Windows 8: Microsoft's New Direction And Why It Could Rival Apple

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Microsoft's forthcoming software release, Windows 8, is more than just an updated version of company's operating system. The newest addition to the PC-based software manufacturer represents a turning point in our culture's media consumption -- the inevitable switch from desktops and laptops to tablets and mobiles.

With Windows 8, the PC-based company is emphasizing the use of touchscreen functionality with a mobile-centric user interface known as Metro. This is a move by the Redmond, Wash.-based company to compete in a tablet market currently dominated by Apple. 

"When Windows 8 was first unveiled ... Steve Ballmer gave some strong signals that the OS is being developed as a competitor to Apple's devices," said Sandeep Sawhney, CTO of Web design, development and consulting company Icreon Tech.  "But this is not a sudden shift in the way Microsoft looks at its OS. There are a couple of reasons behind the shift, and couple of indications as early as 2007 that the shift was right around the corner."

The Icreon Tech CTO acknowledged that the market size for mobile devices plays a major role in Microsoft's transition. Excluding smartphones, 17.6 million tablets were sold in 2010 and the number is expected to reach 2.9 billion by 2015.

"This is a serious market and cannot be ignored," he said.

A report from Nielsen also shows that 32 percent of desktop owners with tablets said that they use their computers less. The numbers were similar for laptop users, with the survey reporting that 30 percent saying they use their computer less.

The Windows maker is embracing this change, crafting its new software to perfectly fit the sleek, mobile-based technology. Previews reveal that one of the biggest adjustments to the new Windows version is an overhaul in its interface. Users initially experienced the Metro layout in the mobile version of Windows 7.5 on smartphone devices, but now the company is implementing the format as its primary home screen.

"Time will tell, but I think they needed to innovate in some way," said Alex Lindtren, Director of Technology for Internet marketing company Flightpath .

The Metro interface eliminates a Windows staple feature-the Start button-and instead displays applications in tile form on the main screen.  This is a clear adjustment tailored to tablet enthusiasts, allowing users to swiftly scroll through options with the swipe of a finger. But for PC owners, the interface doesn't prove to be as user friendly.

"Windows 8 feels like a transitional operating system, uneasily bridging the gap between traditional PCs and tablets, with more attention lavished on the latter," wrote Computer World's Preston Gralla when reviewing the Consumer Preview.

This could provide an opportunity for the new operating system to thrive among its competitors. But even though the Windows name is established in the PC community, the company founded by Bill Gates faces more competition in the mobile atmosphere.

"I think you'll see the marketplace grow for Windows using the Metro interface," Lindtren said. "It's a question of whether or not they will gain enough traction to be a major player or not."

Although the mobile industry is gaining an unprecedented presence in today's media culture, such theories have been in the works since as far back as the past 10 years, said Sawhney. Devices such as Microsoft's iPod competitor, the Zune, and the tablet HP Compaq released in 2001, show that the company predicted this change.

"Windows was not traditionally built to work on a tablet type of device," said the Icreon CTO. "Thus, looking at the history of Microsoft, this shift is not as radical as we think it to be."

When it comes to laptops and PCs, Microsoft and Apple are two household names, each catering to specific audiences. But the in terms of the mobile market, Microsoft may have to kick it up a notch.

"I think it's going to be difficult to convince people," added Lindtren. "I've been tempted to get the Windows 7.5 phone, but iPhone and Android definitely have a lead in that area."

With Apple's new iPad hitting stores this week, Microsoft's forthcoming update is developing at a crucial time.

"In the present age, questioning the smartness of the move is unnecessary," said Sawhney. "Rather, the timing is a concern. Microsoft definitely lost the number one position in the tablet market industry to Apple, and is also far behind the Android market. But time will decide whether Windows 8 is a befitting challenger to the iOS or not."

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