Windows 8: Big changes, big challenges

The upcoming Windows 8 is about Microsoft using its existing heft to power its way onto smaller screens.

Apple televisions, new Facebook features, the latest nifty smartphone app -- sure, this is the cool stuff, but let's be honest: few technologies will have a bigger impact on more people's lives in the near future than a new version of Windows.

Windows still runs more than three-quarters of the world's PCs. And the upcoming Windows 8 is about Microsoft using that existing heft to power its way onto smaller screens too. Consumers can try out Windows 8 starting Leap Day -- Feb. 29th.

Joe Wilcox at BetaNews.com says this is not like previous Windows updates. “Windows 8 looks dramatically different from the Windows that you're used to today,” he says. “Microsoft is trying to reinvent Windows for post-PC era.”

If you want to get a sense of what Windows 8 will be like, go to a store and play with a Windows Phone. Instead of icons, the screen features a series of colored boxes that overlap and relate to one another, a design Microsoft calls "Metro." Folks in the tech world have gotten some demos, and Wilcox likes it: “It's kind of fun to use, it's very fast and fluid the way you touch it and move things around. Microsoft is really trying to simplify things, make the whole computing experience straightforward and easier in way it's never done before.”

Want a quick look at what makes Windows 8 different? TechRadar.com does a nice job.

Online opinions differ wildly on whether consumers will dig it. Wilcox thinks they will, after getting hooked on swiping, pinching and zooming the past few years. Businesses, on the other hand, “have this approach: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Many of them are just now in the process of moving from Windows XP to Windows 7, or will have finished that process when Windows 8 is available. They're not going to be looking to make a change anytime soon. Particularly because the user interface is different and some other things that Microsoft is doing different under the hood, it's going to dissuade many businesses from leaping right away.”

But it’s do-or-die time for Microsoft. Matt Rosoff of BusinessInsider says Microsoft “has lost its safety net”: at one time, 95 percent of devices that connected to the Internet used Windows. Not any more. “If you look at last quarter, Apple sold enough iPads to be equal to about 17 percent of what used to be the PC market,” Rosoff says. “And of course none of those iPads run Microsoft software, they don't run Windows, they don't run Office.” So with Windows 8, Microsoft is both trying to keep its existing Windows customers happy and come up with a really good tablet solution that can take on the iPad.”

Also on today’s show: We construct a boffo campaign speech from nothing but the titles of songs in President Obama’s Spotify playlist.

Here's one more helpful video from Microsoft, introducing some of the most visible changes in Windows 8:

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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