Microsoft is scrambling to preserve what’s left of its kingdom, and it’s pinning its hopes on a new version of Windows that could spawn a new breed of hybrid machines: part tablet computer, part laptop.
Since the company released its Windows operating system in 1985, most of the sequels have been variations on the same theme. Not that it mattered much. Regardless of the software’s quality, Microsoft managed to remain at the center of the personal computing universe.
The stakes are much different as Microsoft Corp. puts the finishing touches on Windows 8—perhaps the most important piece of software the Redmond, Wash., company has designed since co-founder Bill Gates won the contract to build the first operating system for IBM Corp.’s personal computer in the early 1980s.
A test, or “beta,” version of the revamped operating system will be unveiled Feb. 29 in Barcelona, nudging Windows 8 a step closer to its anticipated mass market release in September or October.
The company will offer the most extensive look at Windows 8’s progress since it released an early version of the system to developers five months ago.
Microsoft designed Windows 8 to help it perform a difficult balancing act. The company hopes to keep milking revenue from a PC market that appears to be past its prime, while trying to gain a stronger foothold in the more fertile field of mobile devices.
It’s a booming market that, so far, has been defined and dominated by Apple Inc.’s trend-setting iPhone and iPad and Google Inc.’s ubiquitous Android software.
“Microsoft’s future path is riding on Windows 8 and its success,” said Gartner Inc. analyst David Cearley. “This is a chance for Microsoft to re-establish itself in a market where it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant.”
If Windows 8 is a hit, it could also help lift the fortunes of struggling PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. Besides giving businesses and consumers a reason to consider new PC purchases, Windows 8 is expected to spawn a new breed of hybrid machines that will be part tablet computer, part laptop.
If Windows 8 is a flop, however, it will increase the pressure on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. His 12-year reign has been marred by the company’s troubles adapting to an Internet-driven upheaval.