The Handy Guide to Microsoft - 2012 and beyond

So much is happening on the Microsoft front this year, that I thought it worthwhile to create a guide on what's happening on the PC, smartphone and tablet front. This guide does not cover Kinect/XBox but includes everything else on the hardware and software front.

1) Windows 8 for mobile and PC

The next iteration of Windows is an ambitious re-vamp of the entire operating system. It will be designed to operate on both mobile devices and conventional PCs/laptops. This is going to require some 'unlearning' on the part of regular Windows users, as it will introduce new 'gestures' and interfaces which are primarily touch driven, but will also work with newly redesigned mice and keyboards. Some of the elements of Windows as we know it will disappear from our PC/laptop screens. Notably, the 'start' menu will be replaced by a 'Metro' user interface comprising large, colorful tiles like what you see on Windows Phone. 

Windows 8 is due to launch on October 26. In India, users who buy PCs/ laptops after June 2nd 2012 will get a subsidised upgrade to Windows 8 at just Rs.699.

2) Surface Tablets in two flavors

Microsoft Surface Tablets (Surface Pro and Surface RT) hit the headlines a few weeks ago when they were announced. Is Microsoft setting itself up as a manufacturer in competition with the OEMs? Probably not, but as a concept of what Windows 8 is capable of, the Surface tablets are unique and interesting.

PC World carried a useful analysis of both tablets and their different capabilities. To put it in a nutshell, the Surface Pro is Microsoft's vision of the tablet as the new PC. It can do everything that your PC does, and will be similarly powered with Intel processors. You will be able to use Windows programs on the Surface Pro. It is what Microsoft hopes will replace the old PC and laptop, eventually.

The Surface RT represents a huge shift in Microsoft innovation as it is their first ARM powered tablet, running an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor. Since Surface Pro and PCs run on Intel X-86 architeture, programs which run on these are not compatible with the Surface RT. It will instead run apps which will be available from the Windows store. However, it should be more than competent to do what tablets do today - browsing, mailing, gaming and basic work - and should be a good contender against Apple iPad and Android tablets.

In terms of pricing, Microsoft has confirmed that Surface RT will be priced competitively with existing offerings (maybe $600 + range) while Surface Pro will apparently have pricing in line with more premium PC/laptop offerings ($900 + range).

3) Windows Phone 8

Microsoft's new WP 7 mobile OS has been making little headway against Android and iOS but it's new avtaar as Windows Phone 8 (Apollo) could change everything. Mary Jo Foley reported in her 'All about Microsoft blog" that Windows Phone 8 will get a 'real' Windows NT kernel. What this basically means is that it will have a higher level of compatibility with Windows 8, definitely offering a similar look and feel. With some re-jigging, apps which run on Windows 8 will also run on Windows 8 phones. SkyDrive will allow syncing and sharing across different MS devices and so will apps. Also, we will see multicore support for phones - more powerful processors, GPUs and NFC will be enabled. WP8 will still run on ARM based processors, creating a kinship with Surface RT tablets.

The bad news? Existing Lumia handsets (610, 710 and 800) are not compatible with the new Windows OS and will not get upgraded. Instead they will receive an update to Windows 7.5 and stay there forever. On the record, I will say that I am disappointed in WP7 OS. I purchased the Lumia 710 for my mom with high hopes and we found it buggy and poorly supported with updates. I regret the purchase more now that MS has confirmed that it will not be upgraded. 

Techradar offers more dope on WP8. The platform is expected to launch in November and in addition to Nokia, Samsung, HTC, Huawei and ZTE will be hardware partners.

4) Windows Office

I am linking another post from Mary Jo Foley which is an Office FAQ. In the future, MS Office will be offered in two flavors - Office 2013 which is a traditional licensed desktop based version, and Office 365 which is a cloud-based subscription service. You can buy one or both and use them together or separately. Both offer different options for home and business users.

What is revolutionary is that MS is thinking beyond 'boxed' software which will soon die a slow death, and allowing users greater flexibility in choice and usage of what meets their needs best.  

All in all, it's exciting times ahead as the software giant slowly and finally makes radical shifts in their product and software strategy.


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