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Windows 8 – Microsoft 2.0

September 15, 2011

Windows 8 Metro interface

Microsoft has unveiled a new-look Windows 8 operating system at the Build developers’ conference in California. The lightweight OS sports the innovative ‘Metro’ interface familiar to users of Microsoft’s latest mobile phone software. This has been designed for a future of tablets and touch-screen interfaces, rather than traditional mouse and keyboard. In the software giant’s endless struggle between revolution and evolution, this is Castro giving Darwin a mighty slap.

You can watch the keynote presentation here, and download a free developer preview to play with on your PC.

Don’t get too excited just yet. This is a very early developer build. By the time Windows 8 is finally released in 2012 (2013?), we may all be using jet-packs, eating astronaut food, and browsing on our new 3D Apple Macs 😉

But I like Metro. It’s a fresh way to do navigation that doesn’t slavishly ape the iOS paradigm. For years I bemoaned the fact that Microsoft sat on its fat monopolist backside and talked innovation rather than actually doing it. The corporate complacency that produced the obese and sluggish Vista seemed to exemplify the company’s philosophy. Promise much – deliver little and late. Protect the core monopolies of Office and Windows and dictate a glacial pace of technology change for a whole industry.

What a difference real competition makes.

Windows 8 is different. While Windows 7 dragged PCs kicking and screaming into an OS X world, this new operating system seeks to bury Gates’ legacy, not to praise it. It does so with a degree of aesthetic boldness and panache that is to Microsoft’s real credit. I won’t criticise the company for acknowledging the changed tech landscape it once owned, and trying to design its way out of trouble. Hey, better late than never.

The launch keynote was fascinating for the significant things that were not said. In fact there were so many elephants in the room that delegates should have received a complimentary pair of wellington boots and a shovel.

Apple. Google. iPad. Kindle. iPhone. Firefox. Android. Dropbox. Facebook. Amazon. Chrome. iCloud. A world filled with new paradigms and choices. None of them controlled by Microsoft.

Significantly, this particular herd of elephants is setting a pace that dominates Microsoft’s current thinking and investment. The monopoly in mindshare now belongs to others. All this despite the fact that Microsoft was the pioneer in tablets and mobile operating systems, dominated web browsing and owned the desktop.

Windows 8 is a play for markets that were largely Microsoft’s to lose. And which it subsequently lost. More than that, it’s a land-grab for a new tech world of mobiles, slates and the cloud. And this time Microsoft won’t be able to twist the arms of weaker competitors, because the competitors are stronger and more inventive than before. By the time this creaking supertanker completes its 180 degree turn, will the newer ships be over the horizon?

Yet Windows 8 shows that this is all clearly good for Microsoft – and good for the rest of us. The pressure has produced real innovation in the software giant. And it even seems to be enjoying the challenge. Steven Sinofsky injected an air of likeable schoolboy enthusiasm into the keynote presentation, although one couldn’t help feeling the shadow of Steve Jobs towering over proceedings – the developers in the audience whooping each new feature like the best Apple fanbois.

Hard-line Microsoft advocates can sometimes be reluctant to acknowledge the full contribution made by the likes of Steve Jobs to the tech world. But as they swipe their finger through the bold new touch interface of Windows 8, they must surely concede one central truth.

Jobs and co have made computing fun again. And this kind of fun has infected Microsoft’s new operating system more profoundly than any virus.

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One Comment leave one →
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