Microsoft ‘Build’ Conference: 5 Things to Watch For

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Microsoft’s got a big week ahead at its Build conference, where the company is expected to drop lots of new details about Windows 8. Ostensibly, the conference is a place for application developers to learn about Microsoft’s new software, but for the rest of us, it’ll hopefully be a place to get some key details and hands-on time with Windows 8.

(MORE: Windows 8’s Look and Feel: It’s New. New, New, New, New, New!)

Here’s what I think will go down in the next few days:

Tablet Hardware

Microsoft has already teased what Windows 8 will look like on tablets, but the company hasn’t shown its upcoming operating system on a real tablet prototype. That could change at Build, where the first Windows 8 slates are rumored to appear. Theories include a quad-core processor, Samsung branding and–I hope–working versions for attendees to play with.

Windows 8 Beta

The blogosphere is rife with speculation that Microsoft will launch a Windows 8 beta at Build. That won’t help you if you’re most interested in how Windows 8 will tackle tablets, but it could give curious desktop or laptop users a sneak peak at some new features.

Windows 8 Apps

Lest we forget, Build is primarily a conference for software developers, so Microsoft will probably show off some early examples of Windows 8 tablet apps created by partners. Expect big names like Netflix and Shazam, whose apps were along for the ride when Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 in early 2010.

Windows 8 for Phones

Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott speculates that the company will reveal how Windows 8 will eventually land on smartphones. I have little doubt that this will happen eventually; Microsoft has already spoken of its vision of a single ecosystem for phones, tablets, PCs and TVs. The question is whether Build is the venue to formally announce such lofty ambitions. I think it’s a bit too soon, though we may see Windows Phone 7 app support in Windows 8, as suggested by Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang.

Kinect for PCs

Microsoft’s Kinect turned out to be a big hit for the Xbox 360, but it’s no secret that Microsoft eventually wants to bring its motion- and depth-sensing camera technology to PCs as well. Build seems like a good venue, especially if Microsoft wants to encourage developers to create software for the technology. This is based purely on my speculation, although Microsoft has said that it will release a commercial software development kit in the future.

TIME’s own Harry McCracken will be live blogging Microsoft’s keynote at noon Eastern time tomorrow. Stay tuned with Techland or hit up the Build 2011 tag for the latest updates from the show.

VIDEO: Watch How Long It Takes to Boot Windows 8