Windows 8: magic touch or curtains for Microsoft?
Prepare your PC for a big change this week
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