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How Microsoft will change forever and thrive again

Serdar Yegulalp | Feb. 20, 2013
Microsoft has been in business, in one form or another, for 37 years. In the tech world, that's an eternity.

So far, the payoff has been mixed at best. Sales of Windows 8 have been slow, with adoption projected to resemble Windows Vista more than Windows 7 -- although Windows 8 is making a better show than Vista did in its first months of release. Enterprises don't have much interest in Windows 8 either -- they're only now catching up with Windows 7 anyway, while Windows XP's support window is nearing its close for good. And complaints about the Modern UI side of Windows 8 are legion, since it takes away about as much as it adds in.

Granted, it's still early, but all signs point to Windows 8 not having the kind of momentum needed. The larger question: Does Microsoft need Windows 7-level momentum to justify the changes to Windows 8? Especially given that what's under the hood in Windows 8 is what stands to make the most difference.

It's a mistake to assume any one Microsoft product constitutes a long-term strategy. Together they are incarnations of the bigger picture, one in which Microsoft gradually -- if painfully -- shrugs off its legacy Win32 shackles.

It's the platform(s), stupid

Put into context, Windows 8 matters most in relation to Microsoft's new software foundation strategy: WinRT. At least that's the take of Forrester analysts John R. Rymer and Jeffrey S. Hammond in their report, "The Future Of Microsoft .Net: New Options, New Choices, New Risks."

Windows 8 users know WinRT as the foundation that powers the Modern UI side of Windows 8. It was designed to create software that runs efficiently across all the platforms Microsoft knows it needs to make a showing on now: desktops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, even the server back end.

Microsoft knows that ditching its existing investment in Win32 is unwise, but it would be no less unwise to ignore a market that is only getting bigger. To that end, WinRT flanks the old-school Win32 APIs without replacing them -- at first anyway.

Moving Windows to ARM by itself hasn't been the big obstacle; the grandfather of the current version of Windows, Windows NT, has a history of running on non-Intel hardware (MIPS, PowerPC). The hard part is creating a software ecosystem to run in that environment. Modern UI apps found in the Windows 8 app store are the first wave of this tide.

In other words, Windows 8 has been less about making a smash hit and more about introducing users and developers to the first iteration of a software platform designed to span multiple domains.

Microsoft on mobile: Phoning it in

If this long-term strategy is to succeed, Microsoft must improve its presence in the mobile phone market, via Windows Phone 8 and its attendant devices.

 

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