From what we know or think we know about Windows 8, Microsoft could be intending to compete against competitive desktop platforms and new computing paradigms alike by matching them all, feature for feature. For example, there will be a Windows 8 App Store inspired by Apple's App Store. They'll be strong support for cloud computing, possibly inspired by Google's Chromium OS and Chromebook. Windows 8 could have Skype built-in as a response to Apple's FaceTime feature. The next Windows is rumored to have something called "History Vault," a feature similar to Apple's Time Machine. And so on.
Microsoft has always been obsessed with adding features. That worked in the 90s when everyone was starved for new capabilities. But now, the public is overwhelmed and wants simplicity.
On the other hand, Microsoft may have seen the writing on the wall, and may have decided to impose simplicity at least on the mobile versions, including the incompatible ARM versions James talked about.
For example, Google this month unveiled its Chromebook product, which the company specifically promotes as an alternative to what Google cofounder Sergey Brin called Microsoft's "failed" model of computing. The Chromebook executes all applications inside a browser, and both software and data reside "in the cloud." Google is targeting both business and consumer customers.
And, of course, there's the iPad, the only major consumer electronics product I can think of that has been on the market for more than a year without a single significant competitor.
HP's PC sales dropped 23% in the last quarter, and Dell's consumer sales decreased by 7.5%. Overall PC sales, and especially sales of notebooks and netbooks, are way below expectations. Many analysts are blaming the iPad. Apple is expected to sell 70 million iPads this year and 246 million in three years, according to one report. (Already Apple's net income is surpassing Microsoft's.)
The iPad's effect on the Windows PC market is murky and controversial. My belief is that it's harming PC sales in three ways. First, some Windows users are buying iPads as alternatives to Windows laptops and netbooks. Second, the elegance and simplicity of the iPad is re-setting user expectations about how a mobile device should function, which is creating hesitation about buying a Windows-based device. And third, it's creating FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that is paralyzing users from buying anything yet.
A successful Windows 8 launch could turn the tide on iPad inroads, but only if Microsoft and its partners offer compelling alternatives.
Everybody thought Windows 8 would be a boring, "tweak" upgrade to Windows 7. But the more we learn, the more mysterious and interesting it becomes.