Microsoft has been one of the big players in the tech industry since…well, since there’s *been* a tech industry. In recent years, however, there’s been concern that the ‘game has passed them by’ and that they’re becoming irrelevant in the market segments that put them on the map. They still dominate desktop computing both at the OS level (a little thing called ‘Windows’ that powers 80% to 90% of the PC’s worldwide depending on who is doing the counting) and the all important ‘Office Suite’ (Microsoft Office). In other areas their influence is either under attack (web browsing, where Internet Explorer is no longer the big player) or has never reached ‘critical mass’ (mobile OS).
Apple has been a major thorn in the side of Microsoft, and nowhere does the company Steve Jobs founded have a more compelling edge than in tablet computing. Apple’s iPad dominates the market while Microsoft is just getting in the game. According to some analysts, however, Microsoft’s latest version of the Windows OS could be their ‘ace in the hole’. With Windows 8, many see the PC experience and the tablet experience converging, with a more tablet like user interface on computers and a more full featured computer experience on tablets.
Simply put, tablets haven’t replaced PC’s and particularly in the enterprise. They’re great for web browsing and reading books, but for creating spreadsheets and writing documents, not so much. Windows 8–which goes on sale this week–hopes to change that. Microsoft is betting that people want a full featured computing experience on their tablets and Windows 8 aims to provide that. If they’re right, the new OS version could put Apple on the defensive in much the same way that smaller tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire have in that market segment.
Windows 8 offers a creative solution that has as many detractors as champions in the tech media. The new OS has two modes: the “Start screen” which has large app icons, hidden menus and which completely deconstructs the PC OS experience that Microsoft pioneered and the more traditional “Desktop mode” which will be familiar to anyone that uses a PC and is similar in many ways to the current Windows 7 user experience.
Will the plan work? Analysts are divided and by a large margin. Some share Microsoft’s view that there’s a huge untapped market on consumers that want tablets that are more ‘business savvy’. Others think it’ll be a complete bust and that it’ll go the way of Windows Vista and the Zune. We’ll soon find out which side is right.