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.