Microsoft unveils Windows 8 and Surface tablet

26 October 2012

Microsoft has officially launched its new Microsoft 8 operating system (OS) and its associated Surface tablet computer, which will run off a version of it; the Windows RT software. The new hardware and software launches are linked as the radical new OS from Microsoft is designed for a touchscreen world, allowing users to prod and touch the screen on the new ten and half inch Surface tablet computer, while still being able to handle traditional keyboard commands via PC computers.

Microsoft is responding to the rise of Apple’s iPad and of mobile on the move touchscreen computing with its new Windows 8 OS designed for both this world and the traditional PC, keyboard, mouse arrangement where it is so strong historically. The move is necessary as the PC market is diminishing and the tech giant needs to grow its presence in the touchscreen and tablet world, currently dominated by Apple hard and software and Google’s Android OS. Hence, Microsoft’s move into producing hardware once again in the form of the Surface tablet makes sense as a challenge to Apple.

Windows 8 builds upon many of the functions and the design of the Windows Phone software which is currently deployed on Nokia’s smartphones with its innovative ‘tile’ design and focus on social media. Microsoft is offering several versions of the new OS to fit different end points. The basic Windows 8, the full Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise for large organisations will all run on traditional PCs and laptops. Windows RT is a new version of Windows that will be pre-installed on its Surface tablet and other devices from the likes of Samsung to aid working in the tablet environment. It uses low-power chips designed by ARM Holdings. Windows Phone 8 will be the final update in this upgrade cycle next week.

Whether the Surface tablet is the best outlet for the new OS and how users in the traditional PC market will respond to it is the key question facing Microsoft. The Surface device is very large at ten and half inches in screen size and less portable than some of its rivals, such as Apple’s iPad. Its flip cover with an in-built keyboard and a kickstand for resting the tablet upright is an attractive feature for work users, however, and the bigger screen will be good for playing movies.

News analysis

According to Steven Sinofsky, head of Microsoft's Windows unit and the driving force behind Windows 8, the Surface also offers twice the amount of storage as a competing tablet for the same price. The entry level 32 GB Surface tablet is priced at the same level, $499, as the cheapest 16 GB Apple iPad. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will rush out and buy one of course because the iPad has a lot of devotees and a significant head start in tablet computing – not the least in the huge number of apps available for the iPad. Microsoft is not saying how many apps are available for its device; probably because there aren’t that many in comparison. The iPad is also solely dedicated to the mobile computing sector, without seriously trying to offer the work functionality that Microsoft is and to cater to the PC market simultaneously.

It will be interesting to see if the Surface scratches the surface of Apple’s domination in the field. If it does, banks, website developers and others could find that they have to update their end point design on a number of mobile channels to market.

One other factor to note is the demise of the famous 'start' button from the new Windows 8 software, with the tile design instead inviting users to click on the functionality they wish to access. A lot of people are used to navigating around Micsrosoft's Windows via the start button so it is a risk to remove it. That is perhaps why Microsoft have hedged their bets somewhat by including a revert button which gives users the option to return to the traditional Windows design, with a start button, if they are able to find the option. Customer reaction to the radical re-design will decide if the revert option is exercised or not.

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