Bill Gates handed over the Microsoft CEO title to Steve Ballmer some years ago, but that doesn't mean he's out of the picture during major product rollouts. With Microsoft touting the Windows 8 launch -- and its surrounding software and hardware products -- as one of the most important in its history, Redmond is rolling out the big guns.

"Steve Ballmer said this is an absolutely critical product. It takes Windows into the world of touch, low-power devices -- really giving people the best of what you'd think of as the tablet-type experience and the PC experience," Gates told the editor of Microsoft's own Next blog, Steve Clayton. "It's a great upgrade for normal Windows usage, but that idea of a store, the rich user interface...it's a big step.

"It's key to where personal computing is going. We're going to get software developers behind this like we have with every big new version of Windows."

A Microsoft Milestone

Windows 8, which formally launches on Friday, is Microsoft's first operating system version to tap into the power of touch and other tablet-specific features. Windows 8 also promises new enterprise Relevant Products/Services features and strong application compatibility.

"People want to consume their mail, reading, video anywhere, and they want it to be awfully simple," Gates said in the interview. "Touch is a great part of that. You want to incorporate touch without giving up the mouse-keyboard capability that is so natural in most settings."

Gates explained that Microsoft is blending all the different forms of input, from speech to cameras, so consumers can use them in one single experience on one device. He also talked about the consistency of Windows 8 and the phone experience.

"We are certainly sharing between Windows 8 Phone and Windows 8, sharing the user interface, sharing some of those development tools. And over time we'll get to do more and more of that so it's evolving literally to be a single platform. For the user it makes it easy to move back and forth."

Gates said this is a milestone for all Microsoft products in terms of connecting to cloud Relevant Products/Services services -- Windows 8, Windows 8 Phone and Windows Office all tap into personalization, storage Relevant Products/Services and apps. He believes users will be amazed by the energy Microsoft has put behind the new suite of products.

"Surface is an unbelievably great product. It's really amazing and it embodies this idea of can you get an even better tablet but that also has what you expect in a PC...a tablet that's got a stand, a tablet that you can attach a keyboard and point to things but also gives you access to some of the classic software like Office," Gates said.

Bill's Boosting

Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, said he was not surprised Microsoft was rolling out its chairman to give the operating system kudos.

"Of course, he'll be a booster. He's an interested party. He likes the multi-input, long battery life, convertible form factors, and not surprisingly Microsoft's own Surface, and he gets credit for pushing multi-input for years," Kay told us.

"Microsoft also has a free pass from Apple on such things, based on an agreement that goes back to the 1990s. Don't expect any Apple suits against Microsoft, even if it does well with these convertible tablets."