Windows 8: Microsoft Will Get There in the End

With the dust settling over Windows 8’s grand launch last week and Windows Phone 8 having completed the release of Microsoft’s new OS ecosystem on Monday, it’s worth asking: has it worked? More specifically, will the new OS crack the IT market, in Asia and elsewhere?

The answer to both questions is basically “yes.” Sure, the launch was accompanied by a series of gripes and grumbles from people in the know: it was an anti-climax, and no new apps were debuted. All of which goes to show that there’s a certain double standard in the tech market, whereby modest product announcements from Google and Apple send the world into raptures, while a once-in-a-generation overhaul of Windows is seen as anti-climactic. Microsoft has demonstrated the one thing that really matters: Windows 8 works. The core code of the OS is better and quicker than its predecessor; it isn’t shipping half-finished and riddled with bugs. The new modern interface is as intuitive as promised (although its co-existence with the classic set up is slightly awkward).

The emergence of a US opinion poll suggesting that about half of the population hadn’t heard of Windows 8 looks embarrassing on the face of it, but is itself misleading. The point is that most of these people will use (never mind be aware of) Windows. It is like declaring the latest release of Android to be a dud on the basis that only a few people, all told, know that it’s called Jelly Bean, or exactly how it’s different from Ice Cream Sandwich.

And Windows 8 will crack the IT market for no better or worse reason than that Microsoft is tooled up to fight a long war of attrition to make it happen. The best part of $2 billion will be spent on marketing over the next year or two. That is a lot of anyone’s money – or rather, anyone apart from Microsoft, which has enough cash reserves to found its own country.

Initially, still, it will be tough going. In this country, there are several Windows 8-optimised computers out or on the horizon. Indian consumers will be able to pick up new touch-enabled laptops already, with more to come – including eccentric convertible models from Dell, Lenovo and others, which have already raised eyebrows in the US and Europe. It’s these formats, which overlap with tablets and similar devices, which Microsoft hopes will build a buzz in the consumer IT market.

More traditional laptops – especially those in the ultrabook category – will also greatly benefit from the new OS. As well as more efficient start-up times, Windows 8 offers an improved power management system, which is a crucial advance for any portable computer.

That’s just as well, because many of the new touch-screen machines will be expensive, shipping at upwards of $1,000 in the US. This is primarily a technical matter. Getting the most of out Windows 8 requires a touch-screen, and touch-screens are expensive components at present, though we can probably expect them to get cheaper with time. And the flipside of PC makers taking risks with a computer’s form factor is that the consumer has to take the risk, too – until convertibles have a serious base in the market, and thus a presence in popular consciousness, consumers will have to take it on faith that combining different PC types is in any way useful to them. Breaking into the “pure” tablet market, meanwhile, will be a very slow process, such is Apple’s (and Google’s) dominance there.

Still, success will come for Microsoft in the end. The company has a quality product to sell, and a bottomless cache of money to put behind it – not to say long-standing relationships with major IT hardware firms, all of which are just as keen as Microsoft to map out a future beyond the PC. Apple and Google may be confident for now, but before long Microsoft will muscle onto their turf. Now that the product launches are out of the way, we’ll see how well prepared Microsoft is for the long fight ahead.