Microsoft's Windows 8 refocus

The software giant is finally showing signs of taking the needs of actual consumers seriously. While the company seemingly has too many fingers in too many pies, it's a crucial strategic shift for Microsoft.

It’s been a big few months for Microsoft. With the full release of Windows 8 hitting the market, the company making plans to release its Surface tablet, and the issue of its OEM vendors potentially being unhappy at the prospect of them entering the hardware business being raised, the company certainly has its hands full. When you combine this with the fact that Microsoft looked at launching their Windows Phone 8 platform to compete head to head with Apple’s latest offering, it shows why the company needs to be taken seriously and be treated as more than just a hardware vendor.

While it might seem as if Microsoft has too many fingers in too many pies, I can understand their strategy. They are actively changing tract to focus not only the business segment, but on the consumer. This is a wise move, because in turn it will ultimately ensure that they dominate the business market. In today's always on world of smartphones, ultrabooks, WiFi everywhere, and social networking, the consumer is the one making the decisions. They are the ones selecting iPhones and Android devices, the Ultrabooks and the Macbooks - they have left failing devices like Blackberry behind and because of the consumerisation of IT, their workplaces have followed suit.

From home to the office

The amount of choice people now have when selecting tablets, laptops and phones is phenomenal – it’s a very different landscape from a few years ago when we had dedicated consumer and business models of laptops and desktops. Rather than being about the amount of memory or hard disk space, we are finally starting to see new vendors with emerging products that differentiate through features like cloud file integration, better battery life and light weight hardware.

The highest uptake of Microsoft’s operating systems have always been from the consumer market, with people purchasing their desktop or laptop with Windows pre-installed and generally with a trial version of Office. This is where most users get their taste of a new operating system from - whatever was shipped on the PC is what they will generally use until that PC dies and they purchase their next one. Microsoft is pushing end users to get comfortable with Windows 8 and Office on their home PCs, and this is having a ripple effect on the business community - what consumers have at home, they also want at work.

A necessary makeover

Businesses will need to brace themselves when consumers demand the Windows 8 experience at work, however, as there are some big changes that have been made to the upgrade of this operating system. The start menu is gone, the way you add a wireless network is different, there is now an app store and you are prompted to integrate with your Windows Live accounts when you install – it’s a very different experience to using Windows 7 or any other operating system on the market. The Windows desktop has changed forever, and we all need to get used to that.

This change is necessary and gives Microsoft an enviable position ahead of its competitors. The company knows that one of the key reasons people use Windows on their workstation is that it will always run Office - Google isn’t able to compete with that yet, but this may change in the future.

Microsoft is trying to raise its game against both Google and Apple to ensure that people not only use Windows and Office on their work PC, but then head home and want to use their Windows 8 Slate with Office 2013 in their personal life.

Microsoft has for some time really ignored the needs of the actual consumers but now they understand that the battlefield isn’t at the office, it’s at home.

 Rhys Evans is national practice manager Enterprise Information Systems at Thomas Duryea Consulting.