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Windows 8 Is Microsoft's Riskiest Product Ever

The Price of Success, the Cost of Failure

First a start Apple believes tablets are more closely related to phones and Microsoft believes tablets are tied to PCs. It is why the iPhone and iPad run iOS and Macs OS X. Microsoft's smartphones run Windows Phone, its PCs and tablets will use Windows 8. The iPad is a big iPod touch and its apps are optimised for a larger screen. Microsoft tablets can run PC software, they have to be downsized to a smaller screen. The latter is much harder to do.

Another key difference is hardware. Apple is believed to be switching its Macs to ARM, but for now OS X devices run on Intel, iOS uses ARM. It's simple. For Microsoft, Windows Phone devices run on ARM, but Windows 8 devices will be split between ARM and x86. This is further complicated by the lack of an emulation layer between the two. Intel's taunts were correct. So while HTML5 and JavaScript may attract developers, having to code two ARM and x86 versions of every Windows 8 programme is a major turn off. It's messy.

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Equally messy is security. Legacy aspects to Windows 8 will mean anti-virus is required from the get go. "I think it will always be a good idea to run security software," said Windows head Steven Sinofsky when speaking about the new platform. "If you think your machine’s not a target, you’ll find out pretty soon that it is." This is hardly inspiring. "I think it’s possible to write security software that you never see until something bad happens," Sinofsky added hopefully.

Last October Ballmer was asked what was Microsoft's next "riskiest product bet". He replied "the next release of Windows". Whatever his failings, Ballmer isn't naïve. He knows the challenges laid down here. He knows them and with Windows 8 he is going for it anyway. Microsoft is desperately behind in the mobile space and mobile is now the primary driving force in technology. A Windows platform which can run across any device, run mobile apps and desktop software and suit any type of input is the Holy Grail.

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Best of all it is still early days. Microsoft may have now shown its hand, but time is on its side. Windows 8 won't launch before late 2012 and even the '8' moniker is currently just a codename. "We'll figure out the real name in due time," said Steven Sinofsky. The phrase is apt, with Windows 9 unlikely to appear before 2015 Microsoft will need every day between now and 2012 to figure out how to polish its riskiest product to date. If it gets Windows 8 right the company will be back fighting Apple and Google on equal footing. Get it wrong and the size of the 'due' will be beyond even Microsoft's ability to pay it.

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