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Microsoft VP answers the hard questions about Windows 8 [LeWeb]

microsoft leweb

It’s no secret that Windows 8 is a huge bet for Microsoft. It’s a drastic change in the user interface a huge chunk of the worldwide population have known for years. It is trying to get its cool back through an aggressive and expensive marketing campaign that’s pushing everything from the new Internet Explorer to its Surface tablet and the hundreds of devices made by manufacturers from HP to Samsung. It’s trying so hard to convince consumers and developers that Windows 8 is the way they should go.

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But there are still some questions we need answered.

Taking the stage at LeWeb Paris along with Techonomy Media‘s David Kirkpatrick, Steven Guggenheimer, the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Developer & Platform Evangelism Group, took on the critics and explained why he thinks the company’s strategy is going to ensure it dominates the technology industry.

Why should we care about Windows 8?

In one word: “opportunity.” Guggenheimer confirmed that some 1500 devices have been certified for Windows 8 already… and it only launched in October. The potential for growth is massive. Users can upgrade from older versions of Windows or buy a new device: and Windows 8 runs on tablets, laptops, desktop computers and smartphones. Whether the adoption curve will really spike as high as Microsoft hopes it will remains to be seen, but this is a key point for major app developers: they won’t build for a platform that no one is using, or for one where they can’t guarantee the best possible experience for their users.

Guggenheimer says that if developers want hundreds of millions of devices to have the potential to access their apps, Windows 8 is the way to go. He also stressed the flexibility of the company’s system. For example, developers can use Microsoft’s engine to accept payments from users, or they can use their own.

Let’s be honest: why would you want to switch from Android or iOS?

Guggenheimer sees the strength of the platform in its deep level of integration, saying “the experience is the marriage of hardware and software.” Microsoft’s biggest allies in this space are the wide range of manufacturers that have made devices that can run Windows 8. Unlike Apple, this OS doesn’t run on just a set list of products. You can choose. Do you want a Samsung tablet or a Microsoft one? A Nokia Lumia, a Samsung phone or an HTC one? A laptop-tablet hybrid? An Ultrabook? Like Android, the choice is up to you.

What’s the main advantage of Windows 8? “For the individual, it’s the personalised setup,” said Guggenheimer. There is a “constantly updating customised screen”, a number of devices at a range of price points and the choice of more and more phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. “Give hardware manufacturers a year with Windows 8, and you’ll see hundreds of thousands of devices,” said Guggenheimer.

While the devices come in every shape, size and colour, he said they have one thing in common: a consistent user experience. “As developers, when you build an app, it runs on all of those [devices],” said Guggenheimer. He sees it as a middle ground between Android and Apple’s strategies:

  1. Apple’s model: Build all the hardware so all the software will run on the machines, but only offer consumers a limited choice of devices
  2. Android’s model: While manufacturers can build any hardware they like, the software experience is not consistent over all devices. It’s lead to the dreaded f-word that is a major drawback for Android users: fragmentation.
  3. Microsoft’s model: Partner with manufacturers and provide enough definitions for the hardware so that there are set standards, so all the applications will run on every device, but still offer the customers a wide product range.

What happened to Steven Sinofsky and will it affect Windows?

The quick departure of the former President of the Windows Division just days after the launch of the OS he helped design has sparked lots of rumours about whether he left voluntarily or was pushed out. Guggenheimer didn’t elaborate on exactly what happened, but he admits that while they’ll “miss him” and “he did great things” at Microsoft, “we have a great bench — the team under Steven is still there.”

What about outside the developed world — is Windows 8 really the platform for emerging markets?

With the range of low and high-end devices and partnerships with major international manufacturers, Guggenheimer seems to think the answer to that question is ‘yes’. He said that they’re focusing on the shift: the market in countries like China has outstripped places like the US, and Microsoft is aiming to enable the digital world globally. He said that international expansion is not an obstacle for developers, stating simply that “if you develop for Windows, it’s going to work in 200 countries.”

Lauren Granger is currently in Paris covering LeWeb.

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