Microsoft announced the global availability of its long-awaited Windows 8 platform at a New York City event Oct. 25, along with its Surface tablet running Windows RT, a version of the OS for ARM-based tablets.
"This is probably the most important announcement of Microsoft's history since the launch of its Windows 3.0 in 1990," Malik Saadi, a principal analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, said in an Oct. 25 research note. "This is not just a product announcement; it is a new strategic direction that will redefine the way computers are used."
With Windows 8, Microsoft waves good-bye to "personal computers" and hello to "personalized computing," Saadi added. It's a shift away from keyboards and mice to multiple input methods—touch is critical, but so is voice and even video, as Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates said in a recent video on the Next at Microsoft blog.
Saadi added that Windows 8 will also enable Microsoft to grab opportunities in markets where it was unable to before, "including tablets, smartphones, set-top boxes and other consumer electronics devices."
A much-need update for the brand, Windows 8 "is no longer just the operating system—it's the core of the 'Windows experience,'" Jack Narcotta, an analyst with Technology Business Research (TBR) told eWEEK.
"Office is not just spreadsheets, email and documents, it's the extension of your 'Windows life.' Surface is a stage on which all this may play out."
Windows 8 became available as a download to upgrade existing PCs at 12:01 a.m. local time Oct. 26. PCs running Windows XP, Visa or Windows 7 are qualified to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99. Eligible Windows 7 PCs purchased between June 2 and Jan. 31, 2013, can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 with the Windows Upgrade Offer.
For anyone who has been holding out on a hardware purchase, Microsoft partners, including Lenovo, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have readied "more than 1,000 certified PCs and tablets, including Microsoft Surface," that were available for the Oct. 26 launch, Microsoft said.
That's of course 1,000 models.
"They ordered a few million," Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies, told eWEEK in regard to the Surface. "So they're expecting them to move."
Regarding Microsoft's high hopes, TBR's Narcotta points to a comment Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made during the day's presentation.
"Ballmer was emphatic—there are 670 million PCs out there 'just waiting to be upgraded to Windows 8.' If one reads between the lines, the message is clear: Microsoft is confident Windows 8 is the best tool set for its partners, and it is their mission to go forth and rebuild the consumer PC market and fortify the enterprise."
According to an upcoming report from Gartner, 90 percent of enterprises plan to put off broad-scale deployments of Windows 8 at least through 2014. Consumers are going to be critical to Windows 8's success.
"In many ways, Microsoft has already sold enterprises Windows 8," Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told eWEEK. He added that today's was the first Microsoft event he'd ever been to where the talk was first and foremost about the user—consumers—and only later turned to the enterprise.
"Microsoft's job now is to really explain this to consumers. This is not a time for conceptual marketing, with singing and dancing and music," said Gartenberg, referring to Microsoft's recently launched television ad for the Surface. "They need to make consumers understand why they should care. They have to make themselves attractive to my mother."
Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart objects to the suggestion that Microsoft doesn't already have a relationship with consumers.
"It's not a matter of Microsoft engaging with consumers for the first time but of creating an OS that reaches down to smartphones instead of a phone OS that reaches up to tablets."
The question now, says Greengart, is whether consumers with dollars to spend will buy a supplemental device, like a tablet, or choose to upgrade their laptops. And if they do go for a new laptop, will they choose a new Windows 8 machine "or just what's $399 at Costco."
Microsoft needs to enter the conversation," he added, "and convince people not to supplement, and when they do update their laptop to get something that's highly capable."
Or, at least to just buy a Surface.
Of all the devices Microsoft showed off at its New York event—"things that turn and twist and bend!" laughed Gartner's Gartenberg—the most striking device, he said, was the Surface.
"A tremendous amount of thought went into it, said Gartenberg. "It's the device that most clearly embodies what Microsoft is trying to do—which is likely exactly why they made it."