The debut of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system (OS) signals the beginning of Microsoft’s struggle to establish a beachhead in the tablet/smartphone wars currently being waged between rivals Google and Apple.

With the new OS comes an entirely new, and revolutionary, interface: one that is both designed to usher Windows into the tablet/smartphone world while also distinguishing it from its competitors by maintaining a continuity of appearance across multiple devices.

A New Day

Released on October 26 to largely mixed reviews, Windows 8 comes at a critical time for the once-dominant Redmond software company. While the Windows OS dominates desktop PCs with approximately a 90% market share, the firm has struggled with smartphones and tablets, the two fastest growing segments of the PC industry.

New tablets and smart phones utilizing the ARM processor architecture have proven a test for Microsoft which has traditionally programmed for Intel chips as part of a long corporate relationship between the two firms. Now, in Windows 8, Microsoft has a system that can run on Intel and ARM processors, PC desktops, laptops, tablets and soon Windows 8 smartphones. While at their core each is tuned specially to its platform, all incarnations of the new OS present a unified front for Windows in the new computing era.

Windows is not only the preferred OS for most desktop PCs, but also represents 25% of Microsoft’s $73.7 billion annual revenue, three-quarters of which comes from the licensing fees Microsoft charges PC manufacturers to install the Windows OS on new PCs sold.

Changing Markets

While Apple has made headway and is currently the number one vendor of laptops in the United States, Microsoft overwhelmingly dominates the desktop. Its income stream from this market position is what the company seeks to defend with its aggressive debut of the Windows 8 OS. The ability of Microsoft to successfully stretch this established brand into new territories is key to its long-term relevance from a technological and corporate standpoint.

The Shift from Desktop to Mobile 

The shift from the desktop/laptop to the mobile market is evidenced most strongly in the intense competition between Apple and Google, two of Microsoft’s rivals that have capitalized on the growing phenomenon while Microsoft has languished in the background. The success of Apple’s iPad, by far the tablet market leader, and both the iOS and Android smartphones has forced Microsoft to abandon its traditional approach to Windows in favor of one geared toward this mobile market.

The shift is not surprising. According to Frank Gillett of Forrester Research, when taken altogether, Microsoft’s market share across all devices is actually 30%. This explains why the company had no problem eschewing icons for tiles, replacing start buttons with metro interfaces, and emphasizing seamless connectivity across all Windows 8 devices.

Promising Future

In addition to the radical changes in its OS, Microsoft has also entered the hardware game in the form of its Microsoft Surface. The Surface is Microsoft’s interpretation of the tablet phenomenon and represents the best of its corporate design and ingenuity. At $499 without a keyboard cover, it is competitively priced in comparison to the iPad and comparable Android competitors. The promised connectivity between the Surface, Windows 8, and other Microsoft properties like the Xbox 360, makes this an exciting time for PC aficionados and Microsoft fans alike.

 

[The Economist]