It's just some hours to the release of Windows 8: Microsoft's biggest revision of Windows since Windows.
After a long development and testing, in which Redmond asked as never before for the users' feedback, the newest Redmond creature is ready for prime time.
As I said Windows 8 is the biggest change in the OS since its start and it's an huge gamble on Microsoft's part. Microsoft has been long accused of lack of innovation but it's something that comes naturally when you have a huge and heterogeneous consumer base. The average Windows user is a quite basic one and a drastic change in the OS would mean confusion and frustration so Microsoft always opted for a gradual change of their flagship product. Why a sudden change of mind?
Let's start to say that the change, in my opinion, was all but sudden. Taking such a decision undoubtedly took much study, planning, some courage and some Ballmer.
The main goal of Windows 8 is of course to expand the OS beyond the desktop and the laptop. Previous touch experiences in Windows were awful and they obviously tried to correct that with the new tile based interface and lots of touch features. Now Windows is comfortable on a tablet or on any of the hybrid design OEM are creating.
But tablet means slim form factors, small batteries and so low power systems. Microsoft went all the way: they did a long overdue revision of the software for power optimization and than ported the entire OS to ARM. I don't know if you can imagine the huge work that takes to take an OS to another hardware architecture: you can just think of rewriting Windows from scratch!
But why take such a huge gamble? That's where the bigger plan, or the bigger picture if you prefer, comes in. The desktop market has been a slowly shrinking one for some years and the laptop market is following suit. Meanwhile the "mobile" is expanding exponentially. That's why Microsoft tried to enter it creating Windows Phone!
As all of you may know that has not been a success. So far Android and iOS dominate smartphone and tablet space by a wide margin. And here comes what I think is Microsoft's most cunning move ever: don't simply enter th market, change the rules, change the market!
This is how it works. You sacrifice the market you dominate (that is shrinking and won't last anyway in the long term) and crush it with the rising tablet market creating a new wider market in which you pour your enormous customer base. You offer desktop features (productivity) on a wide range of devices that were lacking them before (tablets) and, voilà, you're the one to beat! Then you take the last part of the market (that you can not reach with your main OS) offering another OS (that's Windows Phone) with the same customer experience the user has on other devices. That's a cunning plan indeed! .. But if this plan is just my imagination they're crazy!
So what could go wrong with such a master plan? The main challenge I can see now is consistency and lagacy. Windows on ARM, officially Windows RT, is not the same as the x86 Windows 8: they look the same but RT can't run legacy apps written for x86 systems and, with an OS decades old, that's millions of apps. The problem is that from the user standpoint that will be anything but clear! It would have been wiser to release RT later with the metro app ecosystem more mature and less people likely to feel the lack of old x86 apps.
Take Microsoft Surface as an example: three months from now there will be, on the same shelves, two of them, one with Windows 8 and one with Windows RT but they will be identical from the outside! I think Microsoft needs to resolve this now. It could all just end up in some temporary confusion but could equally get out of control and heavily affect the market adoption of their new creations.