I just got back from the Microsoft TechEd 2012 show in Orlando, Fla., and although I was there mostly representing Windows IT Pro and its enterprise IT audience, personally I was most interested in the new Windows 8 operating system that will soon be making its way into my home office. I took some time on the show floor to check out the new OS in a series of hands-on labs (on both touchscreen desktop monitors and tablets) and found it to be a fascinating experience—one that should prove richly satisfying in the connected home.

Today, Microsoft has scheduled a secret event in Los Angeles, where it plans to make some kind of weighty announcement. Rumor has it that Microsoft is about to introduce its own tablet computer that will directly compete with the industry behemoth Apple iPad. Based on my experiences with Windows 8 at the show, this could be a very interesting development indeed.

For me—admittedly a long-time user of Windows products—the fascination with the potential of a Windows tablet comes from my experience with Windows Phone, which I’ve been using for over a year now. I’ve long felt that Windows Phone is a vastly underappreciated smartphone OS or at least a more-than-viable alternative that offers a very different phone experience. With its customizable Metro-tile interface and fluid integration with social networks (e.g., Facebook) and the home-desktop experience (e.g., Microsoft Office), the Windows Phone UI appeals to this particular user much more than the admittedly excellent iPhone, with its “whack-a-mole” array of page after page of apps.

It’s no secret that Windows 8 carries forward the basic UI feel of Windows Phone to the tablet and desktop, and my experience with it at TechEd confirmed that. At the giant hands-on lab area of the show floor, I first toyed with Windows 8 on a large touchscreen desktop monitor, moving the Live Tiles around and arranging them into groups—in general, customizing the Windows desktop in much the same way that I customize my Windows Phone screen. You can use a combination of touch and mouse commands to get the best of both worlds; you don’t have to abandon your tried-and-true mouse-and-keyboard lifestyle, but the touch features add a new dimension to the computing experience that brings it in line with what you know from your on-the-go phone experience.

Read the rest at Residential AV Presents: Connected Home.