Surface, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8: Has Microsoft pulled off its biggest reinvention ever?

Surface, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8: Has Microsoft pulled off its biggest reinvention ever?

Summary: The company's pulled off three big launches that aim to deliver one message - that Microsoft can compete with Apple and Google. But has it succeeded?


It's been a (re)defining few days for Microsoft, with the unveiling of three key products in less than a week — all aiming to deliver one message: that Microsoft is not only relevant but central to the post-PC world.

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  • This ZDNet guide looks back on the journey of Microsoft's latest OS, from the formerly-known-as Metro interface on tablets to the Windows app store, from Windows to Go to its enterprise-specific features

The near-simultaneous launches of Microsoft Surface, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 show Microsoft is mustering its armies for the battle of ecosystems with Apple and Google.

So what does each of these products add to Microsoft's strategy? Let's take a look at each element, one by one.

Windows 8 is a daring move for Microsoft, a company that has always been more comfortable with incremental updates rather than revolution. But with the Start Button banished and a new emphasis on touch for many uses, revolutionary is just what Windows 8 is.

For Microsoft, such a change in emphasis and a statement of intent was a necessity — the company needed to show that Windows could live on beyond the increasingly irrelevant PC, especially on tablets.

But the changes to the UI will take a long time for consumers and businesses to adapt to — so while in making this leap Microsoft may secure its long-term relevancy, it will take a hit in the short term when it comes to take-up of Windows 8.

Microsoft probably envisioned its Surface tablet as an arrow aimed directly at the heart of Apple, but mixed reviews probably means it's unlikely to hit that target.

The Surface tablet is part of Microsoft's new three-prong strategy.

Still, don't underestimate the power of an enormous install base: Apple desktops are still in the minority (and Chromebooks even more so) — meaning the vast majority of businesses and consumers will still be looking for a Windows-based device next time they upgrade.

The existence of Surface (and the Windows RT and Windows 8 devices on the way) will at least give those buyers an option for a Windows tablet that hasn't existed until now — in which case, it's done its job. And as I've pointed out elsewhere, hardware is a key way of owning the relationship with the consumer, so being in the hardware business with the Surface (and most likely Microsoft-built phones in future) is now essential. 

Windows Phone 8 is the third prong of the attack. Windows Phone 7 was acclaimed by some but bought by few. However, Windows Phone 8 could yet deliver the user experience and integration across devices (via SkyDrive and potentially via its support for NFC) that might give consumers and businesses a reason to make the jump to Microsoft's mobile OS.

To my mind, the Windows Phone UI has now overtaken iOS and Android in terms of elegance, and some of the hardware that runs the OS make the iPhone look positively dowdy. It's unlikely to unseat iOS or Android any time soon, but with more apps and enough marketing support, Windows Phone 8 stands a decent chance of improving Microsoft's standing in the smartphone world, with analyst predictions that it could be the number three mobile OS by 2017.

So has Microsoft pulled off a reinvention? In the short term, not quite — Windows 8 will take a lot of getting used to, Surface hasn't so far been the smash hit with reviewers Microsoft will have hoped for, and Windows Phone 8 is still building from a very low base.

But what Microsoft has done is set out a comprehensive strategy that encompasses touch, tablets and smartphones that is consistent and that Apple and Google will have to take seriously, and in that it has succeeded. But how Microsoft supports and delivers on this strategy over the next year will be key.

See also:

Topics: Microsoft, Enterprise Software, Mobility, Operating Systems, Windows, Windows 8, Windows 8 in Business

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  • Windows 8

    sold 4 million upgrades over the weekend
    • 8 is really great.

      Combined with Windows Phone and xBox and it's awesome. I was using glass the other night with my phone, PC and xBox and seamlessly combining all 3. It really is fantastic.
    • I was two of them.

      And soon to be three.

      Increased speed, increased security, increased power savings, reduced overhead, two OS platforms.

      Remind me again why this was a bad choice?

      Oh yeah, because the start menu allows for a full screen, full pc, categorized search?

      I'll lose a lot of sleep over that.

      Microsoft made my day. The tight integration with their services is fantastic. I want is the word of the day: If I had all the money in the world to spend, I'd replace my netbook with a W8Pro tablet and I'd replace my Android phone with a W8 Phone. My productivity whenever and wherever I feel like it? That's what I'm talking about.

      For my big screen TVs... Metro with XPadder? Big Screen Mode with Steam? Oh, it's a thing of beauty. Play with your pads, I'm going big time.
  • Of course MS has not succeeded

    That journey just began
  • gotten my upgrade

    Have gotten my upgrade since last week...looks good and definitely getting a tablet and a desktop touch as kids already fighting over using my laptop already over d apps. Wins8 generally is what we call innovation, totally different unlike apple making my ipad obsolete. I dont bother anyway as i know there's no much innovation anyway with the ipad, just price changes.
  • Its too soon, but they are on the right track to success

    No other platform has such level of integration and consistency at this point, none! And you rightly said the momentum of Windows on desktop will help Windows 8 on desktop and also WindowsRT and Windows Phone 8.
    • Some of those 40% XP users...

      will eventually have to upgrade. But to Windows 8? How many? Who knows? As for the 40% Windows 7 it will probably be the next XP.

      p.s. I like both.
      Arm A. Geddon
  • Win 8

    It took about 10 min. to figure out how to run most of the stuff I want. It is easy. It is a little ugly on the big screen though.
  • too little, too late

    But, Microsoft might eventually succeed to survive, as there is plenty room for improvement and this industry has lots of inertia anyway.

    Do not agree on any hardware that runs WP8 outperforms the iPhone or Ny other current phone - it's essentially the same hardware as most Android phones and the iPhone is still ahead and different.
    • No it's not.

      Tell me one other phone that meets, or exceeds the Lumia 920 when it comes to hardware. iPhone is behind both Android and Windows with Hardware, and Windows is ahead of Android and iOS with Speed, iOS is ahead of Android and Windows with Apps. iOS and Android are very similar, Windows Phone being the one thats different.
  • SP1 Needs

    If they do a Service Pack with a switch to boot into the old desktop, they will get a rapid acceptance onto existing non-touch computers. The lack of a Start button isn't nearly the same issue as the need to switch to the desktop environment for the existing apps.
    • That wont help

      With microsofts fiture vision. They are integrating visuals with ALL 3 PLATFORMS. Having a choice to disregard it on a laptop and desktop take away from the experience completely. They will be back tracking by that point.
      • Future**

        Spelling correction
    • sp1 is not necessary

      If you miss so much for Start Button or you desperately need boot directly to desktop use one of this:

      And there is many more similar software..
      • Fail

        None of those shell replacements work well, I've tried them all. Windows 8 will be the next Vista unless MS listens to its customers. We need a real explorer shell back for non-touch devices, and to restore productivity. Have you seen Metro on a 30" screen or multi-monitor setup? It's just horrible.
    • One click on the Desktop tile is too much for you?

      Or Ctrl+D to get to the desktop... either way it's pretty simple stuff...
      Bill Reilly
      • Right

        And people should just plunk down $40 for the privilege to do so and put up with the other crap as well? I think not.
  • Surface, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8: Has Microsoft pulled off its bigges

    Yes it has. The Microsoft Windows 8 line up of OS and hardware is redefining how Microsoft plays and shapes the IT industry. I like this direction Microsoft is going because it will be a unified experience on any device.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • This

    Ah, more late to the game ms. Let's mock them until we're proven wrong then try to catch up by playing money ball.

    Real revisionaries.
  • Well, Surface is a disaster....

    It's an official POS.