Most radical design of the OS since 1995 shows Microsoft is serious about catching up
No news yet on the local availability of its own devices, the Surface and Surface Pro
MICROSOFT Corp has launched the Windows 8 operating system, its big bet to regain its relevance in what is becoming a post-PC world, but gave no indication of when its Surface tablet computer would roll out in Malaysia or the rest of the region.
“We are not making any announcement yet on the availability here,” Microsoft Malaysia Ananth Lazarus told Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of the local launch of Windows 8 at the Plaza Low Yat in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 29.
The US tech giant rolled out the US$499 Surface tablet running on the ARM processor last week in Australia, Canada, China (including Hong Kong), France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Company sources indicated that even markets like Puerto Rico will get the device before Malaysia. The pricier and more corporate-friendly Surface Pro tablet is expected to roll out early next year.
Microsoft’s announcement that it was coming out with its own hardware may have miffed off its long-time OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners, so Monday’s Windows 8 launch in Kuala Lumpur was all about the partner ecosystem, unlike in the United States where it had separate launch events for Windows 8 and the Surface.
“The power of choice is now with the consumer,” said Ananth (pic). “There is a plethora of form-factors now available – if you want a bigger display, you don’t have to wait. Windows 8 has been optimized for touch, but you can also use a stylus, a mouse or a keyboard, if that’s what you prefer. The important thing is that you get to choose.”
He said that 30 of the 50 partner devices announced worldwide would be available in Malaysia, in the form of ultrabooks, tablets and hybrid devices from Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.
Ananth also touted the “work and play” proposition of the new OS in obvious but unstated comparison to Apple’s iPad. “This is the ultimate, no-compromise personalized experience. You don’t have to choose between the fun of using a tablet, and the work you need to do on a PC. You can create as well as consume content.”
It was a gentler gibe than the inexplicable one from his chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, who told CNBC's Squawk Box, "I don't think anyone has done a product that I see customers wanting,” ignoring the 100 million iPads Apple has sold or the momentum Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 have been enjoying.
Microsoft does not provide a breakdown of individual market numbers, but since the consumer preview of Windows 8 earlier this year, there have been more than 16 million preview downloads, the company claimed, adding that it was its most tested OS to date -- over 1.24 billion hours in fact.
In terms of apps, it was a case of dozens of this and thousands of that: The company said that the Windows Store marketplace had thousands of apps already on board, and dozens of them were locally developed for the Malaysian market.
Microsoft Malaysia is expected to hold a separate event in November where its partners will unveil their apps, a company spokesman told DNA. Already available for download are those from The Star Online, Mydin, AirAsia, DiGi and Sunway Lifestyle.
Seamless across devices
Windows 8 is the most radical redesign of the company’s flagship since Windows 95, and Forbes reported that the Redmond, Washington-based company is arming itself with a staggering US$1.5 billion marketing budget.
However, it remains to be seen how much of that budget will trickle down to Malaysia and other markets in the region, with talk of overall budget cuts as the company braces itself for reduced operating margins.
Earlier in October, Microsoft reported that net income for its fiscal first quarter which ended Sept 30 had dropped 22% to US$4.47 billion compared to US$5.74 billion in the corresponding period the previous year. Revenue was down 8% to US$16 billion from US$17 billion the previous year.
The New York Times said the results “reflected the grim market for personal computers,” adding that “signs of the personal computer slump are everywhere. The research firm IDC recently reported that PC shipments declined 8.6% globally in the last quarter, much worse than it had expected.”
The Malaysian PC market itself registered a sharp decline of 19% to 893,000 units during the second quarter of this year, according to IDC. At the KL launch however, the gloom-and-doom of shrinking PC market seemed to be of no consequence, with energy and enthusiasm instead ruling the day.
The Windows 8 demo – by Microsoft Malaysia chief marketing and operations officer Danny Ong (pic, left) and technology strategist Tenh Shiao Peng (pic, right) – showed that the company at least got some parts right: A speedy and fluid Start screen reminiscent of the Windows Phone platform, a Search Charm system-wide feature that gets you to the app you want quickly, upgraded Bing search and Internet Explorer (in version 10 now).
“This is not an app-centric but a people-centric approach,” said Ong, adding that the customization allows users to put the contacts and apps they care most about in the front-and-center of their experience.
Settings and apps are also seamless and preserved across any Windows 8 device consumers may use, with 7GB of free Skydrive storage in which user apps and settings are stored on the cloud.
The Live Tiles feature in Windows 8, meanwhile, provides seamless connectivity to multiple social applications, delivering updated information at a glance without the hassle of attending to multiple applications simultaneously, according to Microsoft.
Malaysian consumers can get Windows 8 three ways: Pre-installed on new partner devices; as an upgrade offer for those who buy eligible Windows 7 PCs; or as a Windows 8 Pro upgrade purchase.
The Windows Upgrade Offer provides consumers who buy an eligible Windows 7 PC the option to purchase a downloadable upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for an estimated retail price of US$14.99 during a promotion period that lasts till Jan 31, 2013.
This program is available for consumers buying new Windows 7 PCs that are preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate and include a matching and valid OEM Certificate of Authenticity.
Consumers who registered for the Windows Upgrade Offer can already download Windows 8.
Those whose devices do not qualify for the Windows Upgrade Offer may opt to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro by purchasing a retail-packaged product at participating outlets. Windows 8 Pro is available at a special retail price of RM229 (US$69.99) for a limited time only until Jan 31, 2013. Thereafter, it will be available for an estimated retail price of RM885 (US$289.99).
In conjunction with the launch of Windows 8, Malaysian celebrities Noh Salleh (pic), better known as Noh, from the band Hujan and his wife, R&B star Mizz Nina, also announced their collaboration with Microsoft in an online project known as Passion8, where the couple use technology to interact and engage with their fans. The Passion8 Project will also be aired on 8TV over eight weeks, beginning November.
Microsoft will also be conducting a nationwide roadshow to promote Windows 8 and the new Windows 8 optimized devices.
[Disclosure: A. Asohan was formerly manager of public relations at Microsoft Malaysia.]
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