It would be fair to say that the last few years have not been good to Microsoft. Most product launches have suffered from a lukewarm to cool reception and it has suffered badly at the hands of Google and Apple. Showing off the next version of its operating system to attendees at Build 2011, therefore, was always going to be a risk, especially as the product is, at best, a good alpha build and a long way off of beta.

Despite a slow start where the feature set was nothing special, by the end of the keynote presentation, Microsoft had pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and left everyone ready for more. Of course, it could have been the £1000+ Samsung tablet that got many of the attendees over excited but to be fair, there was a lot of good stuff presented to them long before they were told about the reference platform they would be getting.

Leaving the reference platform to one side (not available to press and analysts in case you were interested), I will admit that I went into the keynote expecting to see another half-hearted attempt to “out Apple” Apple. At first that is exactly what I thought I was seeing but, by the end of the first day keynote, I’ll admit to being pretty fired up and itching to download and install the preview build of Windows 8.

This doesn’t mean that everything is rosy or perfect but it is fair to say that the Windows 8 family of operating systems (desktop, tablet, server) are the biggest rewrite in Microsoft’s history and full of new features that work for the enterprise and consumer markets.

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing a number of commentary reports looking at some of the key issues and what they mean for those who use Microsoft software at work and play