As I sat in the crowd at Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch event before it began, the biggest question I had was “What story will Microsoft tell about Windows 8?” By and large the company did a solid job telling that story, but not in the way I expected. Instead of comparing Windows 8 and Windows RT computers to competing devices — think iPads(s aapl), Chromebooks(s goog) and tablets — Microsoft focused on the newness, touch-friendliness and supporting services to sell the new operating system.
Part of that pitch involved focusing on PCs with different form factors; this device diversity is something that can appeal to customers not looking for a “one size fits all” computer. Were some of the various devices a bit, say, gimmicky? Sure, but there’s always someone who wants a unique device that perhaps offers a swiveling touch display on a tablet, for example.
I’m not one of those people, but that’s OK in Microsoft’s eyes. “Take a look at any of the 1,000 PCs certified for Windows 8,” it might say. And while Microsoft has always enabled hardware choice in the past, the current and upcoming PC lineup appears to offer more usable touch devices and fewer gimmicky models than before. That’s because of the Windows 8 “reimagining” that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer alluded to on stage.
Simply put, this isn’t Windows as you’ve ever seen it before. In fact, as a one-time Ultra Mobile Tablet PC (UMPC) user in 2008, this is the type of touch interface that I longed for back then. Microsoft knows it’s late to the true touch game, but it’s trying to make up for it with a unique interface (which it has) that’s as easy to use as another touch device on the market today (it may be, but I’ll know for sure as I use a Surface RT tablet for daily use).
Of course, hardware and software are no longer the only part of the story. The three-legged stool is now also dependent on services, and Microsoft spent a fair amount of time talking about those: SkyDrive, Xbox Live and Xbox Music to name a few. The company already had most of the pieces for the PC puzzle but it feels like only now has it been able to put them all together.
Completely absent from the message was any direct comparison to non-Microsoft devices, and that was done in a smart way. Instead of suggesting that Windows 8 PCs and tablets could do some of the same things as an iPad, Android tablet or Mac laptop, Microsoft simply kept the focus on itself, saying Windows 8 bridges both PCs and tablets.
With a Windows 8 device, you can do it all: that’s the message. You get the touch-friendly app experience, your choice of hardware and the ability to use Microsoft’s productivity suite and services in a single package. And of course, those services work across Windows Phone, which could use a sales boost.
Will this message sell Windows 8? Time will tell how successful Microsoft’s products are, but I think it provided a good story today with one minor exception: How it intends to educate the masses on the benefits, and limitations, of Windows RT. I’m now off to a Surface RT presentation where perhaps I’ll hear more of that story.