Windows 8 and Surface Tablet – New Dawn or Inevitable Twilight for Microsoft?
With the launch of Windows 8 on a few machines, made by world’s best known hardware manufacturers, Microsoft introduced its latest operating system to the world in New York on Thursday. The exceptional features of the new operating system were on display on laptops made by Sony, Samsung, HP, to name but a few.
The gesture appeared to the computer users around the world with a more striking message, though: it was Microsoft’s way of saying to the hardware manufacturers – and their 640-million loyal customers - that they have not been abandoned by the software giant, in pursuit of a firm foothold in the tablet market.
Microsoft perfected the juggling act by introducing its own tablet, Surface, an hour later inside the same venue - of course, at a separate location. It was the first time in four decades that the company ventured into the production of its own hardware. Surface is designed to run on Windows RT operating system, an offshoot of the latest operating system for touch-based computers.
Windows 8 operating system, in fact, is different from its predecessors and the progress is certainly more than cosmetic: it provides the machines with a tile-based interface, replacing the desktop as we know of it; when a tile is clicked on, the corresponding window opens up, which can be customized easily, according to the whims and fancies of the user; the famous ‘Start’ button has abandoned its traditional role - or somewhat comical and inversely-intuitive role of shutting down the computer, instead of starting it – in favour of a genuinely new starting role – turning on a new screen; the applications designed for older versions of Windows will still work with the new operating system, even with the help of mouse and familiar set of menus.
In short, Windows 8 operating system has been designed to turn your PC and laptops into touch-based computers. The applications, especially designed for Windows 8, will fill up the screen when the corresponding tile is clicked, with a unique appearance, known as Metro. The older programmes will operate in the form of familiar desktop themes. Microsoft wants users to embrace Metro environment – eventually. Metro environment responds to tile clicks and finger-swipes across the screen, which has the potential to place the less technically-sound users on a relatively steep learning curve.
In this context, the traditional hardware allies of Microsoft have a very crucial role to play by introducing genuinely-quality products to customers, without making their ‘touch-and-swipe’ experience intolerable; this is what happening with most of the cheaper tablets that are flooding the market at present; their failure to realize the fact that human index finger is not an anatomical extension that is prepared to put up with coarse rubbing experiences, cost them dear, when users turned their back on the products in unison.
With the introduction of Surface, Microsoft, the biggest software company in the world, is in unchartered waters – hardware manufacturing. On one hand, the move has set off alarm bells ringing, as far as some manufacturers are concerned, which are already feeling the pinch owing to dwindling sales of personal computers – they may even suspect Microsoft’s motives in the long run; on the other hand, it has to fight against a formidable foe which has an unassailable lead in the market at present – Apple’s iPad.
In this context, Surface has to satisfy the customers on many fronts, in order to come closer to iPad, let alone to challenge it: Surface has to guarantee smooth user-experience when they touch or swipe a finger across the screen, something most of the tablets dismally failed to provide them with so far; it has to make the learning curve less steep for users by not clogging the system with applications that have very little use in real life; Microsoft must focus on their Appstore to make sure that it has high-quality applications on a par with its rival, Apple.
On a positive note, Microsoft shows that it still has innovative seeds at its core by its design of the cover of Surface. The cover can be detached easily and connected to the tablet as a keyboard, if users prefer a physical one to the touch-sensitive virtual one. The feature has the potential to help those who are in a dilemma in the run-up to Christmas – going for a laptop or tablet.
It is not just the combination of sleek design, robust hardware and immensely-user-friendly interface that makes Apple products indispensable for most of their customers; the App store played a pivotal role in the phenomenal success. Microsoft came in for criticism on Thursday for not putting a figure on the actual amount of Apps that are in Microsoft App store at present.
Microsoft, however, is encouraging software developers to come up with Apps while offering quite a few incentives for their contributions – a step in the right direction.
With the simultaneous launch of Windows 8 and Surface, Microsoft is taking the biggest gamble in its history. Microsoft has to walk the tight rope while sensing the endless dangers that lie underneath. It must innovate and at the same time, should not alienate its traditional customer base. So, striking a balance will be much tougher than Microsoft estimates, as the ground lost to Apple is far more significant than the former anticipated.
If it turns out to be a flop, the fate of the company and that of its beleaguered CEO, Steve Ballmer, is going to be a foregone conclusion. If it comes to that, 4% stake of the company, 1.4% less than that of its founder Bill Gates, will have very little insulation against those who call for Mr Ballmer’s head - for cumulative failure to turn around the software giant when the time was ripe.
- Asian Tribune -