SciTechTalk: Windows 8 a Microsoft gamble?

By JIM ALGAR, United Press International  |  Oct. 28, 2012 at 6:31 AM
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Microsoft's introduction of its Windows 8 operating system last week has positioned the software as the Swiss army knife of the computing universe -- desktop, laptop, notebook or tablet, Microsoft says Windows 8 is the answer for all.

In a conscious break with the past, Microsoft has looked at the way people now use -- and interact with -- computers and says Windows 8 is the result.

"We started to look back and we said, wow, the user interface, the experience, the form factors, the kinds of PCs, were all developed in the mid 1990s," Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows Division, said in an interview with ABC News.

"We [have all] started using phones and touch. When you started to look around us -- whether it was gas stations, ATMs, fitness machines -- everywhere you went you touched the screen. The only screen you didn't touch was the one you used the most, the one on your PC."

But that has changed, and for evidence you need look no farther than Apple's iPad -- and you can be sure Microsoft has been looking there too.

So it's designed Windows 8 as an attempt to bridge the gap between the ways people have come to interface with their computers, whether it's the touch-based world of tablets and smarthphones or the traditional, keyboard-centric universe of desktop workhorses.

Anyone with a smartphone running the Windows Phone operating system will recognize the Windows 8 start screen; both share the visual theme of colorful squares and rectangles for launching applications, a design based on the concept of touching the screen.

Desktop users will, of course, have to limit themselves to "touching" a square or rectangle on the desktop with their mouse cursor to launch something -- at least until touch screens for desktop computers become common, a future trend on which Microsoft seems to be betting with the design of Windows 8.

While Microsoft may have had its eye on Apple and the iPad when it decided Windows 8 should work on both desktops and tablets, it is interesting to note Apple's philosophy on operating systems is the opposite.

Users of iPhones and iPads find themselves working with Apple's iOS operating system whereas the company uses OS X as the system running its Mac desktop and MacBook laptops.

In April, Apple head Tim Cook took a swipe at the "jack of all trades" intentions of Windows 8, saying, "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren't going to be pleasing to the user."

At the same time, it must be noted the latest version of OS X, dubbed "Mountain Lion," incorporates some suspiciously iOS-looking features in its design and interface.

So is Microsoft betting the farm with Windows 8? Can its "one ring to rule them all" operating system please users of every kind of computing platform?

Users will vote with their hard cash, of course, with Microsoft awaiting the $39.95 endorsement it hopes to see flooding into its coffers.

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