Reimagining Microsoft: How Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 Change the Rules

At Microsoft's recent BUILD conference, Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer told BUILD attendees that he was delighted to hear how well the Windows 8 preview was being received. Ballmer said: "If Windows 8 is Windows re-imagined, we're also in the process of re-imagining Microsoft." Judging by what I and my Windows IT Pro colleagues have seen of Windows Server 2012 (formerly code-named Windows Server 8) and Windows 8 recently, Ballmer's comments may not have been far from the mark. Ballmer went on to say that Microsoft is reorganizing itself around four main priorities, including new hardware form factors (like tablets and smartphones); cloud computing services; new application formats and delivery methods; and new developer tools and opportunities.

Microsoft could use some good news, after years of lurching from one uninspired product launch to another. Zune. Vista. Kin. Windows Mobile. Lackluster Windows Phone 7 adoption. You can't argue with the success of Windows 7, but Microsoft was increasingly looking like a company that had lost the plot, a former industry giant plagued by sclerotic, innovation-killing bureaucracy and beset by more nimble and agile competitors. Ironically, Microsoft was beginning to look like the IBM that a young Microsoft out-foxed and out-innovated decades ago.

Like the U.S. space program during the cold war or American muscle car manufacturers, Microsoft seems to work best when facing a relentless adversary that seems to have gained the lead in the marketplace. The threat of Sputnik pushed the U.S. space program to dizzying new heights, and the ongoing war of one-upmanship war between the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger has resulted in a modern-day muscle car revival. Strong competition is good for consumers and separates strong companies with winning ideas and solid products from weak ones with bad ideas and uninspired products.

In Microsoft's case that competition came in three forms: Google, Apple, and VMware. Google has the upper hand in cloud services and search; Apple has dominated the smartphone, tablet, and OS discussion; and VMware has been cleaning Microsoft's clock for years in the virtualization market. Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 -- and their supporting technologies, like SkyDrive -- promise to help Microsoft gain some ground against all of these competitors, with Windows Server 8 delivering a host of new and improved cloud and virtualization technology, and the metro interface employed in Windows 8 having the promise of finally offering a competitive touch screen-centric alternative to Apple's iOS and iPad.

It may have a bloody nose, a black eye, and be down on points, but Microsoft seems to have finally decided it has spent enough time being the stumbling, disoriented, glass-jawed punching bag for Apple, Google, and VMware. Judging by what Windows IT Pro editors and contributors saw over the last few weeks, Redmond seems to have wiped the sweat from its eyes, spit some blood on the mat, and climbed back into the ring to do some damage. Microsoft is back in a big way, baby, and has some scores to settle.

Microsoft has put a lot of effort into Windows 8 and Windows Server 8, and that effort shows: The new and improved feature list for Windows Server 8 runs into the hundreds, with massive enhancements to existing features (like Hyper-V) and long-overdue upgrades to less flashy features -- like improvements to CHKDSK and IP address management -- that will make Windows system administrators more efficient and give them back some precious time. A few of our editors got some hands-on time with Windows 8 running on tablet devices, and the consensus is that Microsoft could potentially have a real iPad competitor on their hands. Granted, we likely won’t see final versions of Windows Server 8 and Windows 8 until almost a year from now, but Microsoft is clearly making big bets and lavishing vast development resources on both products.

We've covered Windows Server 8 and Windows 8 from many angles, with Michael Otey taking a look at improvements to Hyper-V, Sean Deuby examines upgrades to Dynamic Access Control and Active Directory, and I take a look at Windows Server 8 storage features. Paul Thurrott also provides his perspective on Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 as well. There's a lot of new material to cover with both products, so you'll be seeing a flood of new coverage from us in the coming weeks and months that will describe all of the upcoming features of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 in more detail.

So what do you think about Windows Server 8 and Windows 8? Feel free to start up a discussion on Twitter, or add a comment to this blog post.

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