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Reimagining Microsoft: The Risks & Rewards of Windows 8

Gordon Kelly

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"If Windows 8 is Windows reimagined, we're also in the process, and Windows 8 is an important step of that, of reimagining Microsoft."

It was a remarkably candid Steve Ballmer who let these words spill from his lips during the second day of keynote addresses from the BUILD Windows developer conference. He let another gem fall soon after: "We haven’t sold quite as many as I would have liked in the first year," he told financial analysts when asked about Windows Phone 7. "I’m not saying I love where we are, but I am very optimistic on where we can be. We’ve just got to kick this thing to the next level."

Whether it's reimagining or kicking to the next level, the line coming out of Microsoft is one of change. It isn't a new line and it is one we've grown sceptical of hearing, but with its shoots rooted in equal parts innovation and desperation it is change which is truly coming.

Arguably the innovation was seen long before this week's public outing of Windows 8. The OS itself is merely a hybrid of the UI long available in Windows Phone, the gaming and social prowess of Xbox Live, the App Store running at the heart of Mac OS X Lion and built upon the dual ARM/Intel support announced in January. Ballmer himself has referred to "the next release of Windows" as the company's riskiest product bet and he is right, but the risk lies more in Microsoft's ability to mix these tried and tested ingredients together than question marks about their individual viability.

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As for the desperation, this is equally clear. While the company is unlikely to ever relinquish its grip on the PC market it has grown increasingly fearful of Apple's declarations of a Post-PC Era and a future based on mobile software filtering down. Windows Phone remains in its infancy and iPads dominate 73 per cent of the tablet space which Windows 8 tries so desperately to appease. Meanwhile Android's open hardware policy out Microsoft's Microsoft and Google outmanoeuvres Microsoft online.

The rewards of Windows 8 could change this. Apple makes claims about the merger of iOS and OS X, but Lion does little more than add an App Store, make some graphical nods to its mobile sibling and infuriate everyone with Natural Scrolling. Meanwhile Android and Chrome OS remain bafflingly separate entities and for all the rumours of Apple buying ARM or putting ARM chips in MacBooks it is Microsoft with Windows 8 which has been first to confront these issues head on and grasp the nettle.

JDunn

September 18, 2011, 4:01 pm

Microsoft's real problem is not that it doesn't innovate but that it doesn't make money from these innovations.

It still needs to charge people money to use an old-fashioned operating system whose only real reason to exist is to let people use old software, mostly its own.

Windows 8 sounds quite nice but it's hardly a must-have any more.

Daniel Gerson

September 18, 2011, 10:09 pm

I agree with the article! (I don't always disagree Gordon ;) )

People disregard Microsoft at their own peril. The company has brilliant resources and intelligent engineers. Pity they have been run by accountants, which means they are always slow to react. Cornered as you put it.

Check out Microsoft's plans on how Windows8 will merge the boundaries of Live and web sign in.

http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/2011/09/17/VideoOfMyTalkPoweringYourAppWithLiveServicesFromMicrosoftBUILDConferenceNowAvailable.aspx

...and of course my harsh critique is at the bottom.... still it's innovative.

Gordon394

September 18, 2011, 11:10 pm

That is a generalisation. Admittedly a largely true one, but Windows Phone is a perfect example of how the company does occasionally show the potential to do something different. Xbox Live and Kinect are notable others.

Windows 8 will likely be the hybrid between old Windows as we know it and a touch-centric unified OS future. You're right it likely won't be a must have, but it is a must-keep-people-interested.

Gordon394

September 20, 2011, 10:18 pm

Good to know DMG! I think the trouble often lies in that I can praise/confront Microsoft and Apple without having a bias towards either. Typically it is the usual fanboy accusations one way or another.

What I care about is innovation and while Microsoft has been pushed into a corner it is reacting positively and I'll be following Windows 8's development with interest. I'm sure there will be a Windows Phone 8 to tie the two together by the time it launches.

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