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Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets

Microsoft revealed more about Windows 8.1 at the Computex and TechEd conferences, clarifying its OS and device strategy. Here's what's next for users.

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Windows 8.1 won't be officially revealed until Microsoft's Build Conference, which kicks off on June 26 in San Francisco. But that didn't stop the company from teasing the much-anticipated update at two major conferences last week: Microsoft's own TechEd in New Orleans, and Computex, the PC mega-expo in Taipei, Taiwan.

The extent to which Microsoft has taken the wraps off Windows 8.1 is anyone's guess, as much of what has been revealed aligns with rumors and leaks that have been circulating throughout the spring. Even so, several aspects of Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy have come into sharper focus over the last several days. Based on Microsoft's latest comments, here are six key strategies we expect to see.

1. Microsoft Will Embrace The Post-PC Era.

Traditional PCs clearly are not obsolete. That's the view of Microsoft and most anyone who recognizes how many essential business applications are suited neither for touch interfaces nor small screens. But whereas desktops and PCs were once the only personal computing vehicles available, tablets have usurped many common duties, while also enabling the kind of mobile uses older machines can't offer. This shift challenges how we define what counts as a computer and what doesn't, and Microsoft recognizes that the path forward demands a variety of device categories and sizes.

[ Just how hard is it to learn Windows 8? Read Windows 8 Learning Curve: Two Customers Speak. ]

In an interview at TechEd, Brad McCabe, senior product marketing manager of Windows Commercial, said it's "great" that some people prefer tablets, others laptops, and others convertibles. "That's the beauty of touch," he said.

Microsoft's acknowledgement of this choice is implicit in two of its recent actions: by bundling Microsoft Office with smaller tablets, the company is appealing to mobility-minded users, but by implementing a boot-to-desktop mode and expanding system controls such that desktop devotees need not deal with the new Modern UI any more than they want, Microsoft is also showing that traditional users remain an important demographic.

It remains to be seen, of course, if Microsoft's decisions -- such as a Start button that lacks a Start menu -- will strike a chord with users. But the company's dedication to diverse devices is clear.

2. Microsoft Will Commit To Touch.

Although OEMs have mostly accepted touchscreens, they continue to roll out non-touch options. But Nick Parker, corporate VP of Microsoft's OEM division, told PC World that "touch is going to be the new standard," and that he has observed a surge in the popularity of laptop-tablet hybrids popular because they offer "the best of both worlds." The attitude draws an important line between Windows and its nearest competitor, Apple's OS X.

Apple, the same company that started the touchscreen craze with the iPhone and iPad, has taken a more reserved approach to touch on desktops and laptops than Microsoft. True, OS X has gradually grown to look more like iOS, and its users can still use swipes, pinches and other gestures. But the touch controls are delivered via track pads, not touchscreens.

Apple could always surprise everyone by changing course, especially with new Mac models expected at next week's Apple developers' conference. But if the laptop-desktop hegemony has been disrupted by new form factors, Apple and Microsoft are posing another choice for users: not just between Windows and OS X, but between touch controls that function mostly as an extension of the user's keyboard-and-mouse experience, as in Apple's implementations, and those that require users to lift their hands from the keyboard to tap the screen.

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User Rank: Ninja
6/8/2013 | 4:51:03 PM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
Pricing is a big aspect, but discounting heavily to a bunch of folks isn't what I'd consider affordability. Making these prices permanent across all markets and selling stand-alone Win8 licenses for 30 bucks THAT would be affordable. People would buy two or three just because they aren't out much even if the hardware or OS sucks.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/10/2013 | 6:44:20 AM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
The title should have been: "6 shades of failure: 6 ways MS fools itself to sure disaster"
User Rank: Apprentice
6/10/2013 | 6:49:12 AM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
You wanna know what I want with Windows? How about actual windows that I can size and position? I want dozens of them sprawled all over my three display screens. I want them all live all at the same time... I don't want "snap" or what the heck that thing is where one application takes the whole screen and a second app squeezed into the third side of the screen! And charms...what the hell are those? Do they come with a leprechaun? Hearts, moons, clovers and pink stars! Give me an OS I can use to perform work....not some social reject that is so distracting I can't get anything done. Microsoft seems to have forgotten that their bread and butter is the business user! They have already lost the executive to Apple, and the trench techie to Linux...All they have left is the home user and Citrix...and really, that's not much anymore!
User Rank: Strategist
6/10/2013 | 11:54:02 AM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
It's a weird feeling. A company whose products I use every day and for much of the day, being totally irrelevant to my life.
User Rank: Strategist
6/10/2013 | 5:24:46 PM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
Don't forget Micro$oft bet number 7: Betcha we don't care whether you like Metro or not! You're going to be exposed to it anyway.

M$ believes (with quite a bit of justification) that we have to have Windows to run legacy apps, and they're trying to leverage that into forcing us all to go with their new UI paradigm. Once we've gotten used to it, we'll all rush out and by WinPhone and WinTablet.

Sorry, M$, I don't respond well to blackmail.
User Rank: Ninja
6/10/2013 | 5:25:13 PM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
1. "embrace Post-PC Era", duh. 2. "Commit To Touch", and duh again. 3. "An Enterprise Tool", don't think so unless Win8 is made to work the same way as Win7 for non-touch devices. 4. "Push Affordability", that's a laugh its M$. 5. "Lure Consumers With Office", not at $650 a pop and Office 365 not it. 6. "RT Strategy", stands for Ridiculous Technology from M$.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2013 | 8:51:28 PM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
#1... no, there is no such thing as a ''Post-P.C. era'', that's a myth Steve Jobs used to sell Macintoshes, when Microsoft INVENTED the Tablet it was called a Tablet-P.C., the moment I see someone writing the words ''Post-P.C.'' I can tell they're Crapple-/Scroogle-fanboys who's only characteristic exceeding their fandomship is their hate towards Microsoft.

Windows 8 is a beautiful O.S. designed for ALL P.C.'s (including both desktops and Tablet-P.C.'s).
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/18/2013 | 4:34:52 PM
re: Windows 8: Microsoft Makes 6 Big Bets
Judging the worth of an argument based on a three-syllable phrase seems a little suspect to me. It's sort of like dismissing someone purely because he's mistaken "who's" for "whose," but I digress.

If your point is that "Post-PC" is a misnomer because tablets are in fact a kind of PC, then sure, that's reasonable. The article even referenced how tablets challenge "how we define what counts as a computer and what doesn't," which is a pretty similar point.

As for Microsoft inventing the tablet... even if you want to take the point of view that Apple just stood on Microsoft's shoulders, that doesn't negate the iPad's relative dominance of the tablet category. It also doesn't negate the fact that Windows tablets have yet to achieve remotely comparable popularity, among consumers or enterprise users. These facts speak to how Apple executed the products differently than Microsoft, and, given the success of Apple's execution, these facts also diminish the importance of who "invented" the concept.

As for Windows 8 being a beautiful OS... sure, for some. And I think we've repeatedly made that point on this site. But just because it's useful for some people doesn't mean that iOS or Android or Chrome OS or OS X or whatever can't be more useful for someone else. And just because some people find it "beautiful" doesn't mean that a lot of intelligent, capable users can't find the OS awkward and unintuitive, or that they can't justifiably prefer some other OS for both work and recreation.

That's really the challenge Microsoft faces. It's not that Windows 8 is unworthy. For some needs, it's the best option on the market. But needs are diverse, and for the first time, we have a diverse assortment of operating systems and devices to serve those needs. Personal computing devices had been pretty homogenous for a long time, with Windows OSes accounting for 90% of the market. But now that desktops and laptops aren't the only devices people use for work, it's natural that no single platform will dominate, especially since Microsoft - despite "inventing" the tablet - was so late to embrace mass market mobile devices.
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