Microsoft needs help. The company is no longer the dominant PC force and is prepared to gamble its future to halt Apple’s momentum by making major changes to its core product, Windows. After more than a decade without any massive changes, with Windows 8 Microsoft is throwing out one of the most iconic symbols in computing — the start button.
With the release of the Windows 8 consumer beta at the end of February, Microsoft has officially killed the omnipresent start bar and system tray living at the bottom of every screen. In fact, it’s not even on the first screen people see. The result is the most forward-thinking version of Windows in more than a decade.
Microsoft has decided to implement a new design in Windows 8 called Metro. Instead of centering on the desktop, people see “live tiles” that represent applications and update in real time to show information such as new Facebook messages, the weather and more, all without leaving the start page. Gone is the start button; say hello to the living, breathing start window.
To go along with the new start screen, Microsoft is introducing true full-screen apps that only show toolbars when commanded to. The design includes new ways to share screen real estate, with the ability to drag entire applications and pin them to the side of the screen for quick access. Windows is gambling its company success on dynamic content and design, and it has led to the most exciting product it has released since the first version of Windows.
Though revolutionary, Windows 8 could blow up in Microsoft’s face. The company has played it safe for years, and it has lost a lot of ground to Apple over it. Microsoft remains the dominant operating system for businesses, but many Windows 8 features are aimed at the everyday consumer and could lead to discontent from companies. Businesses may choose not to upgrade to Windows 8, leaving Microsoft to support multiple operating systems and unable to push new ideas and upgrades to many users. They have to find a way to entice businesses to upgrade, and the new consumer-centric Windows 8 design could stymie these efforts.
Windows 8 features the most creative operating system design of the past few years, and the consumer beta has garnered a lot of excitement, which is rare for Microsoft. The question is whether they’ll be able to deliver the same or a better workflow for business users. Windows 8 is an all-in bet that will make or break Microsoft’s efforts going forward.
TJ Gunther is a senior journalism major. Email him at email@example.com.