There have been a lot of rumors and leaks recently around the immanent launch of the new Windows 8 operating system, which is seen as Microsoft’s chance to shake off it’s image of clunky operating systems, with awkward menus and a basic design. This image was perfected in the 90’s with Windows 98, but is starting to now lose some serious ground in the face of growing tablet markets and increasingly more adaptable software. But will Windows 8 change the fortunes of the corporate giant?
While we might consider Apple to be the top of the world, and while it is dominating both smartphones, tablets and music markets; it’s growing share in desktops still pales in comparison to the world run by Windows. The company is still the biggest software distributer and is the staple OS for companies and corporations outside of the techy, designer environment. However, over the years Windows has moved from being seen as the OS of choice, to the cheapest and staple choice compared to operating systems like OS X, Android and Chrome (which, while not yet released is to be licensed to various manufacturers) and to a lesser extent; Linux, if not somewhat stale.
The image of the user-friendly, and universally accessible operating system has been transplanted with an image of stale corporatism. Lacking innovation, which is being once again pioneered by other companies. Even the tablet market, which before the iPad was strictly Microsoft territory with a few manufacturers, occasionally making dull, Windows based tablets, has now been almost completely surrendered by the company. The assumption that the market would remain dormant, with no attempt to inject any innovation by Microsoft led to Steve Jobs seizing the chance to create a revolution that Windows has gotten no returns in.
Companies like Apple and Google have been working hard to introduce their more versatile and lightweight operating systems to the masses, with varying success. While many people still run XP, Vista is largely seen as a flop and Windows 7 has gotten some praise, but simply manages to revamp an old system, which more and more appears a step out of time. The company’s growing concern with this innovation-block could be clearly seen a this year’s CES conference, where Steve Ballmer presented a new range of tablets to an unimpressed audience, and left after an awkward and frustrated presentation.
What Microsoft also lacks, potentially, is the flair for the dramatic, which Apple has perfected and Google has created for itself. Both companies are able to make products; events and each machine or product a life of its own, with a unique identity and niche to fill. Windows on the other hand is satisfied to aim for the masses and ship anything, leaving design to the manufacturers. There has never been a buzz surrounding Microsoft product launches, and while the Internet does acknowledge these, there is no months of build up as with Apple, or hive of activity as with Google.
It’s not only the operating system or lack of flair, which are the problem; the company’s image doesn’t help either. Apple is largely seen as the high-end designer chic machine, used by cool kids and creative types, and Google still has an image of a spritely young upstart who is tackling the wider world. While Microsoft is seen as a corporate giant, satisfied with machines, which work, giving little attention to the creative flair or fun and instead building on the same operating structure, which has seen them to this point. Seeing machines as tools, bought for a purpose, rather than something which people want to own, to fit in as part of their lifestyle.
However, it must also be noted that Microsoft has huge success with the X-Box and many of its products. It has begun to understand the gaming market, slowly edging Sony out of the picture by creating powerful multimedia stations, featuring TV, movies, Kinect, and lots of other features, but which also play games with powerful graphics rather than gamer specific, expensive devices with little flexibility. The company also understands the corporate market, creating operating systems, which are cheap, running on machines, which manufacturers can place at different price points. Compared to Apple who design and manufacture high-end machines and Google who rely on their own services on the cloud, both of which give the corporate world some hesitation.
Windows Phone 7 is a step in the right direction, a creative and clever platform; it has seen a small but growing share in the smartphone market. Helped along by a more selective choice of manufacturers, most famously Nokia and HTC have created feature rich, robust handsets, which match many Android and Symbian models. With Windows 8 rumored to be based on the WP7 style of usability and function, Microsoft could be turning a corner. But could Windows 8 take back some of the attention from Apple? Unlikely. Apple has two things that Microsoft don’t; full control over their machine design and distribution and an identity etched not only in popular culture, but also near cult status with details being the key.
Microsoft still remains the world’s biggest player, but as with all great empires, it has become lazy and lacking creativity. A situation Apple, nor Google has never had to face, yet.