, gestures, and a decided lack of OS chrome, are hallmarks of this new style. Microsoft is investing heavily in touch devices of all shapes and sizes and, from the video linked below, you can see that a Windows8-based tablet is a truly compelling device (as opposed to a Windows7-based tablet, which is an overpriced electronic paperweight). In addition to the new look and feel, Microsoft is giving developers access to all Windows 8 consumers via a new App Store. If you thought the Mac OS X App Store could reach a large number of users, compare that to the number of Windows users there are…

Gizmodo’s “How Windows 8 and iOS5 stack up Side by Side” , comparing a Windows8 tablet (the developer tablet given out to Build attendees) and an iPad 2 running iOS 5.

I have plans for several more blog posts about Windows 8, including a developer discussion of what exactly WinRT is and what it means for them.

For the first time since possibly Windows 95, I am truly excited about a new Microsoft operating system, not just as a consumer but, as a developer.  That said, I’m still not giving up my Macs 🙂