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Microsoft has joined Hewlett-Packard in trying to drum up enthusiasm for their Apple-battling tablet operating systems at a fashionable West Coast tech event.

On Wednesday, Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft Windows and Windows Live group president, previewed the long-awaited Windows 8 operating system at All Things D's D9 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

Corporate vice president for Windows Experience Julie Larson-Green – who also demonstrated Windows 8 at the event –  said Microsoft wanted to "re-imagine how you use Windows". Apparently, things have changed a lot since Windows 95.

Bloggers and journalists at the event reported that Sinofsky and Larson-Green showed off something that looks very much like Windows Phone 7. There was multi-touch input, and Live Tiles that groups together applications.

Windows 8 was shown displaying HTML5 and JavaScript with the next version of Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer 10. It wasn't clear whether the demo took place on an Intel chip or ARM chip. With Windows 8, ARM will be supported for the first time on a full version of Windows.

Sinofsky and Larson-Green both pointed out that Windows 8 will be compatible with all existing Windows 7 logo PCs, software, and peripherals. Windows 8 isn't just for tablets. It's intended to run on non-touch desktops and servers too.

Intel recently caused Microsoft to skip a corporate heartbeat when it proclaimed that Windows 8 on ARM will not run existing Windows apps. Microsoft indicated that Intel's claims were incorrect.

Sinofsky also tried to make it sound like Microsoft isn't desperate to catch up to Apple. He claimed that Windows Phone 7 was the influence, not the iPad. "We really did take a step back after Windows 7," Sinofsky claimed. "We were clearly influenced ourselves by phones."

Windows 7 shipped in October 2009, while the iPad is just a year old.

If Sinofsky is right, and Windows 8 does predate the iPad, then the situation is even worse than we thought: it has actually taken Microsoft a lot longer than Apple to get a tablet operating system built.

More details on Windows 8 are expected in September at the previously unnamed "developer event" that Microsoft is now officially calling Build. This smells suspiciously like the OEM-centric event once called Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC).

Earlier in the day at D9, Hewlett Packard chief executive Leo Apotheker stepped on stage to promote his company's tablet vision. HP has yet to launch its TouchPad tablet, which will run the webOS it bought with the acquisition of Palm. According to Apotheker, he "would entertain" licensing webOS to other people. So far, HP has two OEMs committed to webOS: HP and HP. That's the side of HP putting webOS on the TouchPad and the side putting it on HP PCs.

Judging by how far Apotheker had to be pushed on this question, we'd say HP has no actual plans to license webOS to anybody outside HP. ®

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