Microsoft Windows was a fact of life for an entire generation raised on the PC. But we live in a different world now, and perhaps nothing underscores how much that world has changed more than the fact that the version of Windows that Microsoft is getting ready to launch this year is its most important product launch in decades.
It has been 17 years since the general public was genuinely excited by a new version of Windows: people actually lined up to buy Windows 95 like it was the iPhone or something. Years of meandering followed: Windows ME was a joke, Windows XP was an updated but essentially similar experience to Windows 95, Windows Vista was an attempt to correct XP’s security issues but turned into a joke of its own, and Windows 7 was what Vista should have been yet failed to inspire. In the meantime, Apple and Google captured the attention of software developers and the public with mobile computers built around iOS and Android.
But Windows 8 is going to be different. Tomorrow morning in Barcelona (at a telecom industry conference, of all things) Microsoft is going to unveil the Consumer Preview Edition of Windows 8, and if it arrives on schedule and without incident later this year, it could accelerate the world’s transition toward a mobile-first vision of general purpose computing.
Windows 8 is a huge development for Microsoft in several ways:
The traditional PC isn’t going anywhere just yet, but just ask HP and Dell: nor is it in good shape. Wednesday could be the first day when we realize whether or not Windows 8 can be a product that allows the traditional PC industry to refocus itself around both traditional PCs in lighter forms as well as iPad competitors.
The stakes for Microsoft are enormous. The company largely subsists on two cash cows: Windows and Office, and Windows sales are under pressure with the slow decline of the PC market.
But there’s also an existential crisis at hand for Microsoft. It defined personal computing in the years after Apple lost its way in the 1980s, and now that Apple is very much back in that role Microsoft desperately wants to remind the world that it is capable of setting a new bar for personal computing.
After getting a few glimpses of Windows 8, the tech industry started wondering if Microsoft has finally come up with something unique. Come Wednesday, when enthusiasts can begin to put the software through the paces, we’ll start to get a better idea of whether Microsoft is ready for a new era.
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