The next chapter in Microsoft's corporate history may be called Windows 10, but the name of the book should be "Once More, With Feeling."
The company on Wednesday will host a Windows 10 event at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters that's expected to focus on the consumer side of the operating system -- for the normal everyday people checking Facebook and printing family photos. Microsoft will describe for the first time what Windows 10 will be like when it's running on devices like phones and tablets.
The presentation starts at 9 a.m. PT on Wednesday, and we'll be bringing you all the news and commentary from the event. I'll be live-blogging along with Nate Ralph, and James Martin will provide photography from the event.
For Microsoft, the event is critical. It's first and foremost an opportunity for the company to follow through on its promise to make good with consumers, many of whom were turned off by the company's last version of Windows, called Windows 8. Microsoft marketed that software as its answer to tablets, offering a way to run desktop-class apps on a mobile device.
Microsoft not only turned off consumers with Windows 8, but it also drove them away. The 2-year-old software powers less than 10 percent of all computers in the world, according to NetMarketshare. That's well below its 5-year-old predecessor Windows 7, which powers more than half the desktop market, and it's even below Windows XP, now 14 years old, which commands nearly 20 percent on desktops.
The company's Surface tablet hasn't fared much better. Since the device's 2012 debut, Microsoft has heavily marketed it as a do-everything gadget that can replace laptops and tablets. The company has never disclosed how many Surface devices it's sold, but Surface revenue from last quarter was $908 million, paltry compared with iPad sales in the billions of dollars.
And Microsoft's Windows Phone smartphone software? "Less than stellar" would be a kind way of describing its market performance. Running on only 3 percent of the world's smartphones, the OS is now a distant third behind Google's Android and Apple's iOS.
Meanwhile, Apple has been growing. Usage of its Mac computers is at record levels, and its iPad tablets are widely considered to be the devices to beat among competitors.
Microsoft's answer with Windows 10 will be to reach back into the past, spicing up Windows 7 with a few new tricks.
"The stakes are incredibly high," said Roger Kay, an analyst at market intelligence firm Endpoint Technologies Associates. "The earth around Windows 8 was so scorched, they couldn't even name the next one Windows 9." Because of the lost momentum from Windows 8, Kay added, Microsoft has to "redeem themselves" with this next version.
Not giving up
Microsoft still believes its recipe for success lies in creating a universal foundation for all its devices. The plumbing of Windows software, the company says, will largely be the same on a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. That's different from Apple, which has chosen to keep developing different software for computers and mobile devices.
"You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren't going to be pleasing to the user," Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked in 2012. Microsoft still disagrees. A product ofaimed at "reinventing productivity," Windows 10 will run on every device, and there will be only one way to write applications, and one store to sell them.
How the company will pull this off is still an open question. It already makes specialized software for phones and some tablets, which use different code from their desktop cousins. Bringing all those devices under one roof is expected to be hard; selling them under one brand may be harder.
Beyond the obvious, Microsoft could have a few tricks up in its sleeve at the event.
The company has been secretly working on a new browser, which means this could be the first time a new browser is included with Microsoft's Windows OS since 1995. Code-named Spartan, the browser is reportedly a lightweight piece of software separate from the company's existing Internet Explorer.
Microsoft is also likely to discuss video games at its event. Phil Spencer, head of the company's Xbox division, will be at the event. That's not the only presence the Xbox gaming console will have: Some of its communications staff will be helping out as well, with their know-how regarding consumers.