Microsoft’s Windows 8 Gamble Just Might Work

First off, let me make this clear: the post that follows is my personal opinion and does not represent Dell’s views on the topic.

I’ve been following the considerable volume of reactions since Microsoft unveiled the concept behind Windows 8 that they unveiled last week at D9. The core of Microsoft’s strategy: Windows 8 will be the operating system that runs on all devices from laptops and desktops to smartphones and tablets. While it’s way too early to draw any conclusions, I like what I’ve seen so far. And I like that Microsoft is taking this kind of risk.

If you’re looking for a good overview of what Windows 8 is all about, read Ina Fried’s initial take. If you’re looking for a good overview that tees up some of the broader implications of Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy, read Michael Mace’s Windows 8: The Beginning of the End of Windows post. I’d also recommend spending a few minutes to listen Walt Mossberg’s D9 interview with Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows platform for Microsoft.

And if you haven’t seen it, check out Microsoft’s Windows 8 intro video. It has well over 3.2 million YouTube views at the time I wrote this.

One of the main objections to the Windows on everything approach has been that you can’t run a full OS on a tablet. I totally agree with Ed Bott’s take on this one: I bet Microsoft can nail this challenge. I trust Steven Sinofsky as well—look no further than his mention that Windows 8 will continue the trend of lower system requirements that Windows 7 started. Also don’t forget that Microsoft has made it clear they’ll have Windows 8 running on ARM processors down the road.

There are other objections to Microsoft’s strategy in the blogosphere. John Gruber called Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy a flawed attempt to take on the iPad. In his view, having a clean break between iOS running on mobile and tablet devices vs. OS X on laptops and desktops simplifies the app strategy for those devices. Personally, I’m not sure this is the only way. In contrast, Microsoft’s strategy is one where Windows 8 is the core OS across all devices, from desktops through smartphones. If you read through the details of Microsoft’s Windows 8 approach that their Corporate Vice President for Windows Experience Julie Larson-Green articulates, it seems to me that a hybrid app concept is emerging. In this hybrid model, a developer has three options:

  1. Develop a touch-centric app meant to run primarily on a smartphone or tablet
  2. Develop a traditional application more suited to the mouse + keyboard model that we’re all used to on desktops and notebooks
  3. A hybrid app that lives in the middle

Hybrid apps are the big gamble. Native Windows 8 apps can be built using HTML 5 and along with JavaScript to tap into native Windows capabilities. The level of integration with Windows services will be up to developers to decide. Sounds like Windows 8 apps can run the gamut between full-blown commercial software and smartphone or tablet-only apps.

In my view, Microsoft has two major challenges to overcome:

  1. They have to seamlessly merge the laptop and desktop mouse + keyboard experience with the touch approach that is so central to smartphones and tablets
  2. They have to convince developers to buy into this hybrid app strategy

No question both of these are huge challenges to take on. But given what’s a stake for Microsoft, they will put a lot of resources behind this to make real progress here.  I agree with Rurik Bradbury’s thoughts on this… by unifying the OS running on desktops, laptops, smatrtphones and tablets, Microsoft aggregates the number of devices out running Windows 8 right out of the gate. Windows 7 amassed 350 million licenses in its first 18 months. This will most likely put Microsoft on competitive footing with Apple and Google from a platform standpoint. Apple has about 187 million iOS devices running on that platform (as of March 2011). Google recently surpassed 100 million Android devices, with that number is growing by about 400,000 devices daily.

Looks like we’ll have to wait for more Windows 8 details in September when Microsoft hosts their Build event. Personally, I’m glad to see Microsoft taking this kind of a risk. While it’s still early, their strategy shows some innovative thinking in my view. If Microsoft is successful, their Windows 8 strategy may frame the Mac vs. PC debate in terms of today’sdevices.

Add it all up, and I still agree with my original #win8 tweet… risky as heck, but it just might work:

LionelatDell #win8 tweet

About the Author: Lionel Menchaca