THE world’s largest software maker, Microsoft, is launching its new touch-friendly operating system, Windows 8 — along with its first tablet, the Surface.
It is going head-to-head once more with Apple in the latest battle of a continuing war — a battle that is set to redefine the future of both companies.
Microsoft and Apple have a shared history that evolved with the development of the personal computer. However, for the past two years it has been tablets — most notably Apple’s iPad — that have captured the market for mobile computing devices. Notable by its absence in this space has been Microsoft.
That changes on Friday with the launch of Windows 8, its new software that runs the latest generation of smartphones, tablets and PCs and provides a cohesive experience between them. Also being launched is the Windows 8 tablet called the Surface.
Ahead of the launch this week, Microsoft’s latest quarterly results saw the company’s profits fall a greater-than-expected 22%, partly as a result of a slowdown in sales of PCs running Windows but also because revenues were deferred ahead of the Windows 8 and Office product launches.
On Thursday, Google also reported sharply lower profits. Downbeat results from IBM and chip-maker Intel rounded off a disappointing week for tech investors.
The Surface tablet is Microsoft’s first venture into the world of hardware outside of peripherals such as mice, joysticks and keyboards and a major incursion into the space where companies such as Apple and Samsung have strongholds.
However, Microsoft is fighting a broader battle to remain relevant in an environment that has created the likes of new mega-corporations such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.
If anything, the launch of Windows 8 signals that Microsoft is beginning to reinvent itself in the era of tablet computing, smartphones, social media and web services.
The building blocks are in place: Windows still runs more than 80% of the world’s PCs, its Explorer browser is the most used, it has its own search engine, Bing, and an app store, it bought telecoms company Skype last year and it has a close alignment with smartphone manufacturer Nokia.
However, while Microsoft is getting its house in order strategically, it faces some fundamental challenges.
Windows 8 is unlike any version of the software that has gone before it — the radical makeover is better, to be sure, but so different that consumers may take a while to get used to it.
Large companies are not going to switch to Windows 8 just because it is there. They will use existing systems for as long as they can.
Windows Phone 8 for smartphones will be showcased by ailing mobile phone maker Nokia and will almost certainly not enjoy the kind of success Apple has had with its iPhone or other manufacturers have had with Google’s Android-powered handsets.
Make no mistake, Microsoft remains a dominant force in the world of computing through its existing Windows user base and its Office productivity software, practically a standard in businesses and organisations around the world.
Windows 8 marks the start of a process in which Microsoft will attempt to regain much of the lustre it has lost of late while at the same time playing catch-up with companies that have had a significant head start.
Windows 8 gives Microsoft a foothold across the important platforms and it will be hoping it is not too little, too late.
* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times
More in this section
- Drug maker Elan looks to deals as defence
- Hi-tech seed planters assist US farmers in a race against time
- Wave of attacks kills at least 79 in Iraq
- Shrinking US deficit reduces pressure for budget deal
- Elan strikes latest in string of deals to repel Royalty
- North Korea fires sixth missile in three days
- Guptagate report shows manipulation, collusion and illegal blue lights
- SABC presenter Mbuli hailed as patriot and ‘zealous newshound’
- Karabus lawyer says South African nurse behind bars in UAE
- Eskom was ‘on the brink of a power shutdown’
- Iran ‘behind US cyber blitz’
- THICK END OF THE WEDGE: We can already write the NDP off