An operating system is nothing without apps | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 02.11.2012
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An operating system is nothing without apps

With Windows 8 unveiled, Microsoft is in a desperate push to get developers to make apps to run on the new operating system. Microsoft knows it needs the apps to match or even better its rivals.

The message was clear: "Please go out and write lots of applications," pleaded Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer as he addressed 2,000 developers at a four day meeting near Seattle this week.

And just in case Ballmer's words weren't enough, Microsoft made sure it gave each paying attendee one of its Surface tablets and 100 gigabytes of free space on its SkyDrive cloud storage platform. Nokia provided free Lumia 920 smartphones running Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft knows it needs to convince developers that it is worth their while to create a thriving environment on the new Windows 8 operating system - an environment to compete with main rivals Apple and Google Android.

It's an area where Microsoft - the once dominant software maker - has been lagging behind.

All surface, no feeling

While Apple and Android based mobile devices have allowed users to swipe their way through the modern world, Windows users have - until now - been left clicking like the old days.

But that is to become a thing of the past. Windows 8 has a completely new look.

With the arrival of Microsoft Tiles, the company has changed its game. Desktops will no longer be filled with program icons - in fact, the company no longer even refers to programs - but apps - as everyone else does. And its customers are now "users."  

Oliver Guertler, director of Microsoft Germany, presents Windows 8 in Berlin

Oliver Guertler, director of Microsoft Germany, presents Windows 8 in Berlin

The tiles constantly update your status - users can see when new e-mails come in, check appointments, stock exchange figures or weather information. You can bid on eBay, watch YouTube videos and have Facebook and Twitter all in sight.

Touch technology has long been a feature on Apple devices. It released its first notebook with a multi-touch trackpad in 2008, making full navigation possible without a mouse.

Now, Microsoft has gone touchable - some have said Windows 8 will take some getting used to for old school desktop users.

But the company is making every effort to get in on the action, even on price.

Upgrades are available for an introductory price of 30 euros ($38). And even older computers running Windows 7 through to Vista and XP can upgrade to the new platform.

A Microsoft Surface tablet (Photo: PC REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

A fusion of laptop and tablet: Microsoft's Surface on display

Ripe competition

The arrival of Windows 8 coincides with that of Microsoft's high-end tablet, the Surface. A merger of tablet and laptop, the Surface has a widescreen and is docked on an ultra thin keyboard that doubles as a screen protector.

It's silenced some doubters and is starting to make the rest of the industry nervous.

Samsung, Acer and other big technological players, who use Windows, may face stiff competition from Microsoft's first real attempt at hardware. Apple has been quick to fight back by unveiling its next generation of MacBooks, iMacs and by launching the iPad Mini.

But Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer was keen to make a splash and staged a fancy Windows 8 release party in New York, where people could test drive the Surface tablet.

Microsoft launch party(Photo: Adam Berry/dapd)

Microsoft's chief Steve Ballmer laid on a New York party to get people touching the Surface

"The Surface is really exciting," says Greg Lutz, whose company, ComponentOne, develops tools that software makers can build into their apps, such as calendars and charts. "It's been interesting to see people that would normally be critics of Microsoft surprised to see how good it is."

Microsoft hopes it can reestablish itself as a relevant platform for developers. It's also hoped that the release of Windows 8 will allow Microsoft to regain some of the street credibility it's said to have lost to competitors.

Once developers see the user base for Windows 8 grow, the momentum will start to have an effect, says Mike Cousins, a software developer in Calgary, Canada.

"All the new PCs people buy will be Windows 8 and people will start demanding Windows 8 apps from companies, and then they will start making them," says Cousins. "I think we'll see a wave of apps coming out pretty soon."

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