HANOVER, Germany--Microsoft may have been caught flat-footed by the explosion of new consumer technologies, but it's using its continuing strength among business customers to try to recover its position.
Specifically, Microsoft believes in a blurred line between tablets and personal computers that will be good for businesses, said Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner in a speech at the CeBIT trade show here. And Microsoft believes that Windows 8 will help companies welcome, not reject, the fact that employees bring their own technology into the office.
See also: How Windows 8 will allow administrators to sideload and manage apps | Shortcuts and surprises in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview | Some possibly not-so-good news for business users with Windows 8
Microsoft COO Kevin Turner touts Windows 8 at the CeBIT tech show in Hanover, Germany. Â Â Â Â Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET
"The consumerization of IT--consumers bringing technology into the workplace--is something all companies must embrace," Turner said at the opening keynote for the mammoth tech show, which this year attracted more than 4,200 exhibitors and well over 300,000 visitors.
"Should I have touch or a mouse and keyboard? Depending on the job function, the answer is yes and yes. Should I have security or should I let people bring their own technology to work? In the past the answer was no, but now it's yes and yes," Turner said. "With Windows 8, it doesn't require you to make that compromise. When you ask should I or shouldn't I, we replaced the 'or' with an 'and.'"
Windows 8 embodies Microsoft's business challenge of updating its technology without leaving its customers behind.
Erwin Wisser, a Microsoft senior director of Windows, shows how Windows 8 can boot from a USB drive during a demo at CeBIT.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET
The huge number of businesses using Windows is a tremendous asset for Microsoft, especially given that PCs dovetail with Microsoft's server software such as Exchange and, increasingly, cloud-based services such as Azure. That large installed base makes rapid technology change difficult, though--witness the continuing popularity of the decade-old Windows XP. Windows 8 tries to finesse the situation by adding the new Metro interface while retaining the traditional Windows desktop for familiarity and for compatibility with the vast amount of existing software.
In recent years, Apple's iOS and Google's Android have swept into the mobile device market, stealing a lot of customer money and developer attention that had been lavished on Windows computers. Microsoft is betting Windows Phone and Windows 8 will bring back some of the allure.
Where Apple and Google created operating systems for mobile phones and tablets, Microsoft drew its Windows Phone boundary lower and reserved Windows 8 for tablets and personal computers. That decision lets Microsoft position Windows 8 as a bridge traditional PC use or more mobile tablet computing. But it also makes for a dual-personality operating system: the traditional interface with a start button and task bar, or the new Metro interface that's "touch-first" and lets people launch apps from tiles that house live information.
Microsoft COO Kevin Turner argues that Windows 8's Metro interface will make life easier for those using Windows Phones and Xboxes. Â Â Â Â Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET
Microsoft released its Windows 8 consumer preview last week, and Erwin Visser, a senior director for Windows at Microsoft, showed a demo of the forthcoming OS at Turner's speech.
Turner sees Windows as a crossover technology geared for both businesses and consumers, and its Metro interface should be familiar to those with Windows Phone and Xbox on a TV, too. And with Windows To Go, which lets Windows 8 boot and run off a USB drive, people can turn their home machine into their work machine.
"Where people work, when they work, and how they work continues to have more overlap between [the office], home, living room, the automobile," Turner said. "The ability to connect the work style and lifestyle is something we believe at Microsoft we're in a significant position to offer."
The trend of employees bringing their own products to work is called the "consumerization of IT." Of course, a lot of that information technology is changing because of Android phones, iPhones, and iPads, but Microsoft thinks its products will help information technology staff get ahead of the trend.
The chief information officer's "traditional role for being the gatekeeper for devices is now shifting," Turner said. "If you look at trends of cloud computing or the consumerization of IT, there's one thing in common: they're mostly being driven by end users. The ability to get in front of that is the real challenge we see for CIOs."
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CNET's Stephen Shankland writes about a wide range of technology and products, but has a particular focus on browsers and digital photography. He joined CNET News in 1998 and has also covered Google, Yahoo, servers, supercomputing, Linux, other open-source software, and science.