- Associated Press - Friday, October 26, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - On Friday, Microsoft Corp. released a new version of its Windows operating system, one designed to bring the desktop and laptop experience to tablet computers. There are several ways to get it _ or avoid it.

Windows 8 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. It may take people time to get used to the changes. 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 are several versions of Windows 8:

_ 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’s also 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 came out Friday, the phone version won’t be available until an unspecified date this fall. Microsoft has an event on it Monday and may announce more details then. 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.

Here’s how you can get _ or avoid getting _ Windows 8:

_ Buy a new machine:

Desktop, laptop and tablet computers with Windows 8 already installed went on sale Friday, starting at 12:01 a.m. local time around the world.

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