Win­dows 8: magic touch or cur­tains for Mi­crosoft?

Pre­pare your PC for a big change this week

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Gadgets -

THE launch that could make or break the world’s rich­est soft­ware com­pany is just two days away and it’s un­likely to fall un­der the radar.

Mi­crosoft is re­port­edly spend­ing $1.5 bil­lion to pro­mote the Win­dows 8 launch this Fri­day, in ad­di­tion to a long queue of PC mak­ers vy­ing for at­ten­tion.

Mi­crosoft chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Ballmer says the oper­at­ing sys­tem’s ar­rival will be big­ger than that of Win­dows 95 — an event that saw cus­tomers queu­ing world­wide, Rolling Stones mu­sic blar­ing, Friends stars in pro­mo­tional videos, and New York’s Em­pire State Build­ing lit up like a Win­dows logo.

It may seem like an ex­ag­ger­a­tion, but Win­dows 8’s im­por­tance to Mi­crosoft can hardly be over­stated.

Com­puter sales have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly in the lead-up to the big event, Ap­ple Mac use is ris­ing, and more cus­tomers are de­lay­ing lap­top up­grades while they in­vest in tablets and smart­phones.

An­a­lysts also ex­pect some con­sumers to be ‘‘ scep­ti­cal’’ of the new fea­tures and ma­jor changes of Win­dows 8, in­clud­ing the re­moval of the Win­dows Start but­ton, a new side­ways style of scrolling through pro­grams, and a graph­ic­sheavy lay­out, forc­ing Mi­crosoft into the job of sales­man.

Win­dows 8’s im­por­tance to Mi­crosoft can hardly be over­stated

Win­dows 8 has been in test­ing for months but its of­fi­cial launch will de­liver a pol­ished ver­sion to the pub­lic, as well as fresh in­stal­la­tions on new lap­tops, all-in-ones and desk­top com­put­ers from the likes of Acer, ASUS, Dell and Len­ovo.

Ex­ist­ing Win­dows XP, Vista and 7 users will be able to down­load an up­grade to the new soft­ware for a $40 fee or $70 on a disc.

But Mi­crosoft and PC mak­ers are bank­ing on cus­tomers up­grad­ing their hard­ware to use the new sys­tem.

Re­search firm Gart­ner found PC sales dropped by 9.2 per cent in Aus­tralia dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of the year — one of the big­gest drops in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion.

World­wide, PC ship­ments fell 8.3 per cent in the third quar­ter, Gart­ner prin­ci­pal an­a­lyst Mikako Kita­gawa says, as the pe­riod be­came a ‘‘ tran­si­tional quar­ter’’.

‘‘ By the end of Septem­ber, re­tail­ers were fo­cused on clear­ing out in­ven­tory in ad­vance of the Win­dows 8 launch,’’ Kita­gawa says.

But it’s not just tra­di­tional PCs that will be sold to Win­dows 8 cus­tomers.

IDC mar­ket an­a­lyst Amy Cheah says the new soft­ware’s sup­port for touch­screens will see many com­pa­nies pitch touch-sen­si­tive all-in-one com­put­ers, unique lap­top-tablet hy­brids and tablet com­put­ers at Aus­tralian con­sumers.

‘‘ One needs a touch­screen de­vice to fully op­ti­mise the ex­pe­ri­ence, which means en­dusers would need to pur­chase new hard­ware,’’ she says. ‘‘ Hence we are ex­pect­ing a boost when these de­vices hit the mar­ket.’’

Mi­crosoft will join those hard­ware mak­ers for the first time this Fri­day. The com­pany will launch its own tablet com­puter, Sur­face, with pre-or­ders al­ready avail­able from sur­face.com.

The tablet com­puter, which starts at $559, comes in 32GB and 64GB ca­pac­i­ties, of­fers a 10.6-inch touch­screen, built-in kick­stand, full-size USB port, two cam­eras and wi-fi, though no mo­bile in­ter­net con­nec­tion.

But Tel­syte re­search di­rec­tor Foad Fadaghi warns Mi­crosoft faces steep com­pe­ti­tion in the tablet mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly with Ap­ple poised to ‘‘ steal its thun­der’’ with a new tablet model.

‘‘ The Sur­face tablet is com­ing to mar­ket in a dif­fi­cult time for com­peti­tors to the iPad,’’ he says. ‘‘ Mi­crosoft needs some­thing that re­ally makes this tablet stand out and that could be the key­board or the us­abil­ity of the tablet soft­ware. Hope­fully Mi­crosoft will learn a les­son from the early An­droid de­vices.’’

With Win­dows 8, Fadaghi says Mi­crosoft is bank­ing on con­sumers want­ing to use one soft­ware sys­tem across mul­ti­ple screens — from phones to com­put­ers big and small — but he warns that this strat­egy is risky.

‘‘ A lot will come down to how com­fort­able peo­ple are us­ing this new oper­at­ing sys­tem,’’ he says. ‘‘ If the ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t good the first time peo­ple use it, it could back­fire.’’ JEN­NIFER DUD­LEY

NI­CHOL­SON

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