Leaked documents - purported to be from Microsoft insiders - have appeared online apparently offering a sneak peek at Microsoft's plans for Windows 8.

The paper trail originates with an Italian Windows enthusiast site called 'Windowsette', which purportedly obtained clandestine Microsoft presentations that outline Windows 8's direction. The top-secret data made its way to English-language sites including Microsoft Kitchen and Microsoft Journal, which sliced and diced the PowerPoint slides for public consumption.

The alleged internal documents, which are either the real deal or an impressive forgery, provide a big-picture overview of Microsoft's Windows 8's blueprint. Faster startup times, support for burgeoning high-speed connectivity standards such as USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0, and the implementation of cutting-edge technologies like facial recognition appear to be high on Microsoft's to-do list.

In addition, Windows 8 will likely support new types of displays, including wireless 3D and HDTV devices, and make it easier for users to self-diagnose and repair OS glitches.

The documents are short on specifics but long on vision. Microsoft's plans for facial recognition are the most compelling. With the near ubiquity of webcams in laptops, and the arrival of front-facing cameras in bleeding-edge smartphones like the Apple iPhone 4 and HTC EVO 4G, it's only logical for Microsoft to find innovative ways to use that hardware. One suggestion: "Windows 8 could detect my presence and log me automatically," the documents state.

Windows 8 may also address another of Microsoft's problem areas: Windows' painfully slow startup times. One of the strongest selling points of Google's upcoming Chrome operating system is that it's designed to offer users an instant-on experience: press the power button and within seconds you're connected to the web. You can get to your files, email, and online content almost immediately. By comparison, Windows' laggardly boot process is always a good time to step away from the PC for a cup of hot tea (or your beverage of choice).

Indeed, "optimising for fast startup", is purported to be one of Microsoft's top priorities. "Windows 8 PCs turn on fast, nearly instantly in some cases, and are ready to work without any long or unexpected delays. When customers want to check email, sports scores, or play media they love to reach for their PCs because they can get to what they want quickly," according to the slides.

The docs also display a prototype Windows 8 all-in-one desktop, which definitely puts out a Mac-like vibe. The specs include a 17- to 30-inch touch display (it seems that touch input will play a big role in Windows 8), a DirectX GPU for faster graphics, HD video, face recognition-based log-in, and voice control.

All in all, Microsoft's goals for Windows 8 appear to be both ambitious and impressive. We can only wonder how many of these (alleged) features will make it to the finished OS when it ships in two or more years.