Microsoft Mustn't Blow Its Last Chance to Save Windows
The idea that people will use giant screen touch devices like the Perceptive Pixel computers is both controversial and also painfully obvious to anyone who follows the trend lines and user behaviors. As prices crash into the sub-$1,000 range, and as multi-touch, pen gesture, in-the-air gesture and especially voice interface technologies become more sophisticated, reliable and easy to use, giant touch screens that employ them all will become ubiquitous, replacing TVs, not to mention coffee tables and corporate conferencing systems. People fret about "gorilla arm," but these devices will be extremely flexible. You'll be able to use them with wireless keyboards and mice, if you like. But mostly they'll be useful at a drafting-table angle for touch only, or will angle up like a TV for video consumption, video chat or for use from across the room. They'll be great TV replacements and also replace presentation screens and video conferencing systems in executive board rooms. There's no question that Apple is methodically headed in that direction; every new OS X device gains new touch-centric features, and every new iOS device approaches laptop- or desktop-like power. And there's no question that Google and Android will go wherever the market wants to go.Under the new leadership of Satya Nadella, and after last year's reorganization that put Perceptive Pixel under the Systems division instead of the Office group (plus the news that Microsoft is working on driving down prices), it appears that, at long last, Microsoft may actually be the early mover in this category. And if that's true, it's good news for Microsoft fans, employees and shareholders. The only hope for Microsoft's continued desktop dominance is to be early with tomorrow's desktop platform, rather than just trying to extend the 33-year-old WIMP paradigm another boring decade (WIMP stands for Windows, icons, menus and pointing devices). Of course, beating Apple to market with the future big-screen desktop touch computer doesn't guarantee success. Apple could still come along with something way better and win. But being substantially late yet again to the market will guarantee failure for Microsoft. And there's no reason for Microsoft to be late. It's been working on big-screen touch computers for many years, both within Microsoft (on the product formerly known as the Surface but now called PixelSense) and on the Perceptive Pixel side. At this point, the company needs to drive prices down and usability up and then market the hell out of it. And, let's face it: Perceptive Pixel is Microsoft's last chance to save Windows and own the future of desktop computing. WIMP computers are fading into oblivion and will be replaced by multi-touch devices no matter what Microsoft does. All Microsoft has to do now is take the massive lead it has and convert it into mainstream success.
The only question is whether Microsoft will be disastrously late to the party once again.