The key for Microsoft, Hobbs thinks, is to capitalize on its strengths. That means abandoning the fight to make Windows a consumption product--leaving that field to the Xbox team and to devices like the rumored Xbox Surface--and instead positioning Windows as the best touchscreen OS for business. In this scenario, a Modern-style version of Office for Windows 9 would be a must, of course, but Hobbs can also imagine Microsoft reinventing desktop PC hardware with a focus on touch.
Hobbs came up short on suggestions for what this reimagined desktop would look like, but here's one idea: Think of a Surface all-in-one PC that you could manipulate from afar with a Kinect-like system. It's not so farfetched.
We're already seeing glimpses of this type of functionality. A firm called Leap Motion is releasing a $70 motion sensor peripheral that's about the size of a pack of gum and can be added to Windows 8 PCs. Leap Motion technology lets you track movements of both your hands (and all ten of your fingers) at 290 frames per second and detect movements as slight as 0.01 millimeter (see the video above). Asus says that it will bundle Leap's hand-gesture technology into a number of high-end laptops in 2013.
Other ways to move beyond the mouse and keyboard in Windows 9 are possible, but success will depend on tight integration of hardware and software. Incidentally, such integration is the kind of thing that Steve Ballmer says Microsoft wants to do.
Keep the desktop for diehards
Let's be honest, though: Killing the desktop in Windows 9 would be an extreme step--and a highly unlikely one. But Microsoft could certainly arrange for a cleaner future transition. The desktop would live on, but in a way that didn't seem so jarring next to the new Modern-style interface.