Windows 8 the inflection point for Microsoft’s reinvention – Jean-Philippe Courtois (exclusive)

25 Oct 2012

Windows 8 represents the inflection point in terms of Microsoft’s ongoing reinvention as a company from a pure software giant to a cloud and devices player, Microsoft’s international president Jean-Philippe Courtois explained in an exclusive interview with ahead of the launch of the new operating system at midnight tonight.

Courtois has been with Microsoft for 28 years and joined the company in 1984 as a channel sales representative just as the first PCs were released into the world.

So it is with some satisfaction that as Windows 8 emerges he predicted an exciting and vibrant future for Microsoft in what competitors like Apple like to scathingly call the post-PC world.

“I have been privileged to work with the company for 28 years and I was one of the lucky ones to have been there in 1984 when the PC first came out. Back then the interface and GUI were created with a view to making the PC affordable for the masses. Now the company is moving to become a leading cloud-integrated company.

Microsoft is morphing from a software into a cloud and devices company

“We are morphing ourselves from being a pure software company to a cloud and devices technology company. All the work we’ve been doing for the last number of years is all about reinventing our products to be cloud-capable and offer cloud services for consumers and business.

“I think Windows 8 is clearly the underpinning platform on the client side but also for the back-end operations of enterprises we have been designing clearly the key operating system in terms of Server 2012 which is enabling the cloud for many enterprises.

“Today we are bringing all of that together with productivity services like Office 365 which is getting incredible momentum across the business community and also the consumer world. The beauty of Windows 8 is you can design to have your work applications sitting alongside your fun applications. I think that’s what matters the most, we are bringing all of the apps and devices together to make it a meaningful and wonderful experience for consumers and businesses.”

From midnight tonight the world will wake up to hundreds of new Windows 8 devices – 50 of which will be on sale in more than 300 stores across Ireland straight away – across all the various form factors, such as notebooks to ultrabooks, tablets, and all-in-ones. Microsoft’s own hardware product Surface, a tablet/PC device, will go on sale immediately in eight countries initially and it is not clear yet when the device will go on sale in Ireland or whether it will go on sale before Christmas.

Scaling up the Windows apps economy

But what Courtois has been keen to emphasise is the fact that one of the key attributes of the launch of Windows 8 is the sheer amount of apps that will flow forth from developers and will be available in the new Windows Store which opens after midnight.

“In many ways we have been re-imagining Windows to really put people at the centre of the experience and make the experiences live. It’s all about creating and consuming content and there’s no reason why people shouldn’t have a device that can be a tablet when they want to watch moves and listen to movies and a PC when they want to do some work. We are bringing the whole lot together into a great integrated experience.

“We believe this is a big deal for the industry and will be really enriched by the number of great apps and the re-imagination of existing apps. Some 400,000 developers were contributing to this.”

In terms of the hardware, Courtois believes the sheer number of new devices will reflect the major changes that are happening in the technology world in terms of mobility, the proliferation of content and the new shape of computing.

“Tomorrow is just the start of the Windows Store where developers can certify their apps, including games, consumer apps, business apps … thousands of high quality apps.

“Quality matters a lot and I can tell you that there are lots of exciting developers who will add more apps in the coming days,” Courtois said.

The making of Windows 8

Courtois said Windows 8 was built using the feedback of some 60m users around the world, including 40 families who he said were loaned sample devices earlier this year and who didn’t want to give them back.

“Apps are key to this and that’s because they deliver a personal return on Windows 8. I love football so I’ve got an app for my favourite football team from the South of France in Nice. I’ve got some cooking apps because I like cooking. I’ve got my favourite artists for music and with a flick of my finger I can go back to my work stuff or I can switch to a Skype call with my daughter who lives in Italy.”

Courtois said one of the biggest achievements to come out of the Windows 8 development process has been the innovation that was unlocked among the OEM hardware manufacturers across the computing and mobile space. On Monday, Microsoft will launch its Windows Phone 8 technology.

“We have a common user interface that stretches from smartphones to notebooks and tablets. Some of the new apps – we just announced Smart Glass – are very exciting for consumers. Smart Glass lets you access your favourite music and videos from the Xbox platform and pause and run them on your Windows 8 device. Again, just an amazing cross-screen experience underpinned by cloud computing.”

A new perspective

I asked Courtois about how he thinks the competitive landscape will play out once Windows 8 has launched. On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook produced figures that show the Mac platform is achieving growth of 16pc per annum versus 2pc for the PC platform.

“In many ways this whole process was about re-imagining Windows but also re-imagining the personal computing experience of the future.

“It’s not about who has sold how many thousands of tablets and devices, that is nonsense, this is about providing the best experience across all the form factors no matter who you are, no matter where you are and whatever you need to do.

“For us this is about going beyond the hundreds of millions of existing users of Windows products and offering a new perspective to people who want to use their devices in a smarter way, who want a device that matters to them and which works fast to make their lives easier and more fun. Experience has taught us that we need to do a better job to make computers work better for every individual on the planet.

“In the coming months you will see more than a thousand great devices released across the world.”

I asked him about Surface and how he sees Microsoft’s hardware existing alongside those of OEM partners like Dell, Samsung, HP, Toshiba and Acer, to name a few.

“Surface is intended to set a high bar which is part of the innovation process. I feel that customers will find plenty of opportunities to find the device they need at different levels of price and in different form factors around the world.

“Choice – that’s what matters the most,” Courtois said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years