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Ballmer: our biggest gamble is the 'next version of Windows'

updated 12:25 pm EDT, Sat October 23, 2010

Ballmer says Windows 8 his riskiest bet

Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer during this week's Gartner Symposium raised curiosity by claiming that Windows 8 would be a major gamble for the company (video below). When asked by analyst John Pescatore what the next "riskiest product bet" would be, the executive answered simply that it would be the "next release of Windows." It's unclear if he was referring to the importance of having a successful core product or if the OS itself would be a radical break.

The design so far is known to mostly be a refinement of the OS to provide a more Apple-like seamless experience, such as fast startup, an automatic logout when the system hibernates, and even a system restore triggered by a hardware button. Cameras should help with logging in, and ambient light sensor support would auto-tune brightness and other settings much as MacBooks and iOS devices do today.

Many of the changes are likely to revolve around touch. The company has tried to push Windows 7 tablets as iPad rivals by the end of the year but has had little success as devices have either been delayed to 2011 for Intel's Oak Trail or have been relegated to enterprise after determining that they weren't appropriate for the home. Windows 7 supports multi-touch, but many of its on-screen elements aren't optimized for finger input or the lack of a hardware keyboard. Its sequel may be the first conspicuous redesign of the OS to accommodate more than mouse and pen input through the entire OS.

Ballmer also hinted, however, that the company may eventually adapt the more intuitive
"There are technical details I'm not getting into today," he said. "We get multiple experiences." [
via ZDNet]

by MacNN Staff



  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Want technical details? Look at OS 10.4

    Roll your clock back to 2005 and you will see Windows 8 details.

    system restore triggered by a hardware button?

    What a joke. A system so unstable, you need to restore your junk.

  1. jfgilbert

    Joined: Dec 1969


    He is right

    Either they continue to protect the installed base and risk being left behind, or they do something new and risk very slow adoption, especially by businesses - not to mention losing some to Android or OSX (if it is going to be incompatible anyway, no need to stay with MS). Or they try to do both and risk (actually that's more like a certainty) ending up with something humongous and brittle that tries to be everything to everybody, and can only fail.
    Either way is a big risk that may destroy the desktop/office franchise that has supported MS for so long.
    Based on MS history, my guess is that they will go with door #3, or try to, and fail.

  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    divide MSFT into two divisions

    Mac Connection/PC Connection wanted to do business with government entities, but being in a tax-free state, they didn't change sales tax. Instead of charging sales tax for everyone, they spun off the 'consumer division' and tagged on the word 'Express'. Voilà, you have the corporate division that deals with business and charges sales tax and at the same time, keep small users happy by charging NO SALES TAX.

    For Microsoft, they might as well divide it into two divisions: dinosaur division versus Mac-wannabee division. The dinosaur division serves business users and the Mac-wannabee division to take care of the beta.

  1. Foe Hammer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    The Second MSFT Reorg ...

    ... will result in two divisions as well: the Jurassic Division (a name Ballmer will have thought up himself believing it to be both very clever and very obscure) and the Truthful Value Division (ditto.) The Jurassic Division's mission will be scaled down to changing the GUI's look and feel enough between versions of WIndows to make it look like something new. The Truthful Value Division will make keyboards and mice.

    The Third MSFT Reorg will see only the Truthful Value Division surviving.

  1. lamewing

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Take a chance

    MS really does need to take a chance with the next revision of Windows. BUT, can they take the same leap of faith that Apple did back in 2001 with the change from OS 9 to OS X? Windows has SO MUCH legacy support to consider...

    I would love to see a truly modern Windows that was as good (Windows 7 IS nice) as OS X because competition keeps both companies on their toes.

    I guess we will see what happens soon enough.

  1. rtamesis

    Joined: Dec 1969


    IT will fight them tooth and nail

    MS is now in the same situation that Apple found itself in the 90's. It has an OS that is bloated and outdated and can only be fixed with a clean break from the past that means that the new OS may not be backward compatible with current Windows apps. Apple tried to do that with the Mac OS when they worked on Copeland and almost died. Jobs came back and replaced Mac OS 9 with the OpenStep-derived Mac OS X but managed to force-transition Mac OS 9 users with their Classic environment. MS will have a much harder time trying to transition their users with a new version of Windows simply because IT departments will refuse to support anything new that disrupts the Windows XP-based status quo. MS is now a victim of their own success, unable to move their users in a new direction that will ensure the future survival of the Windows platform in face of increasing competition from Mac OS X and iOS-based devices as well as Google's Android.

  1. The Vicar

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Overblown comment, overblown reaction

    Much though I hate Microsoft, realistically this is a much less risky thing than Mac OS X was, and their chances of losing dominance are miniscule.

    For one thing, the Windows API is much more abstracted from the hardware than Classic ever was. (They did that transition back with NT 4.) Plus, something like 95% of the worldwide installed base is running Windows, while something like 90% of new computers are running Windows. They are, in short, in a position where they could lose a larger segment of the market than all their competitors put together currently have -- and still have a majority or the market. Heck, they could lose that much of the market 3 times over and still have a majority. So we're not talking about danger as others might perceive it.

    Really, the risk is not that people are going to change to OS X or Linux (or whatever), but rather that people won't upgrade to Windows 8. They're already having problems with that: many XP users don't want to shell out for the new hardware needed to make Windows 7 run at full speed, and Vista users often don't see the point of upgrading, and every time Microsoft makes noises about stopping support for XP or Vista, their users threaten to revolt.

  1. macnixer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Compatibility mode

    Microsoft did start transitioning from the old windows by re moving some APIs in Win7. But the implementation is really kludgy.. I am talking about IE 8 here. Many sites Di not work unless you go to compatibility mode which runs the deprecated ActiveX controls. The only problem is; the implementation is not clean as with the classic env in OS X. So yes, MS does plan to move away from the legacy OS but they do not really know how to.

  1. rtamesis

    Joined: Dec 1969


    MS ultimately loses money

    It costs MS millions to try to create and market a new version of Windows, and they do so in the hope that people will buy it in droves, install it and then create a new ecosystem where MS will be involved in supporting the new OS and compatible apps, further increasing profits. If they come out with a Windows 8 that puts them up to par with Snow Leopard but breaks compatibility with existing Windows apps, then Windows users will be less likely to buy it, much less IT departments of companies that have already heavily invested in Win XP. That means poor sales, lower profits, unhappy MS shareholders, increased perception that MS is stuck and being left behind by everyone else and increasing pressure for a management shakeup.

  1. SockRolid

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Microsoft *and* Intel are locked into the past

    @ rtamesis - "MS is now a victim of their own success..."

    Intel is also a victim of Microsoft's success. The reason why Intel's mobile chipsets are uncompetitive is because they are optimized to run legacy x86 Windows and x86 apps. Intel's hardware is as bloated and inefficient as Microsoft's software. Slow and battery-intensive.

    I expect Apple to transition all their consumer computing devices, including iMac and MacBook (and probably MacBook Air) to their own custom ARM variants in the next few years. Some time after 10.7 "Lion" I think Apple will be ready for that transition. It means rewriting much of Mac OS X to run on RISC instead of legacy Intel CISC, but it will be worth it. Apple will be able to ditch Intel on most of their computers and avoid paying off-the-shelf prices for Intel CPUs.

    Apple can do that. How do I know? Because Apple has gracefully handled many transitions over the decades. 68k to PowerPC. PowerPC to Intel. Intel to ARM in iDevices. Mac OS 7 to Mac OS 8 and 9. Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. Intel to ARM and Mac OS X to a unified Apple OS 11 are big steps, but nothing Apple hasn't already done well.

    Microsoft can't do that. Three words say it all: "XP Compatibility Mode."

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