July 25, 2012, 9:39 PM — Not for the first time, Apple and Microsoft will be facing each other this year with new releases of their PC operating systems. This time will be different, though, since both companies, and not just Apple, will be looking to consumers as the drivers of adoption.
Microsoft isn't abandoning its business customers, of course; they remain critical to the company. But it now wants to become more of a consumer brand. That's a response to a shift that now has consumers driving technology, and the $3 trillion market that's at stake for the consumer wallet. For much of its history, Microsoft could think about business users first, because most consumers, when it came time to choose a PC operating system for their own use, tended to go with what they used at work, meaning Windows. Today, things are turned around. Consumers are buying what is new and ahead of the curve (the iPhone and iPad both benefited greatly from that trend), and then demanding that they be granted similar user experiences at work.
All of those iPhones and iPads, as well as other smartphones and media tablets, also herald another transition, to computing ecosystems that go well beyond the PC and move the center of consumers' digital lives to the personal cloud. That means that today's PC operating systems have to acknowledge this shift and find ways to capitalize on it.
All of these things have had a big impact on how both Apple and Microsoft approach the PC operating system experience, but those approaches are markedly different. Microsoft, with Windows 8, Xbox, Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT, has embraced the notion that all these different devices should look and work fundamentally the same way. It is striving to unify the look and function across all Microsoft devices with a shared Metro interface and a unified tablet and PC experience.