Windows 8 may make Microsoft cool again

No compromises. Windows reimagined. Those were two of the taglines that Microsoft executives repeated over and over Tuesday as they gave the world its first detailed view of the software behemoth’s new operating system, Windows 8.

For once, however, these slogans were more than just empty marketing talk.

For decades Windows has dominated the PC world, without really exciting anyone outside of Microsoft’s sparkling Seattle campus. But the initial reactions to the features unveiled on Tuesday bore more resemblance to the ecstatic raves usually associated with new products from Apple and Google than to the usual lukewarm Windows reception.

“With Windows 8, Windows gets its whiz-bang back,” gushed Melissa J Perenson of PCWorld.

The gadget blog Gizmodo said simply “It’s fantastic.”

That’s great news for a company which has seen its star eclipsed by the success of Apple’s iPad and iPhone, which together with the growing popularity of Google’s Android and Chrome operating systems presents the greatest challenge ever to the dominance of Windows and the future of Microsoft itself.

No one is predicting the imminent demise of a company which still has a 215-billion-dollar market capitalization and which has sold almost 450 million copies of its Windows 7 operating system in the last two years.

But until now Microsoft looked like a last generation software maker, its products missing out on touch features, tight social integration and the myriad new ways that the combination of ubiquitous broadband, mobile computing and cloud services were revolutionizing the way people viewed their devices.

“People say I love my iPhone, or my Android phone, but no-one ever really talked about loving their Microsoft products,” said tech analyst Steven Marr. “Windows 8 could change all that.”

To be sure, Windows 8 as demonstrated Tuesday is not perfect, and Microsoft’s presenters had to grapple on several occasions with features that refused to work as ordered. But as Windows chief Steve Sinofsky repeatedly explained, the software on show was a developer preview build, designed to give the thousands of companies that build apps for Windows an early look and feel of what their next operating environment will look like.

From the start the new OS offers a radical departure from Windows 7. Most welcome is the fast boot time which puts an end to the seemingly interminable wait for your computer to fire up.

A nice new feature demonstrates how Microsoft values making essential tasks both simpler and more personal. Instead of just typing in a password to unlock the computers, users can touch certain points on a picture of their choosing. Then instead of seeing the old-fashioned Windows desktop filled with static small icons, the Windows 8 user is faced with customizable screens of tiles that provide live access to all the programs and applications on the system – a design introduced by Microsoft last year on its smartphone software.

“The design is just stunning. It really makes you want to dive in and explore, and it’s exceptionally easy to poke around in and navigate,” commented Gizmodo.

The system can still be controlled using the customary mouse and keyboard but is arguably more comfortable with the kind of touch-screen controls pioneered by Apple in the iPhone and iPad but which have been glaringly absent in the PC world so far.

Microsoft of course has a long history of dominating a market using features first introduced by Apple – the mouse and graphical user interface being the most famous example. Microsoft is hoping that Windows 8 will mimic that success and help it wrest the market for touch computing out of the cool hands of Apple.

Judging by the early reviews it may have a chance.

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Windows 8 may make Microsoft cool again