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BW Businessworld

A Big Day For Microsoft

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There’s so much at stake for Microsoft as it launches Windows 10 as a rebirth of the company in the mobile age, writes Mala Bhargava
 
Today is a big day for Microsoft. Every three years, the company launches a new version of its operating system, Windows. Right on cue, today sees the worldwide unveiling of Windows 10.
 
But what a different event the launch is from the previous generations of Windows launches. What would normally have been a tremendous unforgettable stage ceremony is a worldwide rollout in which Microsoft tries to connect with fans, influencers and the tech media on an up-close level. This is something Microsoft really needs to do as, from being a company that was once synonymous with monopoly, the tech giant was ever so slowly brought to its knees by the mobile revolution.
 
Look at Microsoft’s most recent troubles: It reported fourth-quarter earnings earlier this month that included a $7.5 billion writedown related to its failed acquisition of Nokia's phone and services business. It’s also cut 7,800 jobs this month.
 
At the same time, despite its troubles, Microsoft is still among the top handful of tech companies in the world and it’s one that is still very innovative. Under Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft for over a year now, Microsoft has taken aggressive and bold steps to change its thinking and strategy and stay relevant in a mobile-first and cloud-first age before it’s too late. Increasingly, Microsoft insiders and Microsoft watchers are convinced that if anyone can execute a 180 degree change in strategy at Microsoft, it’s Satya Nadella who today has headed to Kenya for the launch of Windows 10 and millions in donations to HIV charities rather than a stage event in New York.
 
There’s so much at stake for Microsoft as it launches Windows 10 as a rebirth of the company in the mobile age. Satya Nadella recently said that Microsoft had made a big mistake by assuming that the world revolved around a PC. A changed world crept up on Microsoft and it finally tried hard to align itself with mobility with the acquisition of Nokia and Windows 8, a product so different it was a culture shock to users, most of whom refused to upgrade, clinging tenaciously to Windows XP and then Windows 7, leaving Windows 8 to see little adoption specially from corporate.
 
With Windows 10, Microsoft is making an ambitious and admirable move to go beyond PCs without leaving the PC behind. The new operating system instantly scales to fit any device, desktop, laptop, hybrid, tablet, or phone and other products in the making. If you were to be working on a notebook but lift away the screen to change to tablet mode, the system would adjust and optimise immediately. With this, Microsoft will try to do better what it didn’t manage with Windows 8 – be device agnostic. The idea is to let users move naturally from one device to the other and take up where they left off without having to think of the operating system or the change.
 
To help with this is Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant who learns the way you work and what you need and responds to natural language requests for assistance like, “Cortana, show me the presentation I was working on yesterday.”
 
The other remarkable thing is that Windows 10 is free to upgrade to.
 
“Upgrade Your World” is the tagline for Microsoft’s call to join in with moving ahead. The fact that the once expensive and much-pirated Windows is being offered free is a reflection of how much the company has accepted reality. Microsoft is hoping that users will eventually opt to buy some of its services.
 
Windows 10 actually looks immediately familiar yet refreshed. The Start button that caused so much outrage with its disappearance is back while the tiles that were the signature look of Windows 8 are not abandoned and can be pinned to the desktop with apps that are most-used.
 
Windows was once a given – there were no other options unless you changed guard to Linux or Apple’s OS. Today, Microsoft has to work hard to make Windows relevant and friendly to users. Chances are users will upgrade – but the next few days will tell what success Microsoft’s new direction is likely to achieve.