RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Microsoft grabbed the spotlight this week with two big, new product launches. First, a new tablet computer - Microsoft's first; and yesterday, it unveiled a radically new version of its Windows operating system.
To talk about the significance of Windows 8 and how it might affect you, we're joined by Rich Jaroslovsky. He's technology commentator at Bloomberg News, and a regular guest on our program. Good morning.
RICH JAROSLOVSKY: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Let's start, though, with just a little background before we get to this new version of Windows. There was a time when almost everyone was using Microsoft Windows; it was just - the foundation for just about everyone's computer lives. Ninety percent of personal computers were using Windows, five years ago. Now, that number has dropped to 30 percent, according to one recent estimate. What happened?
JAROSLOVSKY: Mobile devices happened. There was a time, five years ago, when Microsoft was, basically, everything. They were number one in desktops. They were number one in smartphones, at that time - which people kind of forget. And basically, if you were using computing for any kind of serious purpose, you were using Microsoft. But they totally missed the iPad, iPhone revolution and now, they're playing catch-up.
MONTAGNE: So Windows 8, little bit of a catch-up. How innovative is it, though?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, it is innovative. But what Microsoft is doing - it's sort of a Hail Mary pass, in that what they're trying to do is create a completely new interface for Windows that is more at home in a world of tablets and touch screens; while at the same time, trying to not shock Windows users, and to maintain compatibility with the huge universe of software that's already been written for previous versions of Windows.
MONTAGNE: So let me get this straight: This new user interface, on the new Windows 8, is a - kind of combination of things?
JAROSLOVSKY: It is. It's an agglomeration. And the big question is - sort of - whether users will get it. When you turn on a Windows 8 computer, you don't see the familiar desktop. Instead, you see this very colorful, whizzy screen that has all sorts of tiles, with all sorts of information flying at you; and links that allow you to launch applications on a touch screen. So you have to touch or click on one particular tile, and that launches something that looks a lot like the desktop in Windows 7 and previous versions of Windows.
MONTAGNE: So then, for users who really haven't branched out and aren't using tablets and smartphones - and maybe even Apple, and other products - will this be a bit of a learning curve?
JAROSLOVSKY: I think it will be. It'll be very disorienting, at first, because - you know, people are used to turning on their computers and seeing a certain something. And in the case of Windows, that certain something for 20 years has been a desktop environment. Now, suddenly, that desktop environment isn't there anymore. There aren't the icons, the folders; the things that we're all used to, in Windows. There are these colorful tiles. And they have to know how to get from those files to the desktop, where they can do their productive work.
MONTAGNE: How easy will it be for current Windows users, to upgrade to this new Windows 8?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, Microsoft is making it pretty easy. They've got a variety of pricing deals, starting at $15 if you recently bought a Windows PC. I think most people probably end up paying about $40. But the big question is, you know, whether you should upgrade. If you've got a well-functioning Windows 7 PC already, what is it that you actually gain from Windows 8? And if you have a touch screen on your PC, then you might find the new interface to be more modern, and more up-to-date. But if you don't have a touch screen, and if your computer is already working pretty well, it's a little hard to see why you'd want to upgrade to Windows 8 - unless you have a real desire to always have the latest and greatest.
MONTAGNE: Rich, good to talk to you.
JAROSLOVSKY: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Rich Jaroslovsky is the technology columnist for Bloomberg News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.