Thursday, November 8, 2012

Windows 8's "Mobile First" Design: A Brilliant Move or a Desperate Attempt by Microsoft to Stay Relevant in a Changing World?

They say third try’s a charm. Will that be the case for Microsoft's third attempt to penetrate the mobile operating system market? After failing to make a dent in the mobile device and O/S market with Pocket PC and Windows Phone, Microsoft is betting the house on Windows 8. Described by Microsoft as a "re-imagined and reinvented" version of its flagship operating system, Windows 8 comes with an all-new "tiles" based touch interface, also called "metro". 

Arguably Microsoft's most ambitious release of its operating system, the Windows 8 user interface has been re-designed to work well with both the mouse on PCs/ laptops and touch screen on tablets and smart phones. Not surprisingly, it introduces radical changes to the graphical user interface and platform which is optimized for touch screen input--a new Start screen which replaces the decade old round "Start" menu button, an integrated online store (modeled after Apple's Appstore and Android's "Google Play"), and security features including an antivirus program bundled with the O/S and an optional secure boot feature.

Microsoft’s strategy seems to be to force its  captive customer base of several hundred million Windows users   to get familiar with the new, “tiles” version of Windows and then hope that they will prefer the same interface on computer tablets One can see the brilliance of Microsoft's strategy - once the windows user base gets accustomed to the "tiles" interface, it  may be natural for them to pick a tablet which offers a similar look and feel. In fact, the Tablets running Windows 8 (or rather, Windows RT which is the name Microsoft is using for the branch of Windows operating system it will supply to ARM CPU based tablets which is virtually indistinguishable in “look and feel” to Windows 8) will have  similar but better experience because it will support "Touch" on top of the same paradigm. While the smart phone market has penetrated the  masses, the current tablet market is relatively small compared to both smart phones and the PC/ laptop.   

Obviously, this strategy can backfire by confusing PC / laptop users; they may struggle to find their way on the screen and may resist upgrading. However, given that Microsoft can eventually force an upgrade by supporting newer, faster hardware only with Windows 8, the question then becomes will a disgruntled user base choose to just trade their Windows 7 laptops and PCs for an Apple iPad, Google Nexus or similar device? The question relies on how fast Apple, Google and others can offer replacements of Microsoft Office and Outlook, the de facto standards for common business applications on their tablets.

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