Is Windows 8 Just the Bold Bet That Microsoft Needed?
For years, Microsoft has prided itself on being able to show the latest version of Windows running even the oldest of applications.
This week, however, Redmond is striking a very different tone in introducing Windows 8. Although any programs that ran in Windows 7 should do just fine in the new release, Microsoft is putting nearly all of its energy around a whole new type of application that is quite unlike the Windows programs of yesteryear.
A scan of the session list at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in Anaheim, Calif., reveals dozens designed around building the new “Metro-style” applications, and almost no programs focused on traditional Windows applications.
Also, as one reporter pointed out to me, it’s worth noting that the new-look Windows has no windows. Nor do the new kind of apps have visible menus or other hallmarks of the venerable desktop operating system. Instead, new Windows applications fill the entire screen and are navigated largely through touch, with needed commands brought up with the swipe of a finger.
And although Windows 8 will run older programs, there are clear signs that Microsoft is ready to break with tradition. Older Windows apps share space on one screen — the desktop. That’s the same amount of screen real estate that all other apps have to themselves. And while both new and old apps will run on Intel-based Windows 8 machines, Microsoft is only promising that new-style programs will run on the forthcoming machines using ARM-based chips from Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.
It’s a major shift that Microsoft has resisted making for many years. Even as rivals like Apple and Palm went back to the drawing board and redesigned their operating systems for the Internet age, Microsoft chose to make evolutionary improvements to Windows while maintaining nearly full compatibility with the past.
Change is clearly needed. After years of dominating the computing universe, Microsoft has seen a number of incursions into its core business. A resurgent Mac has grabbed a significant share of the computer market, while the iPad and other mobile devices have also taken momentum and sales away from the traditional computer business.
And as much as Microsoft needs an answer to the iPad — and it clearly does — the threat posed to today’s Windows extends far beyond the tablet. The type of mobile computing that dominates the smartphone and tablet markets today is poised to move into laptops and desktops, as well. On the laptop side, in particular, customers clearly want the same thinness and long battery life that is found on tablets.
The only way for Microsoft to get there with Windows was to break with the past. Microsoft indicated its willingness to go in new directions back in January, when it announced that Windows 8 would support ARM-based processors. With this week’s announcement, Microsoft is showing that it is willing to go a step further and sacrifice some backward compatibility to produce more competitive products.