New York — Taking on competition from Apple and Google’s Android, officially inaugurated what may be the company’s most challenging marketing effort yet, Microsoft has unveiled its next generation operating system, Windows 8, in New York City, a radical reinvention of the world’s best-selling computer operating system for the touchscreen age, in what many believe could be chief executive Steven Ballmer’s last stand.
The Redmond Vole on Thursday introduced Windows 8 to the public, showcasing the touchable and intuitive operating system on a slew of desktops, laptops, and tablets from the company’s OEM partners, is now available globally.
While Microsoft executives highlighted the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT, the event unveiled no surprises except what it has to offer in a new user interface, as there will be quite a wide selection of apps with the opening of the Windows Store. There will also be several certified tablets and PCs that go along with the OS, and this lineup includes Microsoft Surface.
At a launch event held on Thursday night in New York, at Pier 57, a giant warehouse jutting out into the Hudson River. The 32-year Microsoft veteran and the company’s second largest shareholder after Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer has bet his $235bn (£145bn) business on an operating system intended to give the titan of the already fading PC era a future on today’s smartphones and tablets.
The OS is radically from previous versions of Windows 8, Ballmer said, one that addresses a growing number of computational form factors, many of which Microsoft showed at the event he promised a “re-imagined” software experience that “shatters perceptions of what a PC really is”.
Rather than stunning the New York City audience with new details, Microsoft exploited the event to simultaneously demonstrate Windows 8 and support its hardware partners’ creations, which run the gamut from desktops to laptops to tablets to hybrid tablet-laptops. “Our partners have come up with incredible new designs,” Ballmer said. “Are these new designs PCs? Yes. Are these new designs tablets also? Yes.”
More so, Windows 8 will be a boon for PCs, Microsoft believes, rather than accelerating the change that is seeing them replaced by the growing number of mobile devices.
Elaborating further on the astounding features, Ballmer also stressed how much more dynamic Windows 8 would be over competing devices. Windows 8 machines would be “alive with activity,” with live tiles updating personal information on the start screen, he said. “Picture your start screen filled with everything and everybody important to you. You will always know what is going on with the people in your life,” Ballmer said.
In fact, the demonstrated device of the biggest Windows relaunch in 17 years — a high-end tablet computer named Surface which goes on sale today — has already received garnered dislikes from influential reviewers. While Microsoft can afford to keep trying, critics believe Windows 8 represents Ballmer’s last chance to remain at the helm.
“This is going to be his defining moment,” said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. “Ballmer’s legacy will be looked at as what he did or did not do with Windows 8. If Windows 8 is not a success, a lot of people will be looking for Microsoft to make a change at the CEO level.”
On the other hand, the re-imagined operating system will be available in over 140 markets and in more than 37 languages, at retail and for download in order to upgrade existing PCs. Users will be able to choose between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, while Microsoft has also launched Windows 8 Enterprise to cater to large organizations.
Apart from these, Windows RT has been made available for tablets based on the ARM architecture. The company says it has been designed exclusively for Windows Store apps, such as a special version of Microsoft Office 2013, and will come pre-installed on new devices.
US customers can obtain a copy from leading retailers including Amazon, Best Buy and Staples, while those in the UK can acquire theirs from Dixons. Canada gets it through Staples and Future Shop, and it is available across Europe via Media Markt.
Moreover, as for those who are currently using XP, Vista or Windows 7 can download an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for approximately $40, while those with eligible Windows 7 PCs bought between June 2, 2012 and January 31, 2013 will have the option to download the upgrade to the Pro version of the new OS for about $15 under the Windows Upgrade Offer.
Finally, its show-time — Ballmer, now 56, has dedicated his entire working life at Microsoft, joining as one of its first 30 employees after meeting Gates at Harvard and finally succeeded him as chief executive in January 2000.
Nevertheless, the success of the iPhone saw Apple overtake Microsoft as the world’s largest technology company two years ago, but Microsoft remains more valuable than Google, whose Android operating system dominates the smartphone market. It also has $67bn in cash reserves with which to continue its fight to remain relevant.