(This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times Feb. 26, 2012. – Janet I. Tu)
This week, after months of hints, speculation and informational nuggets, the public will finally get to see — and download — the latest test version of Windows 8, the radical overhaul of Microsoft’s flagship operating system.
On Wednesday, at an event coinciding with the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft plans to unveil what it calls the “consumer preview” version of Windows 8.
The name is significant. For one, it differentiates this version from an earlier test version — dubbed the “developer preview,” which debuted at Microsoft’s Build conference in September.
More important, it highlights the group Microsoft is targeting with Windows 8: consumers.
But will that focus come at the expense of Microsoft’s traditional stronghold — businesses?
There’s no doubt that Microsoft needs to make a major push to get into consumers’ head space. With the notable exceptions of its Xbox gaming console and Kinect motion sensor, Microsoft has not done so well among consumers. Windows Phone is scrabbling for traction, the Zune music player was killed last year, and the company is way behind on tablets.
Windows 8 — designed from the bottom up to work on both touch-sensitive tablets and mouse-and-keyboard desktops and laptops and featuring a new, boldly designed, tile-based user interface — aims to capture more of the consumer market, especially the tablet market.
But what about Microsoft’s bread and butter — the businesses that have bought so many Microsoft products and services, helping the company reach record revenue even in a down economy?
Will they upgrade to Windows 8? What’s in it for them to do so? And if they don’t, does that spell major trouble for Microsoft?
Research firm IDC issued a gloomy forecast late last year for PC upgrades to Windows 8. Indeed, IDC predicted “Windows 8 will be largely irrelevant to the users of traditional PCs, and we expect effectively no upgrade activity from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in that form factor.”
Other analysts’ predictions weren’t quite so dire.
(Continue reading the story here.)