The past decade saw Microsoft Corp, the company that gave us the proprietary Windows operating system, a household name so popular that it's often used interchangeably with the desktop experience, take a bit of a nose dive. From leading the software market to slowly and steadily losing out to new, quick-footed technology venturesin one area after the other – search, social networking, email, music and mobility, among others – the Redmond major now runs the risk of becoming irrelevant on the tech scene.
Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 8, is its last-ditch attempt at reclaiming the space it has yielded over the years to its tech rivals, Apple Inc and Google. This release , slated for October 26, represents a major rethink for the software major, one that finally acknowledges the tectonic shift in technological choice: from desktops, then laptops to tablets and smart phones.
The first look is impressive. At the Windows AppFest that Microsoft organized in Bangalore, in an attempt to build traction around the upcoming release, Microsoft gave journalists a detailed demo of Windows 8, both on tablets and on desktops, but the news is that there's no difference – it's one OS that fits both (unlike Apple that has iOS and OSX, and Google that's building Chrome for netbooks and has Android for mobile). There's little doubt that the interfaces are slick, smooth and offer a lot of scope to organise your desktop experience.It's quite intuitive, and going by what we saw of the user interface it's an attempt to blur the line between the traditional desktop and Tablet experience.
There's obviously been a design rethink that aligns this product to the world of touch.The start menu that Windows users are familiar with has disappeared; instead Windows offers you a neat, visually-appealing format called 'tiles'. This interface resembles Metro, its Windows Phone interface, where it's called 'Live Tiles'.These tiles, that are grouped together represent different services and applications. Under the tiles you can view live updates for each of your services, and there's lots of scope to organise.
There's a few other features that are bound to impress users: semantic zoom that allows you to view your tiles and content by zooming out, picture password where you can create a password using gestures on a photograph of your choice instead of typing in one, and easy sharing across services.
Lifeline for MS?
At the media interactions, top India leads from Microsoft repeatedly described the product as a “radical gamechanger”. One of them even compared it to Windows 95, which introduced 32-bit computing to home PC s and represented a “generational shift” in computing. While techies at Microsoft are visibly excited the hard truth is that Microsoft needs this product to succeed not just in order to remain relevant but also to resuscitate its market value. In July this year, Microsoft Corp reported its first quarterly loss, a net loss of $492 million. This is the first time the corporation saw net profits dip after it went public in 1986.
While some of this had to do with the grim market environment, a lot of this is expected given personal computer sales have been stagnant for a few years now, and registered a decline in recent quarters. Analysts have also been harping on that unless Microsoft comes up with a product that's a real game changer it can barely hope to catch up with its adversaries. Microsoft also hopes that the new touch-friendly product will make some impact among enterprise clients, where its major revenues lie.
But even before the official release, there's been a few publicity hiccups that Microsoft's having to deal with. For instance, last week Paul Otellini, CEO at Intel Corp, reportedly told his employees in Taiwan that Windows 8 is being released prematurely. While tech vendors have in the past released software that's not entirely fit to ship – and release updates later – it hasn't always worked well for Microsoft. Remember Vista, the Windows version that was ridden with bugs and had adoption issues that turned out unfixable. Analysts point out that Microsoft today can ill-afford a Vista-like debacle.
It's also being widely reported that tablets being shipped with Windows 8 are planning on offering snap-on keyboards. This will mark a shift from the 'touch only' approach to computing, and several hardware biggies including Samsung, HP and Acer are set to do this. Tablet makers perhaps hope that this add-on could wean consumers away from Apple's iPad, which remains a market leader in this segment. This detachable keyboard, which was part of the demo equipment shown here, is sleek and goes well with the device design. Samsung's already demoed a new version of Slate, which runs on Windows 8 and will hit the market on the same date as Windows 8. This keyboard costs a little less than $ 100, which seems to be a good bargain for those who still struggle with typing on touch, or feel they'd like it if their Tablets could double as more traditional computing devices.
This article was corrected for a spelling error.