The Digital World with Ryan Simon: Microsoft’s big bet on Windows 8

Microsoft Surface
Photo from Surface.com

Yup, it’s that time again. There’s a new Windows operating system on the horizon, and it’s coming very soon. Final versions of Windows 8 are already out in the wild for IT pros and enterprises, and consumers will be able to nab their copy this Friday on October 26th. Microsoft is talking big with Windows 8.

They believe it’s the shot in the arm that the PC market needs. This is because Windows 8 throws away many of the traditional elements we come to expect from Windows – the removal of the Start Menu being of the most controversial changes – and adds a ton of interesting and intuitive new user interfaces.

Microsoft is positioning Windows 8 to be the bridge between tablet devices like Apple’s iPad and the regular old PC many have grown up using. The PC software juggernaut is so confident in Windows 8 that they’ve invested over a billion dollars in marketing. That’s not all; they also created their own in-house tablet called Surface that runs Windows 8, and a more portable version of Windows called RT. Microsoft loves their new Windows platform, but does it really have the potential that Microsoft is touting? Let’s take a look.

PC, Meet Tablet (Again)

It’s not the first time that Windows has been used on a tablet device. In fact, Microsoft began its foray into tablet computing in 1991, when a tech company called NCR was tasked to build a prototype tablet based on Windows 3.1. The first real tablet PC’s didn’t start showing up until 2002, when Microsoft released Windows XP Tablet PC Edition to the public.

Nevertheless, tablets didn’t catch mainstream attention until the iPad’s tremendously successful launch in April 2010, which brings us to today. With over 20 years of interest in tablets, Microsoft is making their biggest gamble yet by actually making a tablet themselves. Now that Windows 8 and RT actually provide user-friendly touch-based functionality, Microsoft’s long-term interest may pay off. The most important task for Microsoft to accomplish is attracting consumers and businesses alike to the Windows 8 platform.

Surface and the Windows App Store

In what could be described as a very bold move, Microsoft is shipping their first internally developed tablet PC called Surface. It’s bold because Microsoft isn’t well known for their hardware products. The only notable hardware Microsoft has put out as of late is the Xbox. Microsoft has never released their own PC before, instead relying on hardware partners like HP, Dell, and Asus to the dirty work for them.

For Microsoft to be releasing something like Surface is a big deal for the company. This shift in business strategy was reflected in a recent letter from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to shareholders. Ballmer described a company that aims to become a lot more like their long-time rival, Apple.

Microsoft means serious business with Windows 8 and Surface, literally. Windows 8 and the more compact version called RT are being positioned as tablet-friendly operating systems for people who want to do “real” work on their tablets. Microsoft is pushing this work-friendly image by providing a free version of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student RT for anyone who purchases a Surface with Windows RT tablet.

To enforce this new strategy of intuitive computing, Microsoft is launching the Windows Store. Similar to Apple’s Mac App Store, the Windows Store offers a portal for consumers to more easily discover new applications for their Surface, laptop, and/or desktop computer running Windows 8 or RT. As great as it all sounds, Windows 8 has a long way to go before Microsoft can call it a success.

The Windows of Opportunity

Microsoft’s Surface tablet and their touch-centric Windows 8 and RT platforms hold major potential. If Microsoft’s billion-dollar marketing campaign can connect with consumers in a unique way, their products like Surface and Windows 8 might just be able to convince people that tablets like the iPad are far less useful than advertised.

I can imagine Microsoft pushing their Surface tablet as the only device you can do serious work on, and enjoy some entertainment too. Surface could be positioned as a fantastic value for students looking for maximum portability, and the flexibility of the Windows platform on-the-go. There’s a niche out there for Microsoft to capture, Windows 8 and Surface may just be the right bait.

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