Now Windows 8 goes into the ring to face Apple's iOS
Bloodied webOS, RIM tag in the big bruiser
Analysis Does Windows 8 mean Microsoft can finally close the technology and credibility gap with Apple, putting a touchable mass-market version of Windows on tablets?
Apple ushered in the post-PC era, but Windows 8 is the post-post PC era, they say – according to some, Microsoft has surpassed the iPad's hardware and iOS, which runs it, with Windows 8.
For others, the jury is still out. Technologizer's Harry McCracken has a list of what is still missing in the Windows 8 preview. Windows chief Steven Sinofsky also points out that the Windows 8 preview doesn't include the Windows Store, where users will download apps, Windows Live Metro style apps, and some of user interface features.
Missing bits are to be expected as the preview focuses on developers, giving them the big architectural statement of where Microsoft is headed, plus the tools to start building.
So while bits are absent, the preview is a statement of intent. Essentially, Microsoft is trying to convey that Windows 8's Metro UI is the future, just like .NET was the future back in 2000.
Microsoft is now in classic evangelism mode: this week at its BUILD conference, Redmond started explaining how developers can and should build the apps for the Metro UI. This message and new knowledge will be taken back to the workplace by BUILD attendees.
This is classic Microsoft. Rousing and leading the faithful is what Microsoft does best and this alone should at least help ensure that the apps get built for Windows 8 and for download from the Store. That should at least help make any Windows 8 device a contender along with any Apple device being fed by the App Store.
No ordinary Windows rally
The bait Microsoft is offering is the opportunity to get apps on more platforms than ever before, because Windows 8 won't just run on the usual Intel and AMD chips: it will also run on ARM systems-on-a-chip (SoC). There is a caveat, the first of what will likely be many: ARM versions of Windows 8 will only be accessible through the Windows Store, and the Windows Store will require apps to be compiled for Metro.
Software is only half the story; hardware is the other. But the types of OEMs Microsoft might have typically turned to for Windows 8 tablets are in a state of disarray in their response to Apple.
Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Samsung marched off to war with bold "it'll all be over by Christmas"-style boasts of how they'd all build a better tablet than Apple. Also in the mix were Motorola and Research in Motion, not traditionally Windows partners but equally jingoistic in their projections.
Step up, cannon fodder
HP was soon mowed down, with its announcement about killing the TouchPad, while Dell, Samsung, Motorola and RIM are still in the fight but have cut their prices.
Turned out it wasn't enough to deliver another touchy tablet with a similar price to Apple's. You couldn't undercut Apple a little at the low end (HP's 7-inch 16GB TouchPad was initially priced at $350 versus the 16GB iPad at $499); you couldn't match Apple (RIM and Samsung had both weighed in at $499); and you couldn't even be a tad more expensive than Apple (Motorola's 32GB Xoom started at $599 against the 32GB iPad's $523).
Ironically, it is in the TouchPad's dying days that sales have been flying: if you eliminate from the equation the nostalgia factor, wanting to own a piece of computing history, then HP found its pad's price point at $89 and $115 for the 16GB and the 32GB versions of the TouchPad. HP had to cut its prices by up to 75 per cent to finally hit its sweet spot.
If HP has found the price point, how could it be that PC and device OEMs messed up?
PC makers aren't necessarily known for their ability to innovate but they are known for the ability to mass-produce product. They should, therefore, have been able to churn tablets that undercut those of Apple, which, as Microsoft likes to remind us occasionally, cost more than a PC.
Was hubris responsible for the prices, a feeling that the consumers would open their wallets faced with the brand power of HP, Motorola, Samsung and RIM? Or was it price segmentation: PC and device makers priced so as not to cannibalise their existing products? Either way, judging by the cuts and backtracking, it has been a failure.
The question is: will Microsoft's PC partners HP, Dell and Samsung have been too badly burned to go for round two, this time using Windows? And will others watching this fiasco be deterred from jumping in?
It will now be down to Microsoft to convince them Windows 8 is different. HP, Dell and Samsung, of course, have dabbled with open source using Android or webOS on their tablets; now Microsoft could argue it is the time to return to the fold, this time with a partner they know articulating a platform story for the tablet.
The rest is down to whether OEMs can be convinced to price any Windows 8 tablets realistically rather than based on some spurious idea of brand value or using defensive accounting. They've done it once before, of course: when PC makers – slowly – gave up trying to protect their desktop markets by dropping the prices of laptop computers during the 1990s.
Jobs is just a man
Microsoft found its niche in building mass-market versions of expensive and complicated software: it succeeded on the desktop in part because it bundled Windows with OEM's PCs, making its operating system available at a price that was cheaper and more accessible than Mac. Using developer evangelism, Microsoft re-enforced Windows by building a critical mass of apps.
iPad creator Steve Jobs is not a "once-in-a-lifetime genius whose success can't be replicated or continued." He's had plenty of failures and mediocre achievements along with the outstanding successes. The success of the iPad and the iPhone makes us forget this.
If Microsoft and the OEMs can re-engage with their past, there's every chance Windows 8 can not only catch Job's iPad but secure the lead. It's a big "if" though. ®