Microsoft's Windows 8 Battle Is Everyone's War

This week at Computex, PC manufacturers are outing hybrid devices of every stripe. They're fun, goofy, slightly-to-moderately confusing little gadgets, but they're also a reminder that Microsoft isn't going it alone in its massive gamble on Windows 8. Everyone's along for the ride.

No one denies that Windows 8 has a wonderful touch interface. We've loved Metro on Windows Phone for ages now. But the cross-pollination of tablets and laptops is something totally new and possible only with Windows 8's unified platform. That's why we have the new Asus Taichi, and the Lenovo Yoga, and a bevy of tablet-ultrabook mutants. But all of the wonderful, quirky, outrageous hybrids that Microsoft's OEM partners pop out underwrite Microsoft's enormous bet that people will like Windows 8. They'll buy it and love it and use it exactly how Microsoft intends. That's far from guaranteed.

Reaction to Windows 8's Metro UI on traditional PCs is polarised. Obviously. It's more accurate to say it's a holy war, as the new religion of Metro blasphemes all over the familiar old gods of PARC.

Traditionally, successful Windows products haven't been the earth shakers. Windows 7 is really just an idealised version of Windows XP, which was an idealised version of Windows 95, which was an idealised version of Windows 3.1. And so on. Successful iteration stacked on the shoulders of iterational upgrades. But Windows 8 isn't just the latest iteration of Windows — it's Redmond's entrant as a viable tablet competitor, and it's a stab at consolidating mobile and desktop PCs in a way that Apple isn't even thinking about yet. It's a hugely ambitious play.

You simply can't overstate the importance of a Windows 8 victory for Microsoft and its hardware partners, both of whom have been steadily losing ground to Apple in the laptop market and have been obliterated in tablets. Windows 8 dives headfirst into waters that Apple, so far, has only dipped its toes in. An iOS-Mac OS convergence is coming — iOS godfather Scott Forstall's influence can be felt in all of Apple's products — but not quite yet. Apple has been relatively reserved about making the big, sweeping changes that would really push the mobile-desktop convergence from motif to mission.

Windows 8 can take that step. It is that step. But unlike Apple, which makes and profits from its own hardware, Microsoft's kingdom is still built on software. It's the commander-in-chief for Windows 8's war to unite tablets and laptops. It's Acer and Samsung and Asus and Lenovo that are charging the hill.

Every single PC hardware manufacturer is in bed with Microsoft on this. Yes, the lines will remain diversified — the Asus Zenbook U31XA is a pure ultrabook, for instance — and the current ultrabooks will ship with Windows 7, giving buyers an out if they hate Windows 8. But a Windows 7 ultrabook has about as much chance of competing with the Apple juggernaut as it always has: not much. What does have a shot? New forms. Tablets that turn into laptops, Voltron devices, a whole new generation of computing. For the first time in a long time, PC makers can offer something fundamentally different, exciting and unique. What we don't know yet is if anyone actually wants to buy them.

That's just it: if these things bomb, they're going to bomb. It'll be ugly and obvious and we'll know sooner rather than later. That would be a disaster for Microsoft — the Triple Crown's a tough sell if all your racehorses collapse midway through the derby.

That's why Steve Ballmer was pushing early adoption numbers so hard. Obviously, 500 million possible day-one Windows 8 machines didn't mean sales would be that high, since Windows 7 only sold 350 million in its first 18 months, and Vista 180 million in the same timeframe. But the underlying message is clear: Don't worry, people will buy this.

The most popular test case of Microsoft failure is Vista, which was broken on a fundamental level in basic ways, but it was performance, not aesthetics, that drove users away — especially casual, mum and dad users who were warned to STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM VISTA BECAUSE I WILL STOP COMING OVER TO FIX YOUR COMPUTER.

Windows 8 is not Vista. It is the opposite of that. It's hugely user friendly and inviting. Microsoft's counting on parlaying that "Windows for real people" image into real people actually buying it. And they might! But if not, it's going to be a rough few years for Ballmer's crew and all of the manufacturers who are going along for the ride.


Comments

    I honestly think the hardest part of the sell is going to be that Metro is bullshit boring in a store display without your personal settings.

    Windows Phone has the exact same problem, the appeal of the phone is how connected it is, but using a fresh out of the box phone that isn't set up in your telco store doesn't show you this.

      I don't see that is any different with iOS or Android. In fact, it was a side-by-side test of an iPhone 4 and HTC 7 Mozart in a store that convinced me to go with WinPhone 7. It did a lot more out of the box. The problem is getting sheeple to do that side-by-side comparison for themselves. Most seem much more inclined to take somebody else's word for it, as they did with Vista.

        The difference is people are walking into a store upgrading from iOS or Android, and all their friends are telling them to get iOS or Android again.

        Then they see the Windows Phone, and the main appeal to it isn't apparent in the store. Combined with biased sales assistance they walk out with another iOS or Android device.

        Could easily happen with tablets.

          Yeah, but that is a different issue, nothing to do with the post to which I was responding.

          You realize this is different right? This is WINDOWS. Widows 7 has sold more copies than Android + iOS + Mac sales. Windows 8 is aimed right at tablets, and it's already got a huge user base of people who will want to upgrade. Windows 8 on a computer works as well, because it's not ONLY metro, it has the desktop as well (with a lot of tweaks).

        All mobile OS's have there place. To call iOS users sheep is unfair. In my time in IT I have found Apple users to be opened minded. Whilst most Microsoft users are hard headed and are happy to talk down apple hardware/software without even having tried it. First problems is a lot of people invested in iTunes and the Apple ecosystem when the iPhone was the only mobile OS available with an app store. To now find equivalent apps in the Microsofts store means re-investing in a new ecosystem which may not be worth it for the casual home user. Second problem is a lot of home users have discovered that they don't need a full blown operating system and have purchased a iPad and again have invested in apps and locked themselves into an ecosystem. To get these users to change to Windows 8 machines will be an effort. But Microsoft will have no problems keeping current market share a those currently relying on Windows (most businesses) will slowly adapt to Windows 8 and eventually adapt Windows 8 tablets into the mix. The goal for all companies is how to keep the casual home users where there is just as much money to be made as for business users. The future will be interesting.

          Are you really serious when you say Apple users are open minded ? One of the most amazing comments have ever seen on the net.

          Well I'm afraid my experience is pretty much 100% the opposite. No Apple user I know has any objectivity about their choices, largely because they lack the knowledge to make an objective choice. Its actually quite scary how easily sheeple can be made to conform. I have actually been surprised at the number of iPad owners, for example, who have expressed disappointment at the lack of utility of the device. They all say it is good for what it does, it just doesn't do as much as they thought it would. And, for the record, I use OS X at work every day. I put up with the spinning colour wheel of death every day. I put up with having to log-in multiple times, instead of just once, and regularly having to reset permissions that ought to just work like they do for everyone on Windows.

          As for ecosystems, how about the ecosystem of full-blown applications that we all spent hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on? It hasn't stopped millions of sheeple from buying an iPad that won't run a single piece of software from their laptop or desktop computer. So why would it be any kind of barrier for MS, whose OS will actually allow those same sheeple to use all that expensive software once more, alongside the apps that are mostly free or just a few bucks? But you're probably right, as you'll find that most iTunes users are completely unaware that the music and video they buy through iTunes will play on any computer they care to use. i.e. They think they are locked in when in reality they are not.

    Windows 8 is crap thou, on a non touch interface it.is slower and the.fact the is now way to turnn it off is simply stupid... and really.why the flucke do sensed metro on servers! MY GOD it makes.me mad..

      Rubbish! On a non-touch device, Windows 8 is EXACTLY like Win7. The experience is no more different than Win7 was to Vista. You don't need to turn Metro off, you just don't use it if you don't want to. Moving from my Win8 laptop to a Win7 desktop is a seamless experience for me - I don't need to remember how one things works on one platform because everything works exactly the same on both. OTOH, when I go back to XP on my old laptop, I am constantly tripping up on all the things that changed between XP and Vista.

        Well, so long as you don't want to use that pesky start button.

          The button itself is gone but the function remains. It is even in the same place, so your muscle memory doesn't have to be retrained.

      Somehow I sense this is coming from a touch interface, so it's ok, metro works for you!

      And please.. Tell me, from your extensive use of the Win8 previews... What's slow about it now?

        No, I use Windows 8 on a two year old netbook and on my main laptop, neither of which have any touch-enabled devices. Even my mouse is of the three button, scroll-wheel variety. In the morning, I start my computer and it boots through to the Start Screen. If I am in a hurry, I can click on the desktop and it will go straight through to the same desktop it had in Win7, with all the same desktop shortcuts and pinned applications. If I am not in a hurry, then after it has intialised everything, which takes something less than 10 seconds, it will automagically go through to the desktop on its own. Once I am on the desktop, I use the machine EXACTLY the way I always have but if I want to try out any of the Metro apps, the experience with mouse and keyboard is perfectly acceptable. e.g. The email app is much easier to use than any webmail interface and it is much easier to check the weather from the weather app than it is to look it up in a browser or from the weather gadget.

        In fact, that is probably the best way to think of the Metro side of Win8 - it is like a much more useful version of Gadgets and it is just as easy to ignore as they are.

    I think that foldable ultrabook/tablet may well be my next laptop. Don't know how keen I am on Windows 8 though.

      But it is Windows 8 that makes such a device workable. Without it, you'd either be stuck with a good tablet / bad laptop or vice versa. Only Win8 will enable both experiences to be fantastic.

        I agree - what I mean is, I'm more concerned about windows 8 for the non-tablet stuff. I found metro to be a bit of a pain on my current laptop and went back to 7.

          I figure I'll use my next PC in two ways: either as a kind of kiosk to consume media/check e-mails in a casual fashion or as a workhorse to play games and get actual work done. Metro with touch for one; keyboard/mouse/Desktop mode for the other.

          <3 the Lenovo Yoga, but will probably get a touch-AIO as I need more desktop-like gaming performance.

          How so? 90% of the time I can't tell the difference at all and the other 10% of the time it is better than it was.

        "Only Win8 will enable both experiences to be fantastic"

        I smell another Microsoft shill.

    If it boots as fast as they say it does and runs all the familiar programs like they say it will and runs them as quickly as they promise, then it will overrun Apple and become the new king of the tablet/ultrabook scene. Personally, I've been running 8 (both) since the start and I have a program that lets me bypass the start button anyway and on my little netbook it runs just as well as on my PC, which is a beast. Bring the Windows 8 Ultrabooks with touch screen so I can ditch the mouse and I'm all in.

      Yes, it boots that fast!
      I have it running on my (two year old) lap top and my second pc.
      I havent installed it on my main rig yet. Im letting the missus be the guinea pig.

    Metro is great... on phones, tablets and all-in-one PC's. Windows 8 with a simplified Windows 7 layout would work so much better for the common PC user than Windows 8 with Metro. Many people have just upgraded from XP to 7 and are still getting used to the new layout. I don't see them upgrading from 7 to 8 especially when it means they will have to buy new hardware to use Metro properly; also not to forget Microsoft are removing a lot of the features Windows 7 gives you for free - like DVD playback support.
    From what I've seen in the previews of Windows 8, I have to say I'm disappointed. Do we really need a single interface between all our devices? In theory it sounds good, in practice not so much.

      What you are describing is EXACTLY what Win8 gives you - a great touch-friendly UI for tablets and other touch devices PLUS a traditional desktop environment for all those things you still need a proper computer for. The jump from Win7 to Win8 is much easier than the jump from XP to Win7. Once you know where everything is in Win7, you are set because they are all in EXACTLY the same places in Win8.

      The answer to your question is "no" and Windows 8 doesn't try to do that. You still have the full power of the desktop, which works EXACTLY like it does in Win7, PLUS the touch-friendly Metro UI. It is the best of both worlds and you get to CHOOSE which UI you use for every task.

        Unless you want DVD playback. Or use Windows Media Centre. Or the Start button.

          The Start button's exactly where it's always been: on your keyboard (aka "Windows" key). Typically between Ctrl and Alt.

          The Start menu, on the other hand ... who even uses that thing? Before Vista came out anything I used more than once a month was on Quicklaunch; since Vista the Start menu only opens because I hit the Windows key and start typing the name of the control panel I'm after.

          At least with Metro hitting Start will bring up something useful.

    i want to see the rpice difference between a hybrid computer and a normal laptop
    that will be a major factor if its a big difference

      RE: DVD Playback: The equivalent Windows 7 version (i.e. base version) doesnt provide DVD playback either (as far as i am aware). So its not so much an issue. The other versions of Win8 offer DVD playback with media Center

    I have yet to give Win8 a go, but i cant think of the last time i acutally USED my desktop.
    I have all the programs i want pinned to my taskbar or in the start menu (well 99% of em). The Metro UI is just like a big pinned taskbar, so i dont NEED the start menu anymore.

    Its just an adjustment, new shortcuts people will learn in a matter of days and the "learning curve" people will need to overcome to really use it efficiently will be a non issue.

    It has also enabled vendors to make ultrabooks and latops that have both a keyboard AND a touch screen and all manner of wacky awesomeness we have seen this week. Hell with Metro and a touchscreen i probably wouldnt use that goddamn trackpad anymore.

    B

      If you install Win8 over Win7, you will still have all those pinned apps, so you will hardly notice any change at all.

    Surely Computex is proof-positive that MS is on the right track here? Look at what Asus has now - the Zenbook is a terrific machine, albeit with a few niggles that have apparently been addressed in the new version, but what does it have over a MacBook Air? It s a tiny bit cheaper and has a better SSD but neither of those things are going to be enough to overcome the allure of an Apple product. But soon Asus will have the Taichi - a device that not only covers off all of the MB Air's features but also throws in a second screen with a touch UI and all the goodies you get in an iPad to boot. So instead of paying $1800 for a Core i7 Air plus another grand for a 64Gb iPad, you can have one machine that does all the things both Apple products do, with minimum duplication. And the Taichi will be a huge stand-out in most situations. I can see plenty of poseurs having both screens active in a cafe, just to let everyone know they are using a next-gen device. And if Taichi doesn't float your boat, Asus will have half-a-dozen other Win8 based products that will do things no Apple product can do. Products like the AIO will make iMacs look positively antique and a Win8 Transformer will offer a more tablet-focused experience. All the bases are covered, and that is just one vendor. Wait until Samsung, LG and even Sony start showing off what they are working on for Win8.

    This will be the first time since the release of the iPhone in 2007 that MS will have the upper hand - a bevvy of devices that make Apple's products look staid and conservative. It should be increasingly obvious that someone at MS had the vision to find a way to out innovate Apple and I reckon Win8 will deliver for them in spades. Apple should be very, very worried that they have not been spending nearly enough on R&D lately.

      Totally agree, apple should be scared or have something amazing up their sleeve. Hopefully apple isn't suffering form too much of a God Complex after the success of the iPad.

        Apple will survive. They've always survived on a small marketshare but high margin business. It'll just be business as usual

    The whole path to Windows 8 is terribly thought out by the sounds of things. Sure some of the new features are good, but removing things is never a good idea (unless you're providing suitable replacements). They're also creating confusion with their ARM/x86 fragmentation. They should have never started on Metro/touch interfaces for x86. Apple has had good success running 2 distinct (if architecturally similar) operating systems, one for "traditional" computers (OSX) the other for touch screen devices (iOS). Microsoft have kind of tried to do something similar here, even emulating Apple's "walled garden" with their ARM version, but trying to bring these features into the x86 version, where the majority of uses will still be desktop computing, is just confusing.

      What have they removed? One button but the functionality behind it is still there, only vastly improved. Clearly you have not so much as seen Windows 8 for yourself.

    I think the author can't help but show his enthusiasm for the platform, but is trying their best to hide it with sensible words portending doomsday prophecies. Computex has shown that MS is back. Metro will take over the world. Once people start using their laptops, desktops, tablets, phones in a consistent user experience, the bar will be raised. They will be wondering why they're not getting the same deal with Apple (of all companies) and especially Google and their Android. Sony will suffer with their PS3 as well. Nintendo ditto.

    It's round two of the ecosystem wars, First round was won by Apple by using the same OS to power their phone and tablet. In this second round, MS is in the driver's seat

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