Hi, I'm a PC: How Microsoft Is Setting Itself Apart With Windows 8


But Not Leaving Everything
"We had this great foundation of people who knew how to use the desktop, but we wanted to make Windows more touch first," Larson-Green says. "We wanted to embrace that, but we didn't want to throw away the past and all the familiarity with the way Windows has worked before. We wanted to provide that best of both."

It's a starkly different approach than Apple, which has a mobile operating system called iOS for the iPhone and iPad and then its OS X software for MacBook laptops and desktops. Apple has started to bring the two together in some ways by adding features of iOS to OS X, but they are still in their own silos.

Where Apple stands is clear: "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren't going to be pleasing to the user," Apple CEO Tim Cook quipped about Microsoft's plans in April.

"People expected we would start with the phone and build it up, but there are so many things the PC can do that we knew people wanted to do. We wanted to start with the PC and the capabilities of the PC and not make people choose," Larson-Green said.

Sinofsky said the same thing: creating just a tablet operating system for Microsoft wasn't an option.

"We always envisioned a tablet that could do more than be a tablet. All the tablets you get with Windows 8 come with USB ports. USB ports can be used for storage, but you can also plug a keyboard or mouse. You cannot take that power and flexibility out of Windows. That is a huge advantage. That's why when you use a Windows tablet it has Microsoft Office on it; you have the full power to use Office."

The iPad, on the other hand, lacks some of that flexibility. It requires iTunes to sync and special adapters for hooking up a camera.

Work is Cool, Too

This isn't the first time Office was mentioned at my visit to the campus. Sinofsky and Larson-Green stressed the importance of Office as a differentiator for the new software since it allows Windows 8 to bridge work and play.

"It goes back to the difference in the 1990s when Windows came about. When PCs were from that era, you went to work and used your PC and then you watched TV and DVDs. Entertainment didn't really cross into those very often," Sinofsky said. "Those boundaries aren't part of the generation we are in now. Those boundaries don't really exist anymore."

That's the thinking behind the software, but also so much of the hardware coming out with Windows 8. Most of the tablets come with keyboards and most of the laptops come with touchscreens. Some screens pull out of the keyboard, some flip around, and then some regular laptops and monitors have touchscreens. It's all about what Microsoft calls its "no compromise" solution.

I asked Sinofsky about the image of Windows as uncool – the meme from those Mac vs. PC commercials. Wearing a blue sweater, jeans, and sneakers, he certainly isn't the nerdy guy in the suit or a Bill Gates doppelganger. He answers the question not denying the notion, but embracing part of it.

Steven Sinofsky.

"One of the things that I found interesting over the last couple of years is that work is cool too. There was a famous picture of the situation room in the White House with all Windows PCs running. I think that is super cool," he says. "PCs are as much about fun as they are about work. With every generation of new products we have an opportunity to broaden the common view of what is going on."

Changing the User
It's all about change. That's the message in Redmond over the last couple of months since Microsoft has reinvented its logo, the design of its key services, and now the most popular operating system in the world.

But one piece of that change Microsoft can't control is its users. Over one billion people use Windows PCs today, Sinofsky notes. For those that choose to upgrade or buy a new Windows 8 PC, an entirely new experience awaits -- one that will force changes they might not want.

Microsoft has braced for the change with educational tools, including videos, animations when you boot up a new Windows computer, and even pamphlets included in new computers box. It's another striking difference between Apple and the company. But Sinofsky doesn't see it as a risk and is confident that we will adapt, just like Microsoft has had to.

"Any time you change something there are always going to be people who take a minute and want to adjust," he says. "Over the history of PCs and technology we have undergone a plethora of changes and the best part about the PC world is that the most flexible, most adaptable, the element of the system that is most likely to be able to change is the person in front of it."

Finally, I asked Sinofsky how Microsoft can ensure it won't continue to trail behind Apple.

"There are always times when you might not be first, but you can be better. We are always going to be first when we can be first, but when we are not first we want to be better."

Better is hard to say at this point. But different – different than Apple, different than what it has stood for in the past, and different than the frumpy and nerdy guy in the suit – that is what Microsoft is betting on in the post-PC world.

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