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Windows 8 is a game changer

Anthony Caruana

There are times we wish we could have the fictitious Time Turner that Hermione Granger uses in the Harry Potter novels. Then we could be at both the Intel Developer forum and Microsoft BUILD event. Today, we're focussing on Microsoft and its quest to re-engage customers that have been drifted towards Android and iOS as there hash;t, yet, been a compelling Windows tablet released.

When Windows 7 was released, one of the under-reported benefits was its inbuilt support for touchscreen devices. With XP and Vista (but really - who counts Vista?) touchscreen support was dependent on third-party drivers that added the required user interface elements that were needed. As a result, the devices were often clunky and hard to use. It's little wonder that, other than some specific vertical applications, that Windows tablets didn't really take off.

However, having seen the previews of Windows 8 and recognising, despite the disproportionate coverage given to Apple and Android, it's clear that Microsoft will dominate the sales of tablets over the next few years.

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Steve Jobs, prior to his retirement from the CEO's post at Apple, declared that we are in the "post-PC era". Perhaps we are but at the recent Tech Ed event in Australia the overwhelming majority of users relied on a notebook computer to do their work. Sure, there were a lot of iPads and a few Android devices I could identify but most users there, and at the many businesses I visit, use traditional computers. It's clear that notebooks are stilt the favoured devices for business users.

An argument could me made that since the 1990s only two significant revolutions have occurred in computing - the emergence of the Internet and ubiquitous portable computing in the form of smartphones and tablets. It's interesting that in the case of the Internet, Microsoft completely misread what was coming - so much so that Bill Gates hastily issued a second edition of The Road Ahead as the first edition ignored it. The same has happened with tablets. Microsoft has completely re-imagined its desktop OS and engineered to for touchscreen devices.

What iOS, Android and even WebOS bring to the table isn't the hardware. The iPad 2 is a wonderfully engineered device and there are several very attractive tablets running Android and Windows 7. However, it's the software that really is the secret sauce behind the iPad's success. The number of YouTube videos showing elderly people and small children who have never used a computer instantly engage with an iPad is testament to that.

Windows 8 is THE game-changer. And it will make tablets running Windows the most poplar tablets on the market because Microsoft still owns workplace computing. Microsoft's 90% plus market share can become a potent tool in the still nascent tablet market.

One of the reasons many people, particularly in corporate markets, have shunned iOS (although I agree that many have snuck in by stealth) is the lack of management support and applications. Windows 8 will rectify that issue and make tablet computers attractive to a massive audience of current Windows users.

The other side to Microsoft's push into mobile computing is Windows Phone 7.5, codenamed Mango. We're expecting the release any day now and it will boost Windows Phone into near capability-equivalence with Android and iOS smartphones. Unlike Apple, who seem to be retro-fitting iOS into OS X and Android without a real desktop OS analog, Microsoft is bringing a consistent user experience across platforms. Again, for corporate customers, this is a very compelling reason to stay in Redmond and not shift to Cupertino.

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