Dave Wolf is walking around Anaheim a bit starry-eyed – and it’s not because he’s headed to Disneyland. The software application executive is in town for the Microsoft BUILD conference for software developers, where he was one of the 5,000 in attendance who had an “Oprah moment” on Monday.
“They gave us all tablets with the new Windows 8 installed,” he says, referring to the latest update of the firm’s familiar operating system, which came out in a professional preview version on Tuesday. “This is something we’ve all been waiting for,” says Mr. Wolf, vice president of strategy for Cynergy, a software firm.
Indeed, while it may have become the norm for Apple to capture the cultural spotlight for its latest release, it’s been a while since Microsoft has garnered that kind of buzz.
But the blogosphere is alive with interest – and the first of these beta-tablets is already for sale on eBay, notes Wolf with a laugh. The big question on everyone’s mind is whether this will give the software giant the jump it needs to compete in the consumer marketplace so dominated by Apple products.
Software developers are enthusiastic – good news for Microsoft, which is looking for them to write the applications for the new operating system due out in 2012 – but many analysts are shaking their heads, pointing to Apple’s overwhelming lead.
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“Despite the early buzz about Windows 8, Microsoft will never do anything that will kill the iPad or any other Apple product,” says Mike Manzo, chief marketing officer of Openet. At this point, he adds via email, the Apple OS has too much momentum and its usability has become too important to users.
“I’m sure that Microsoft has been crafty in the feature set, but nothing will get them past the “cool” factor that Apple has. At least not for some time,” he adds.
Microsoft seems set on winning battles of the past rather than creating a new future, says Steve Wunker, author of “Capturing New Markets.”
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated that Mr. Wunker was the author of “How Smart Companies Create Opportunities Others Don’t," which is the subtitle of the book.]
“Windows 8 would have been an effective platform had it been introduced two years ago,” he says, “but Apple has won the tablet game,” adding that even Google’s Android, “which is a slick system, is a distant second, and few of Microsoft’s strengths in the enterprise translate into the tablet realm.”
Rather than try to win a war it has already forfeited, Microsoft should be building new ways of expanding the computing market, he says.
“After all, Apple didn’t try to beat Microsoft where that company was strong, but instead it created its own market with the iPad,” he notes, adding, “Microsoft should try to do the same.”
But some who have actually worked with the new system say they are pleasantly surprised.
“It really is like no other OS I’ve seen,” says Mr. Wolf, “it’s pretty unique.”
He points for example to the Metro user interface, with its “live tiles,” which provide live data right on the interface. “You don’t have to click into them to get the weather update or your Twitter feed,” he says.
“It is extremely impressive,” he says. He cautions against writing Microsoft out of the tablet game, noting that while there may be 25 million iPads sold to date, he points to the half billion or so Windows users.
“That’s a pretty healthy installed base of people familiar with and ready to transition into the next operating system,” he says. He suggests that the exclusiveness and closed system of software and hardware that has given Apple such success may work in the short term, but in the long run, people want more flexibility.
Simon Buckingham, founder of Appitalism, the largest app store on the Internet, says the field is open.
“It’s not too late at all,” he says, noting that Apple may have taken a good lead, but he points at the many competitors who are still struggling, from Google’s Android to Blackberry’s Playbook. “There’s plenty of room for another tablet option,” he says.
The market will benefit from another serious competitor, points out Bryan Gonzalez, of the Social & Digital Media Technology Labs Entertainment Technology Center at USC.
“Apple reinvented itself with pressure from the marketplace,” he points out, adding, “everyone benefits when these major companies have competitors nipping at their heels.”