Microsoft is taking a radical new direction with "Windows 8," abandoning many of the traditional Windows hallmarks in favor of a brightly colored, tile-centric interface apparently designed to play well on everything from tablets to desktops.
(Windows 8 is actually an internal Microsoft code-name for the project. Its final moniker might change by the time of its rumored release date in late 2012.)
Windows 8 will not only feature all-new apps tailored to that interface but support legacy programs such as Office. In an official video detailing a few of the operating system's capabilities, Microsoft showed Windows 8 running the current version of Excel, in an apparent bid to convince the productivity-minded that their needs will be met.
Some analysts seemed sold on Microsoft's radical new direction.
"It has the markers of a post-PC product: Windows on ARM will enable more ubiquitous and casual computing experiences; touch-first will make Windows more intimate and physical," Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in a June 1 blog posting. "If Microsoft executes well-and brings Windows 8 to market by 2012, which they haven't officially said they will do-it will stave off defection from OEM partners to alternative operating systems, and from consumers and enterprises tempted by Apple's platform."
Furthermore, she sees Windows 8 as potentially giving Android some major headaches. "Consumers prefer Windows to Android on tablets by a wide margin: 46 [percent] of U.S. consumers considering buying a tablet prefer Windows on that tablet, compared with 9 [percent] who prefer Android, according to a Forrester study conducted in January 2011."
Those manufacturers whose Android tablets crashed and burned in the market, she theorized, could turn to Windows tablets-although Apple's iPad will continue its market dominance: "If Windows 8 tablets hit the market in 2012, they'll be competing against third-generation iPads-no easy feat, and we expect Apple to maintain at least 70 [percent] market share into next year."
But others have been quick to point out potentisl flaws in Windows 8.
"Windows 8 is trying to have it all, and I don't think it can be done," Daring Fireball's John Gruber wrote in a June 1 posting. "You can't make something conceptually lightweight if it's carrying 25 years of Windows baggage." That alone, he argued, makes it an ineffective competitor to the iPad and its focus on speedy, streamlined interactions.
In crafting a new platform capable of operating on both tablets and traditional PCs, Microsoft evidently hopes to move its Windows franchise into a new era while finally establishing a brand presence in the rapidly burgeoning consumer tablet market. But can Microsoft effectively hit both the power-user and lightweight-tablet markets? Until the company offers more exhaustive details about how Windows 8 will work, that remains a big question.