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Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer on Monday confirmed that Windows 8, the next iteration of the software giant’s operating system, will be available in 2012.

Speaking at a Microsoft Developer Forum in Tokyo today, Ballmer said Microsoft is “obviously hard at work on the next version of Windows.”

“As we look forward to the next generation of Windows systems, which will come out next year, there’s a whole lot more coming,” he continued. “As we progress through the year, you ought to expect to hear a lot about Windows 8. Windows 8 slates, tablets, PCs, a variety of different form factors.”

variety of rumors regarding Windows 8 have popped up on the Internet in recent months, but Microsoft has yet to confirm any particular features it will add to the OS. While Ballmer didn’t go into detail about what Windows 8 users will see, he did outline several areas into which Microsoft is committed to investing.

One of those areas is the natural user interface, or “the notion that we really want to speak, wave and gesture, touch and mark on our computing devices,” Ballmer said. Microsoft wants your device to recognize you and your actions, like Kinect does for gaming (and your Netflix and Hulu queues).

To that end, Microsoft is also focusing on natural language. “Today on a PC, it’s file open, blah, blah, blah, respond, reply, forward. I can’t just say to my device, get me ready for my trip to Tokyo,” Ballmer said. ” We ought to make it so that the search engines, and the user interface of the device can take actions on our behalf.”

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