Some things are standard in any new Microsoft OS (operating system) launch: tonnes of hype, a few instant jokes (remember Windows Vista) and, of late, a general air of disappointment. The software giant’s latest offering, Windows 8—due in October simultaneously with the new Surface tablet—promises to change that perception. It is, in the words of technology guru GigaOm’s Om Malik, Microsoft’s “most important product launch in decades”.
Microsoft’s new OS is aimed at working across all the three device platforms most people across the world use today—mobile phones, tablets and computers. A common interface across devices is the holy grail of computing. After computing and phones (via its tie-in with the troubled Nokia), tablets were the missing link. Visually and functionally, Microsoft’s new offering will be a departure from what it has so far provided in computing. But will it change the rules of the game?
Microsoft’s thinking is inspired by an obvious fact: in the age of Internet-driven mobility and cloud computing, users want to have the freedom of working or using a device anywhere without suffering any jerks of difference in user interface. Fuelling this is the concept of bring your own device (BYOD), where users are encouraged to bring their own device to companies rather than company-mandated hardware. Commonality of interface thus becomes supremely important.
Microsoft’s biggest rivals in the computing arena, Apple and Google, already have a headstart in this game—but with limited success. Both Apple’s computer hardware and operating system and its iPhone have a dedicated following. In 2010, the company launched its iPad tablet and is currently the market leader in that space. However, uniformity of its iPhone and iPad user interfaces with its computer OS is yet to be achieved.
Windows 8 sports a new tile-based user interface, which works well on touch surfaces (tablets and touch-screen phones) and should integrate well on computers. “Microsoft has put a common kernel (in Windows 8) that will be part of the PC, tablet and phone. So an application will be able to run across platforms and will have a familiarity factor,” says Prasanto K. Roy, technology expert and editorial advisor, Cybermedia. Microsoft and Google didn’t speak to Outlook.
Windows’ earlier software language wasn’t compatible with the others—only 10 per cent of applications developed for Apple and Android were available for Windows. The new version is written in a language similar to what both Apple and Google use. This will open up an entire universe of applications for Windows users. “With a common platform, we will have a large market to address,” says Rohith Bhat, CEO, Robosoft Technologies, a leading applications developer.
Obviously, Microsoft’s rivals aren’t just sitting pretty. Within days of Microsoft’s announcement of Surface, Google launched its Nexus tablet. The key question now is whether the consumer is really ready for a uniform experience across devices? Microsoft is the undisputed leader in computer OS. Apple’s iPad has a cult following and leads in tablets. Android has the maximum followers on the mobile phone. Can one company capture users across these three platforms? Come October, we’ll have the answer.
However, uniformity of its iPhone and iPad user interfaces with its computer OS is yet to be achieved."
Coming out last week, OS X Mountain Lion does just that.
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