At Microsoft’s Technology Center for Innovation in Mexico City, the brain stem of its operations in Latin America, the commitment to Windows 8 is unavoidable. The bus bringing a group of journalists from the region, the largest group I’ve ever seen mustered for any Microsoft event in the last five years, is covered in a vivid purple and peppered with PCs running Windows 8 start screens.
Every glass door at the technology centre is decorated with the vivid colours associated with the launch and if you are moved to think there might be any relief from the group think in the washrooms there. Let me report that the mirror over the bathroom sink is elaborately engraved with the signature colourful tiles of the new start screen that’s the new operating system’s most graphically distinctive new feature.
That commitment is crucial to Microsoft’s future. The company, which has seen its growth and profits slow in recent years and sales slump in the months before this substantial software upgrade, made sure that the media heard numbers that were distinct positives on its corporate ledger.
Sales of 670 million licenses over the three-year life of Windows 7 led the notes on corporate success. That was, as Steve Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division told the New York launch audience, the fastest adoption of business operating system software in history.
For all that, the presentations, both in New York and in Mexico City, were thin on the new product’s specific selling points for the corporations that are the heart of its market, and the emphasis was placed clearly on the value of the new operating system and the hardware that it’s inspired for consumers.
It’s an unusual move for the company which has long been anchored by its monolithic presence in the business market, but it’s clearly a response to the surge in consumer spending on computers and computing devices that don’t run Windows software. The launch of Windows 8 finds Microsoft playing catch up in two growth markets, for smartphones and tablet computers which were only beginning to simmer while working on reversing, with Windows 7, the appalling reception that Windows Vista had earned.
By the time this column appears, Microsoft will have announced a complementary product for smartphones, Windows 8 Phone. To kickstart developer interest in its Windows Store, which only sells apps that run on the new Windows 8 specific Modern UI, Microsoft is luring developers with the expectation of substantial upgrades from users running Windows 7 capable computers and the broad release of the product on Friday in 231 markets in 109 languages.
The company can also expect a considerable slice of its nation of beta testers, the 16 million people who tested preview versions of the software (I’m one) to upgrade to the final version. To lubricate the kind of sales it hopes will draw developers to the Modern UI, Microsoft has done two very specific things that will resonate with its Windows 7 users.
The company has simplified its product line into just three versions, Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 for Enterprise, a huge improvement over its prior fixation with a multiplicity of products. Anyone who bought Windows 7 after June 02 can upgrade to Windows Pro for US$14.99.
But it may take more than that to persuade users happy with the Windows 7 experience to learn something new and potentially confusing. On Windows RT devices, for instance, no traditional Windows desktop software will work. These are first impressions from the Latin American launch. For more on Windows 8, see this week’s Business Guardian for a regional exclusive on the event.