Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Windows 8: Is Microsoft Scared Into Acting Like a Startup?

By punemsexesena : Is Windows 8 aiming to be a must-have upgrade along the lines of Windows 7?
After BYTE's first day at Microsoft's BUILD 2011 developer’s conference, we say no. On news analysis, this clearly is a long term play for a whole new generation of devices and the fight of Microsoft’s life.
Execs at MS BUILD 2011 revealed so much to the developers and even journalists present. That is not the Microsoft we know, with its NDAs and top secret plans. As for the keynote, it is an opus. Analysts told me they are having to watch the epic length two hour plus keynote over and over just to get their heads around it.
Execs didn't even mention a release date or time frame or discuss how many iterations it would arrive in for enterprise, home and so on. With stakes this high, Microsoft can't again risk the humiliation it suffered when its Longhorn (aka the clunker Vista) took years to hit the market. It needs to act lean and move quickly again. And by all indications at BUILD, that’s the makeover Microsoft is trying for.
Business folks know that totally redesigned products are risky on first release. Microsoft's own record shows it often takes it three revs to get something right. So now Microsoft is making its revs in public and starting early with a pre-Beta product.
Other signs point to a corporate reinvention. Microsoft risks irrelevance in the rapid-fire tablet market dominated by rival Google. To immediately release an alpha level product to developers and not bar others is new behavior.
This is a startup mentality Microsoft hasn't exhibited in decades. And growing competition for marketshare, developers and talent seems to be scaring Microsoft into regaining that mentality.
At BUILD, execs emphasized long-term thinking without cease. Within a couple years, they said, all displays (regular computer monitors and tablets alike) will be touch-enabled.
From watching the execs and the fervor with which they preached the Windows 8 gospel, it is clear there is a lot on the line here. Microsoft can't miss the next revolution and remain king.
Execs talked and talked about tablets all day during BUILD day one. It was all tablets all the time. They talked a lot about the new tablet-ready features to support Metro apps. One exec said the new Visual Studio features were designed with Metro in mind.
Microsoft trotted out old ARM mobile devices to show that Win8 is rapid when coupled with display hardware that Windows 8 will enhance and support. That's a sign graphics acceleration is in the works, and Microsoft even repeated the term "proprietary display hardware" the way radio stations once overplayed Hotel California. Or Freebird. Continually.
Microsoft can’t risk low performance. It might have one shot here -- not the three, per usual.
Moving people from today's Windows 7 apps (and they run natively on Windows 8, according to Microsoft) to Metro interface apps isn't going to be easy. Microsoft usually takes the easy route. Typically, Microsoft just watched the competition make mistakes and then buys or builds its way into a fairly mature market. It can't do that and win this war.
One more thing, execs repeated the word Metro as if it's a common word everyone knows. But it didn't seem to have a consistent word for traditional Windows apps. But it didn’t have a term for its traditional Windows apps.
Though Microsoft is still Microsoft for sure -- it used Google Chrome as a running joke at BUILD and always pejoratively – it won’t be able to make fun of competitors' current Windows apps via name-calling until it replaces its popular Windows apps with Metro versions.
Microsoft plus Samsung or other tablets would be viable not just to tech pros - but to consumers who've only heard of Microsoft and never the words Android or iOS. Name recognition will get it loyalty from business users and the great unwashed alike -- and the ultimate win for a company who wants to keep its mantra of "Windows everywhere."
It's been years since Microsoft -- grown so confident and corporate and slow-- could act anything like a startup. But it is. It no longer can slow the industry it "owns" to whatever pace it's comfortable with, that's for sure.
This is what Larry Press and I determined after our first day at BUILD 2011. Were you there? We’d love to hear from you and engage in some back and forth. Comment below. Just takes a few seconds to register to do it. We want to talk to you folks directly.
What do you think?
Based in San Francisco, Gina Smith is editor-in-chief at BYTE. Email her at Larry Press is a BYTE senior contributor in Southern California and a university professor. Email him at
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