From a behind-the-scenes perspective, Microsoft's week must have been enormously busy. Between archrival Google announcing its intention to acquire Motorola and hardware partner Hewlett-Packard announcing its imminent exit from the PC business, there was more than enough to keep Redmond's executives in battle-stations mode.
If that wasn't frantic enough, the company also began the inevitable ramp-up of its Windows 8 marketing campaign and wrestled with an outage of its Office 365 cloud service.
Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, kicked off the new "Building Windows 8" blog with an Aug. 15 posting that described Windows 8's radical user-interface changes, most notably the abandonment of the "traditional" Windows desktop model in favor of colorful, Windows Phone-style tiles-all the better, apparently, to port the upcoming operating system (due sometime in 2012) onto touch-friendly form factors such as tablets.
"So much has changed since Windows 95-the last time Windows was significantly overhauled-when the 'desktop' metaphor was established," Sinofsky wrote in the inaugural Aug. 15 posting. "Today, more than two out of three PCs are mobile (laptops, netbooks, notebooks, tablets, slates, convertibles, etc.). Nearly every PC is capable of wireless connectivity."
In his second posting a few days later, he described the engineering teams putting the operating system together. "We have about 35 feature teams in the Windows 8 organization," he wrote. "Each feature team has anywhere from 25-40 developers, plus test and program management, all working together." He then provided a list of "features or areas" under construction by those teams, including "Graphics Platform," "Hyper-V," "Media Platform" and so on.
According to Sinofsky's feature list, Windows 8 will also feature an App Store of some sort. That could directly counter Apple's Mac App Store, which lets users download applications to their desktop instead of having to purchase boxed software. The presence of a Microsoft-branded App Store would also let Windows on tablets compete on equal footing against rivals such as the iPad (which offers access to Apple's App Store) and Android devices (which include Android Marketplace).
Microsoft also had to deal with a few hours' worth of outages for its Office 365 and CRM services Aug. 17. A spokesperson later told eWEEK that the downtime was due to a "networking issue" at "one of our North American data centers."
Office 365 links Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online into a platform that costs between $2 and $27 per user per month. On top of that, Microsoft is offering an Office 365 Marketplace with productivity apps and professional services.
Microsoft launched the final version of Office 365, its cloud-based productivity software, with a June event in New York City hosted by CEO Steve Ballmer. The new offering was supposed to be much more stable, in terms of downtime, than its BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) predecessor. And like Windows 8, it's one of the products that Microsoft hopes will define its future.