Windows 8 is the biggest of big bets

After a year and a half of announcements, betas and consumer preview releases, Windows 8 is reported to be on track for release to the general market by October of this year. With 200 million PCs running Windows XP or earlier versions, combined with competitive pressure from Google, Microsoft has a huge sense of urgency to get what they’re dubbing their “business ready by design” operating system out the door.

The ubiquitous operating system definitely has a whole new look and feel, with a highly customizable interface and a very applications-centric panel structure, which looks eerily like Apple’s iOS. It supports a wide variety of mobile devices with dynamic shifts between touch, keyboard or mouse inputs – all of which were well demo’d here in Toronto this week on the sleek new tablets and laptops from Microsoft’s many hardware OEM partners.

“Windows 8 is the biggest announcement from our company in the past 17 years”, noted Steve Ballmer, CEO of the software giant. When Balmer mentioned that Windows 8 would be released to manufacturing during the first week of August with general availability at the end of October, the audience responded with healthy applause, having waited a long time for this major new release. The product will be available in 109 languages in 231 markets, with a particularly aggressive upgrade price of $14.99 for customers buying a Windows 7 release today.

But why is Windows 8 release so strategic for Microsoft? Here’s our read:

1. It fundamentally changes the interface to be more dynamic and applications centric, allowing them to play competitive catch-up on ease-of-use more directly with Apple and Google;

2. It will present the rest of the Microsoft applications family in a more modern, intuitive interface, including Dynamics, Sharepoint and Office.

3. It embraces a wide variety of mobile devices more fluidly, sharing the code base with WindowsPhone and Windows RT for more integrated updates across these three O/S versions;

4. It formally links the structure of the OS to their emerging applications marketplace, fostering a richer non-Microsoft application community and support of their ISV community;

5. It significantly enhances security features, including Windows-to-Go functionality allowing users to save their entire customized W8 desktop environment to an encrypted thumb drive

While Microsoft’s competitors throw dirt at the importance of a desktop operating system to a cloud applications environment, Microsoft stays committed to Windows as its next-generation cloud O/S and pivot-point to broader enablement for the rest of its application portfolio. “Windows is the glue, the very foundation upon which most of Microsoft was built” evangelized Tami Reller, Corporate VP and CFO of the Windows division. That says it all, doesn’t it?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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