What lies beneath the Surface
Microsoft is aiming to redefine the traditional desktop operating system with the launch of Windows 8, writes MARIE BORAN
MICROSOFT BREWED up a media storm with the recent launch of a tablet device built on its own hardware, yet the quiet but fierce focus is on what lies beneath the Surface: the new Windows 8 operating system.
With Windows 8 there is a sense that Microsoft is not simply playing catch-up with Apple’s App Store – it is also aiming to redefine the traditional desktop operating system and blur the boundaries between the once distinct smartphone, tablet and notebook user interfaces.
Microsoft knows that for this to succeed developers must be won over, so the consumer will have a healthy choice of apps from launch. Last week’s “deep dive” Windows 8 event in Amsterdam was designed to convince developers of the business case for moving to the new operating system, perhaps finally leaving its complicated and fragmented apps past behind.
At launch Windows 8 will come preloaded with the Windows Store no matter what device it sits on. Those upgrading from Windows 7 on their desktop and notebooks will become potential customers for this new integrated apps ecosystem.
“Microsoft is setting its store up like Apple’s App Store, which I think is a good thing,” says Dublin-based software developer Neil Turner. “The revenue split is the same but you get a slightly better cut after $25,000.”
Turner is referring to the jump in percentage of the app profit that makes it into the developer’s pocket. This will rise from 70 per cent to 80 per cent when the app earnings hit $25,000. For companies such as Rovio, with the hugely popular Angry Birds game series, the move to the Windows Store makes financial sense from this perspective.
“Also, for in-app purchases you can use Microsoft for the transaction or use your own purchase system, which Apple doesn’t allow; some companies will really like that,” observes Turner.
“I think Apple have really set the bar high when it comes to the App Store experience, so Microsoft is simply trying to match or better it. Development is easier and more streamlined than with Windows 7, and the Store on every PC means your app is sitting right in front of the customer, I think everyone sees this as a good thing.”
While there is a concerted effort to build a unified Windows experience from the ground up and straight through to cloud computing integration and an apps ecosystem, the biggest outward difference is the shiny new Metro look.
“Microsoft’s strategy is a challenging one addressing a wide range of markets: OEM partners, game consoles, right through consumer, ‘prosumer’, corporate employees and IT experts,” says Richard Edwards, principal analyst at UK technology consultancy and analyst firm Ovum.
“It’s got a real job trying to juggle all of that; the Windows operating system is only one part of the Microsoft iceberg that is visible above water and, in many ways, this is how it is judged.”
At first glance Windows 8’s Metro interface looks like a lightweight tablet OS, but it is designed to work on both touchscreen devices and the traditional keyboard and mouse combination. It also switches between the Metro appearance and the traditional Windows desktop look.
“The Metro look and feel now goes across tablet, smartphone and desktop, and is similar to the Xbox interface. In terms of visual identity Microsoft is on its way to achieving this uniform aesthetic,” says Edwards.
There is a worry, however, that longtime Windows users will not enjoy the switch to a shiny, tablet-like interface meant for a younger audience who think in terms of apps and lightweight usage.