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Is Microsoft raising the bar with the Windows 8 Surface tablet? (editorial)

When Microsoft introduced Surface, people were shocked to see Microsoft making its own hardware. However, Surface is more than just another device. Surface a new principle of design that Microsoft is trying to instill into its OEM partners. But is Microsoft too slow to adopt into a world of mobile computing with the Surface tablet?

When Steve Ballmer and his squad at Microsoft announced their intention to bring the Metro interface into the variety line of software products of the company, it was clear the software giant was steering to a different direction. People modestly knew about Metro, based on hardware such as the Zune media player and software like Windows Media Center. Two years after Microsoft released its mobile operating system, Windows Phone, people started noticing what Metro was really about; but there was more to come. Everything changed when Microsoft introduced Windows 8 to the world as a Developer Preview. The most used piece of software with the tradition start button, the desktop and the taskbar that most people have learned to love and hate for more than three decades was completely different. Microsoft introduced the next iteration of its operating system with a radically-changed interface based on Metro and build upon a new framework environment dubbed Windows RT. Metro, as Microsoft meticulously explains it, is about simplicity, elegance, fluidity and more importantly about the user; and all made sense after people saw Windows 8. Microsoft essentially bet its future on Metro to stay relevant in a world going mobile. Microsoft understands that the success of Windows 8 will also depend on hardware that is particular made and around the software it comes with; surprisingly but expectedly Microsoft was also ready for that.

A few days ago, out of the blue, Microsoft invited members of the media to an event that the company stated that one “would not want to miss.” Days before the event occurred; members of the media, tech analysts and the general public, through several blogs posts and comments, tried to decipher what the software giant had under its sleeve. With Electronic Entertainment Expo and the Computex just getting wrapped up, it was hard to envision the software giant announcing anything gaming or hardware related. At E3, Microsoft unveiled the cool new Smart Glass, talked at length about its living room entertaining strategy, and its new content partnerships. Computex was the heart of new hardware showing of Windows 8 based-devices. Nevertheless, some speculated it was going to be the next generation gaming console, notoriously knows as Xbox 720. Other believed it was going to be Nook-like tablet that Microsoft and Barnes & Noble were going to announce since the two companies announced an alliance moths prior to the event, and there was another group of people who simply gave up while impatiently waiting to see what Microsoft was about to announce. After three years of work, Microsoft unveiled its well-kept-secret: Surface, a new tablet based on Windows 8.

For years, Microsoft was able to hold back the temptation to create any hardware for its pervasive operating system since its OEM partners were doing a good job at shipping Windows-based devices in large quantity. With Windows preloaded on most hardware, Microsoft gained and sustained a large share of the operating system market for over two decades, a circumstance that Microsoft ought to be happy about but everything was not as rosy as it seems. It was a double-edged sword situation. Microsoft and its hardware partners were able to offer Windows at different price range but on mostly low-cost devices. With this strategy, Windows earned the reputation of being a commoditized piece of software used by the majority of computer users, which in turn made it the target of most virus attack. Despite its large adaptation, Windows was also perceived as low quality piece of software, that slows down with time with the infamous blue screen of death. Microsoft did not help the situation with the release of Windows Vista, which by my most account was a failure. The situation got better with the release of Window 7 but Microsoft knew there was much more work to do to expunge the bad reputation that its operating system has gained through the years and subsequently make it more adaptable to world that was going mobile on touch hardware. Microsoft introduced Windows 8. With the latest iteration of its operating system, the software giant built an operating system that is very touch-friendly, indeed too friendly for those that used the keyboard and mouse as their primary input devices. But it was clear that Windows 8 is very touch-centric with a beautiful interface that creates a bipolar sentiment among users. Some really love it, and most wish that they could turn off the Metro interface altogether. But regardless of what one thinks about Metro, Windows 8 is ready for the mobile and touch world on the software side but the same could not certainly be said for hardware. While people can use Windows 8 with their existing hardware, these hardware devices were not primarily built to be used with an operating system that is heavily touch centric.

While Microsoft can expect large and quick adaptation of Windows 8 with the help of its OEM partners that will be shipping Windows 8 preloaded on most hardware, the next iteration of the operating system is a big bet on the software giant future. Window 8 is more than simply the next iteration of Windows 8. With this next version, Microsoft is taking the opportunity to reboot the perception of its core. For a long time, Windows was perceived as an inferior products and Microsoft was also perceive as the elephant in the room moving too slow to adopt into a world that is going mobile. Of course, many will perceive the decision of Microsoft to create its own table of a conflict of interest between the software giant and its OEM partners. But Surface, while it may appear to be just like another tablet on the surface, is more just another device. Microsoft reimagined Windows as people know it. Windows 8, based on the Metro interface, is different than anything that has come from Microsoft as well as its competitors. Metro is fluid, touch friendly and fast. By introducing Surface, Microsoft is showing how well Windows 8 will work when the hardware is well built to suit the operating system. Microsoft has reimagined Windows 8, so it should be on the hardware side as well. While Microsoft’s OEM partners demoed a plethora of Windows-based devices at Computex, Surface set the bar to a new level. In fact, Surface is a new principle of fluidity, unique, innovative and exceptional design. Something that Apple has been doing with its successful line of products equally on the software and hardware side. Microsoft is showing its partners that the same is possible with Windows and it is their turn to deliver; and this is something they are capable of.

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