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Reimagining Microsoft: The Risks & Rewards of Windows 8

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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.

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