Microsoft is risking an $18 billion empire on Windows 8

Windows has been Microsoft's most reliable cash cow for nearly three decades. The software giant is gambling all of that success on what it deems to be the company's future: a radically redesigned Windows 8.

Microsoft had two choices: Do something radically different to win the future or risk a slow death by cleaving to its past.

Microsoft picked the first option and created Windows 8. The touch-based operating system works both as a desktop PC and a tablet platform, and it's not hard to imagine Windows 8 running on a dizzying array of other devices, including table tops, wall screens, kitchen monitors and whatever new touchscreen gadgets we will be using in the future.

"This is an absolutely critical product," said Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, on a company video blog. "It's key to where personal computing is going."

Perhaps Microsoft's most radical change is opening up the Windows platform to devices powered by ARM-based processors. About 95% of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices run on microchips designed by ARM (ARMH). With Windows RT, the ARM-compatible cousin to the Intel-based Windows 8, Microsoft gains access to a whole new array of mobile devices.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to set the tone of the next several years. Consumer acceptance is the big question mark.


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