Microsoft is betting big on Windows 8's ability to satisfy both tablet and PC users. But the success of Windows 7 and legacy applications offers challenges.
Microsoft whipped the curtain back for an early look at Windows 8 last week,
the size of the company's gamble was immediately apparent. In place of the
"traditional" Windows desktop and Start button, Windows 8 offered an array of
colorful tiles designed to be equally tablet- and PC-friendly.
represents a fundamental shift in Windows design that we haven't attempted
since the days of Windows 95, presenting huge opportunities for our hardware
partners to innovate with new PC designs," Mike Angiulo, corporate vice
president of Windows planning, hardware and PC ecosystem, reportedly
told the audience
during a June 2 demonstration of Windows 8 at the 2011
Computex conference in Taiwan.
Windows 8 (Microsoft's internal code name for its upcoming operating system,
not necessarily its final moniker) takes some visual cues from Windows
Phone-Microsoft's newest smartphone operating system-it offers several robust
features, including multitasking (including the ability to display two apps
side-by-side on the screen) and an all-new Internet Explorer 10. But even as
Microsoft preps Windows 8 to appear on everything from mouse-and-keyboard
desktops to touch-centric tablets, it faces some potential challenges.
Microsoft geared up to launch Windows 7 in the latter half of 2009, analysts
and pundits chattered fervently over whether consumers and businesses would
abandon Windows XP in order to embrace the new platform. It was a logical
question: After nearly a decade on people's desktops and laptops, XP had been
patched and updated into a trusty warhorse of an operating system, relatively
secure and more than capable of meeting any number of needs. Windows Vista,
Windows 7's predecessor, had failed to topple XP's place on people's hard
drives, largely because it failed to overcome its early reputation as bloated
a decade is also an eternity in the tech world, and many people seemed anxious
to abandon XP for something new. Windows 7 ended up selling hundreds of
millions of copies, chewing away at the market shares of both XP and Vista.
8, if it's released as rumored in 2012, won't enjoy the same pent-up demand as
Windows 7. In fact, with roughly three years between operating-system releases,
Microsoft could face an even harder battle in persuading people to refresh
their PCs with Windows 8, especially those users who recently upgraded to
released last week
, Microsoft demonstrated the current version of Office
running on Windows 8. Indeed, legacy-application support seems to be a central
tenant of Windows 8; the alternative is alienating decades' worth of customers
who depend on their Windows applications for everything from fun to
productivity. In addition, Windows 8 will offer access to a "traditional"
Windows file system beneath the all-new interface.
big question is how Microsoft will merge that new-Windows interface and
old-Windows support in ways that are elegant and efficient on all form factors.
Given the system requirements for applications such as Office, that may prove a
taller order on tablets and other mobile devices with less power than a desktop
or laptop. But how Microsoft deals with the issue will go a long way toward
determining how well customers and businesses respond to Windows 8.
The Tablet Question
has emphasized Windows 8's tablet friendliness from day one. During January's
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft executives demonstrated how
the next-generation Windows would support SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture,
in particular ARM-based systems from partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and
Texas Instruments. ARM architecture powers a lion's share of mobile devices on
the market today.
developing Windows 8 from the ground up for tablets, Microsoft could counter
competitive pressure from Apple's iPad and Google Android tablets. That being
said, a tablet effort on this scale represents a new area for Microsoft, and by
tying those efforts to its do-or-die next Windows launch, it risks having any
tablet-related snafus negatively affect a well-established brand.