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Windows 8: Is Microsoft Scared Into Acting Like a Startup?

After a day at BUILD, we saw a Microsoft we barely recognized. One that's trying to act like a startup.

Microsoft trotted out old ARM mobile devices to show that Windows 8 is rapid when coupled with display hardware that Windows 8 will enhance and support. That's a sign graphics acceleration is in the works, and Microsoft even repeated the term "proprietary display hardware" the way radio stations once overplayed Hotel California. Or Freebird. Continually.

Microsoft can’t risk low performance. It might have one shot here -- not the three, per usual.

Moving people from today's Windows 7 apps (and they run natively on Windows 8, according to Microsoft) to Metro interface apps isn't going to be easy. Microsoft usually takes the easy route. Typically, Microsoft just watched the competition make mistakes and then buys or builds its way into a fairly mature market. It can't do that and win this war.

One more thing, execs repeated the word Metro as if it's a common word everyone knows. But it didn't seem to have a consistent word for traditional Windows apps.

Though Microsoft is still Microsoft for sure -- it used Google Chrome as a running joke at BUILD and always pejoratively – it won’t be able to make fun of competitors' current Windows apps via name-calling until it replaces its popular Windows apps with Metro versions.

Microsoft plus Samsung or other tablets would be viable not just to tech pros - but to consumers who've only heard of Microsoft and never the words Android or iOS. Name recognition will get it loyalty from business users and the great unwashed alike -- and the ultimate win for a company who wants to keep its mantra of "Windows everywhere."

It's been years since Microsoft -- grown so confident and corporate and slow-- could act anything like a startup. But it is. It no longer can slow the industry it "owns" to whatever pace it's comfortable with, that's for sure.

This is what Larry Press and I determined after our first day at BUILD 2011. Were you there? We’d love to hear from you and engage in some back and forth. Comment below. Just takes a few seconds to register to do it. We want to talk to you folks directly.

What do you think?

Based in San Francisco, Gina Smith is editor-in-chief at BYTE. Email her at Larry Press is a BYTE senior contributor in Southern California and a university professor. Email him at

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