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Place yourself, for a moment, in Microsoft’s position. You’re a multibillion-dollar international corporation that made its name (and dominating market share) in desktop operating systems and productivity software. Along the way, you developed a game console that’s managed to hold its own against Sony and Nintendo, along with a variety of other products to multitudinous to name here.

But things have been a little shaky of late, thanks to a rising emphasis on mobile devices and hardware. While rivals such as Apple and Google have profited enormously from consumer and business interest in smartphones and tablets, Microsoft is widely perceived as struggling to find solid footing in this new paradigm.

As smartphones rapidly evolved into handheld PCs, they made Microsoft’s Windows Mobile franchise look increasingly antiquated. Microsoft eventually responded in 2010 with the release of Windows Phone 7, a mobile software platform built from the ground up. Windows Phone 7 aggregates applications and Web content into a set of subject-specific Hubs, differentiating itself from the grid-like screens of individual apps that define both the iPhone and Google Android.

Yet the mobile market continues to evolve, this time with tablets. In the wake of Apple’s blockbuster success with the iPad, various manufacturers are countering with tablets running Google Android. Later in April, Research In Motion will issue the BlackBerry-branded PlayBook, and Hewlett-Packard is prepping tablets for summer that run its recently acquired webOS.

So far, Microsoft has refrained from a hard push of its own into the consumer tablet market. And the company continues to hold a dominant position in traditional operating systems, with Windows 7 selling at a healthy clip to both consumers and businesses. The tech landscape is in rapid flux, however, which makes a viable cross-platform strategy more viable than ever.

Enter the next version of Windows, often referred to as “Windows 8.”

Bloggers Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott, in a series of April postings on Rivera’s Within Windows blog, have described the various features of what they claim is an early build of Windows 8: an Office-style ribbon integrated into Windows Explorer, complete with tools for viewing libraries, manipulating images and managing drive assets; an unlock screen that harkens to the “Metro” design style already present in Windows Phone 7; an “immersive” user interface and a built-in PDF reader they call “Modern Reader.”

For more, read the eWEEK article: Windows 8 Early Build Hints at Apple, webOS Competitor.