Something funny happened to me down at Microsoft’s Build conference, held this week in Anaheim. Something rare. Something unusual.

I wanted what I saw on the keynote stage, and I wanted it bad.

I’m talking about the new look-and-feel of Windows 8. The Metro user interface. The seamless transition that it encourages between devices in many different form factors: desktops, servers, tablets and phones. The user experience looks fresh and compelling, and frankly is the most innovative update that I’ve seen to a Microsoft desktop operating system since Windows 95.

As mentioned above, it’s rare for me to have that type of reaction. I didn’t have it upon seeing the first iPhone, for example. In fact, Apple has only done that to me twice, with the MacBook Air and the iPad. (Both of which I purchased promptly when they appeared in stores.)

In fact, I can only think of a few other times I had that reaction. Upon seeing the launch of a particular version of Mathematica (I forget which version). The launch of the Cobalt Cube, an innovative small-business server that Sun Microsystems acquired and killed. Steve Jobs demonstrating the second-generation NeXT pizza-box workstation. Not many others.

Downloading and installing the Windows Developer Preview, including tools, onto one of my lab machines is on my to-do list. (Microsoft gave every paid attendee at Build a Samsung tablet with the Win8 beta and tools preinstalled, but those were not offered to press attendees like yours truly.)

What about the developer angle? Microsoft appears to be making it easy to retrofit existing Windows applications to behave nicely within the new Metro user experience; in fact, the company claims that every app that runs under Windows 7 will run under Windows 8. (Presumably, that’s for Intel x32/x64 apps and not for ARM applications.) The Metro experience is driven by JavaScript with HTML, but can also be implemented using C#, C++ or Visual Basic using XAML. No rocket science there.

Another big push with Windows 8 is to HTML5. While Silverlight and other plug-ins will still be supported, and there’s indeed a strong commitment to Silverlight, the message was clear: HTML5 is the future. That’s welcome news, of course; with Apple also on the HTML5 bandwagon, it’s the safest bet in town.

Finally, there’s the push to touch-screens. Microsoft is using the touch-screen to differentiate Windows from Mac OS X. Apple has been very clear (at least under Steve Jobs) that touch-screens were for mobile devices, and not for iMacs. A plethora of computers built for Windows 8—including desktops and notebooks—will have touch-screens. Let’s see where this goes: If consumers choose Windows because of this, expect Apple to embrace the touch as well.

As for now, I look forward to seeing how well the developer preview runs on a four-year-old Asus X50RL laptop. Should be interesting!

Alan Zeichick is editorial director of SD Times. Read his blog at