Windows 8: It's only one part of Microsoft's brave new world

Windows 8: It's only one part of Microsoft's brave new world

Summary: Just how do you completely rebuild a company? Windows 8 is important but it's just one step towards the future for Microsoft.


It's been a big week for Microsoft. Three days in three cities, two operating systems, one device, a flagship conference — all adding up to one really big launch. New phones and tablets are great for consumers, and for enterprises, and a new OS opens up new possibilities for developers. But there's a bigger story behind it all.

That one big launch or, rather, relaunch, is the most interesting thing to come out of Microsoft's big week: the company's reinvention of itself as the home of a modern, user-centric platform that covers both software and hardware to deliver services to users — one that's ready to set the computing agenda for the next 10 years.

The result is a wholesale reinvention of Microsoft and an end to the internal rivalries that used to hold it back

So why the relaunch, and why now? There's a problem that faces all companies, a life-or-death moment that can mean a future of growth, or stagnation and eventual irrelevance. It's what Harvard professor Clayton Christensen called the innovator's dilemma. How can you reinvent a business on the fly, with no opportunity to hit a pause button?

IBM did it by allowing its Global Services consulting business to grow, turning the old IBM into a rump organisation that still makes money, but has stopped being the engine that drives the business.

Microsoft's changing environment

Microsoft's challenge is more complex. The environment in which the company operates is changing, from the way people buy and deploy technologies, to the underlying silicon that powers our world of software.

What can a company built on a set of core products do, especially when those products are at heart more than a decade old? You can't just rip them up and start again — but you have to change completely, and as quickly as possible while bringing along as many of your customers as possible.

The answer for Microsoft is two-fold. First, it's making a big bet on building a new business in its Azure cloud platform that could one day overshadow the rest of the organisation, while still building it on the structure of its current tools.

Secondly, it's reinventing — or as it reiterates, reimagining — its core products, replacing disparate, often incompatible, foundations with one single Windows everywhere, from phone, to tablet, to desktop, to server, from office, to home, to street, to car.

The result is a wholesale reinvention of Microsoft and an end to the internal rivalries that used to hold the company back. Reimagined and reinvigorated, the new Microsoft is a very different organisation. It all adds up to what the past week was all about: the delivery of a coherent vision that's been missing for much of the past decade.

Windows is the foundation of Microsoft's future, but it's a Windows that's very different from the Windows of old. Windows 8 puts natural user interfaces front and centre, much like the new Windows kernel-powered Windows Phone. With a variant of the same kernel in phone, tablet, desktop, server and cloud, Microsoft can now offer a single programming model that scales from pocket to Azure.

Apps that run on any Microsoft platform

Looking at the new Microsoft platform, it's clear that the transformation has been planned for some time. In the past few years Microsoft evangelists have been encouraging developers to work with modern design patterns, including the Model-View-Controller pattern that's at the heart of delivering applications that can run on any of the company's platforms.

Using the new portable libraries, core business logic can be wrapped to run on phone and PC, with separate user interfaces. Similarly, new tools in Azure allow services to be built that run on mobile devices, including iOS, and on desktop PCs and tablets.

The new Microsoft has its eyes clearly set on the future, aiming to define more than the next decade of computing, and providing in today's tools and technologies an inkling of the world we'll be inhabiting in 2032, two decades from now.

That's where another side to the reinvention of Microsoft comes in, one that takes advantage of new trends in machine learning, and in big data, and the fundamental work in computer science that's been pursued at Microsoft Research.

Despite all the work we've done over the years, and all the advances in technologies, computers and smartphones don't live up to their potential. They are devices that both measure and mediate our personal contexts. They're where we plan what we're doing, where we navigate to a destination. They know where we are, what we're doing, who we're doing it with — and as a result can be used to indicate what we might do in the future.

For an example of what is happening here, take a look at the new Local Scout service in Windows Phone 8. Instead of a dumb local search application, it's designed to learn your preferences, using your social networks and your history to generate results tailored to your tastes and filtered by the preferences of your friends.

It's an approach that uses advanced computer science to deliver a user-centred result. Sure, it's not perfect today, but this sort of deep personal analytics is the shape of things to come.

Windows 8 only a transition

Microsoft's sea change is the result of an acceptance of that future, and a realisation that the company has to change to build it. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are the public face of that change, but they are only a transition — a step away from the world of computing we've known, to a new one, powered by smart devices and cloud services, delivering context wherever we are, and whatever we're using.

It's a long way from the Microsoft that gave us Windows 95 and Office, but not so far from the one that's been quietly constructing a massive gaming network and designing the datacentres and software needed to keep it running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest, Miranda, suddenly exposed to a wider world than one island, cries out, "O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't."

Peel back the new user interface, plug into the new APIs, and there are many goodly creatures in the new Microsoft and in its relaunched platform. Now they're here, it's up to Microsoft's developers and the larger community of software engineers and computer scientists to use them and build the compelling user interfaces, applications and services that customers are demanding.

A brave new world indeed.

Topics: Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8, Windows 8 in Business

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Only MSFT could fight on so many fronts

    ... and still remain competent. PC, Mobile, Cloud, Enterprise ... Very impressive
    • Windows RT

      I have just received my Surface Rt yesterday. I can already point out a few hits and misses. I must also tell you that I own an iPad II and a Blackbery Playbook. (Sorry for my poor English)

      First, the Surface hardware it is absolutely superb and better by far than anything out there. It has a German engineering feel to it that is hard to describe. Connection the power supply can be tricky but it is not too bad. The Touch Cover is way better that I hoped. In fact, I was able to start typing right away with no learning curve except for the arrows. The display is very good for this type of device but could be sharper a bit. However, once connected to my TV using the HDMI connector, the resolution was not as good as my iPad. It seems like the Netflix app was not able to build its video quality.

      On the good side, IE10 is a gem and I can’t wait to have it on my Windows 7 PC. (I know Chrome is as good but Google Is a No No for me) and some Apps are just fantastic.

      So far, so good.

      Where the Surface is just not at par with Apple (and Blackberry) is the UI. Yes the UI. This is supposed to be a Tablet. Everything should by accessible rapidly. It is not. For all Medias (pictures, videos, music) access can be complicated and you end up using the Xbox apps which appears to me like another interface on top of Metro, on top of the Desktop. I don’t get it. In fact when I want to play my music or my videos… I don’t want to see the music market. Only a simple player will do the job. It gets worst. The start, pause and stop buttons are nowhere to be seen once you leave the music player app for another.

      The most annoying thing for me is the fact that when you close an app or part of an app, you are not redirected to where you where prior to opening that app.

      Not so good anymore.

      The worst part of Windows RT is the uselessness of the desktop. It appears to me like the only reason why they left it there is because of Office. They should have mad Metro style Office Apps from the start and forget about the desktop. The display is too small to use it anyway on a tablet. Another Issus is related to media (again). Why is it that my 199$ 32 gig Playbook can start videos 3 to 4 time faster, access music and pictures also a lot quicker?

      And What about the kickstand that can't be ajusted. That is serious enough to make it unusable.

      I truly think that the hardware has potential. Windows 8 RT however needs profound reengineering.
      • after all is said and done are you

        totally happy that Surface was worth the investment or should you have waited for Surface 2 ......when it will be more refined?
        Over and Out
        • Windows 9

          Surface 1.0 is good enough... Its O.S is a mess. Should have wait not for Surface 2.0 but for windows 9
      • try pressing the volume key

        the Music app is for exploring your music; when it's playing in the background, the volume keys open the player controls for you again.
    • Right

      Because Apple and Google haven't done any of that... oh, wait they have.

      All fanboism aside one thing that will help Microsoft - IF it can be pulled off - is to eliminate the idiotic interdepartmental competition and work for the good of the company as a whole rather than the good of just the department.
  • Good analysis

    Now this is some good writing, instead of writing this is bad or fail or DOA, or making some bold predictions etc. Simon brings a different insight behind all these changes in Microsoft. It is certainly welcoming, the products are refreshing and great, stable right from beta instead of SP1.

    Keep writing, very few bloggers can write like this.
    • blah blah blah blah

      common he was just hyping MS, Google is going for their ass in a near future yet this guy is talking about 2030? this article was a joke
  • Google?

    No one is really paying attention.. But if Google doesn't do something drastic in near future, I don't expect them to be around in twenty years.
    • as long as there is FOSS

      there will be a prosperous Google.
      LlNUX Geek
  • Windows 8: It's only one part of Microsoft's brave new world

    Microsoft is reinventing themselves as the colorful company (look at the tiles!) with an agenda. They want a Windows everywhere world where your data can transfer from one device to another. I like that idea quite a bit. Microsoft is a lot more consumer focused now as well instead of just being on the business side.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Face it

      The world has always been heterogenous. There is no way the world will run single os on single platform. Forget it. Pipe dreams.

      Microsoft will only succeed if they finally understand this. A company-wide reminder of this fact few times a day might help. Rinse and repeat.
      • Pipe dream

        So why is the most valuable company in the world, Apple, seeing it as Microsoft does with every iteration of OSx inching closer and closer to iOS? Same base and the look and feel becoming more and more unified. Maybe, they are more qualified on the subject?
      • take a look at Azure and Hyper-V

        in the cloud and on the server, Microsoft is surprisingly supportive of heterogeneous systems.
        • Not to mention .NET

          ...that is open source.
  • Nice article.

    If Win 8 /Azure / WP8 etc are any indication, it seems MS has managed their platform change successfully. Expect exciting hadware /software in the near future...
  • Loverock Davidson- you actually said something that made sence

    And I quote........."Microsoft is a lot more consumer focused now as well instead of just being on the business side" ......the reason for that is the world needs computing needs have changed. Business needs are totally served with W-7 and any of the last 3/4 versions of Office except for maybe power point. So the is not really much growth potential there, only maintainance of those products. The real growth is phone,tablet &lapttop/desktop all tied togather and that is the potential market Microsoft is after. Metro is fun for many as everying is flashing before your eyes ..... eye candy is good in a fun atmosphere and not so good in a business atmosphere.

    PS I still prefere Mint 13 - KDE
    Over and Out
  • Microsoft

    New Brothel, the same old stuff.

    Wait for the Bright Future , by Microsoft.

    Life is short, btw.
  • plug into the new APIs... it's up to (MS) developers... to use them.

    By APIs you mean WinRT APIs which are a fraction of the Windows OS. If I'm building a desktop app like AutoCAD or Photoshop, how the heck do I port it to WinRT? Answer: I can't. Which database should I use on WinRT? Answer: SQLLite.

    As one of the 4 million guppies who bought 8 over the weekend as a curiosity, have to say there is nothing in it for corporate devs. And as for Jon Honeball's comment this is an awful, God swilling mess - it really is. You would have thought at least a graphics designer would have applied the same proportion of size across the WinRT UI, but they haven't. As a Windows desktop user, have found it to be the most bewildering, unintuitive UI I could have wished for. Basically that is a statement that says MS don't care a jot for corporate users and corporate devs. This is a platform for Metro junk and Office, nothing else matters to MS.
    • 5%

      You are talking about 5% of corporate development .... Maybe, I will grant you 10% ... The majority of corporate devs create in-house applications, mostly web based and that doesn't change .. The only thing with Windows 8 and WinRT API, if a success, would mean moving those web apps to native, which would mean the beginning of the end of trying to make web apps act like native apps and just produce native.