Microsoft's big task: Juggle PC, post-PC eras

Windows 8 is one mammoth hedge on the possibility that PCs won't be able to evolve well in a land of Android and Apple smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft won't publicly acknowledge the concept of a post-PC era, but its actions speak louder than its words. Add it up and Windows 8 may be Microsoft's biggest OS launch in its history.

Why? Windows 8 will reveal whether Microsoft can keep its cash cow franchise relevant going forward. IDC estimates that by 2015 there will be more people accessing the Internet via mobile devices than wired tools such as the PC.

ZDNet's Great Debate, which will examine whether the post-PC era talk is bunk or reality, will look at the issue, but Microsoft's moves are telling. To wit:

  • Windows 8 is a refresh designed to keep the PC upgrade cycle going and bring its Metro interface to the mix (PC era).
  • The operating system is also designed to work on tablets and bridge the gap between the PC and tablet (post PC era).
  • Windows 8 will have a flavor for the ARM architecture that happens to run smartphones and tablets everywhere (post PC era).
  • Microsoft's new Start screen is designed to work equally well with a mouse and touch screen (both PC and post-PC eras).

In other words, Windows 8 is one mammoth hedge on the possibility that PCs won't be able to evolve well in a land of Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. Ironically, the tablet market is actually playing to Microsoft's favor. By being way late to the game, Microsoft allowed a parade of iPad rivals to fall---HP TouchPad and various Android devices---while enjoying pent up demand. The enterprise wants an Office integrated tablet. If Microsoft can deliver with Windows 8 it can navigate the tablet market.

Ed Bott outlined what he expects from Windows 8 themes. Others will have their impressions in the days to come. George Ou at the High Tech Forum argues that the PC and the Wintel platform will evolve going forward.

In the end, the largest question is whether Microsoft can juggle both the PC and post-PC era in the future. The stakes---Microsoft's key cash cow---is at stake.

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