Windows 8在初期测评中受到了也许是该系列操作系统有史以来最热烈的好评，同时也带来了这样一种可能性，即微软可能会重新融入这个所谓的后PC世界。前苹果公司高管珍-露易丝•盖瑟撰文称，Windows 8新增的触摸式Metro用户界面“是微软在‘Windows无处不在’这一路线上迈出的新步伐，它使所有微软系统驱动的设备都用上了简洁、优雅的用户界面，不管是PC，智能手机，还是平板电脑。”科技博客TechCrunch称其为“确实相当出彩，相当富有洞察力”。甚至颇富影响力的苹果博主约翰•格鲁伯也承认“作为iPad的对手，它肯定完败，但仍然不失为一款成功的操作系统”。
微软永远也没法成为今日苹果那样的创新引擎。但它仍能在其鼎盛时期所擅长的事情上再次胜出：模仿创新者并将其大规模销售给庞大的用户群。这也正是微软携Windows Phone 7极力争取的局面。除了一套创新的用户界面，这套手机操作系统并未取得太多突破。但是，一旦加上诺基亚的全球用户，突然间，部分分析师就开始预测，到2015年Windows Phone 7的市场份额将达到21%，超过苹果公司15%的份额。
Windows 8 也不太可能抬高任何创新门槛，但在加速驶向云计算的技术世界里，它能让微软参与到平板电脑和上网本的竞争中去。众多紧跟微软的证券分析师都对此印象深刻，其中少数人还预测微软股价将涨至34美元或35美元。换言之，Windows 8和Windows Phone 7能将微软股价推高30%。
Windows 8在有能力开始为微软创收之前还有很长的路要走。微软本财年将于2012年6月结束，在此之前，它不太可能上市。如果微软不能推出奇招，或者用户对新界面并不满意，这款操作系统的销售业绩可能会令人失望。但Windows 8正像它此前的Windows Phone 7一样，为微软提供了该公司一段时间以来所缺乏的东西，也就是一款能让公司长期紧跟潮流的核心产品。如果微软能成功地让它一炮打响，某一天投资也许会后悔没抓住眼下的机会，在其股价处于低位时建仓。
Microsoft's obituary has been written plenty of times. There was no place for the software mammoth in a tech world designed -- and dominated -- by Apple. CEO Steve Ballmer was unable to steer the company to a position of growth, leaving Microsoft selling PC software in a post-PC world. So often has Microsoft been written off as irrelevant that investors have largely stopped believing in the stock, which has spent the bulk of the past ten years in a tight range between $25 a share and $30 a share. On Monday, the stock closed around $27, which is where it traded around this time of the year in 2008, in 2006, in 2004, in 2001 … you get the idea.
In the past five days, however, Microsoft's (MSFT) shares have risen by 5%, following the presentation of its latest operating software, Windows 8, to developers. Designed as a fresh start for Windows, it attempts to bridge mobile devices, tablets and traditional PCs. That modest uptick is a sign that investors that have so long written off Redmond's stock may be doing so at their own peril.
In early reviews, Windows 8 received perhaps the strongest praise ever for a version of its operating system and opened up the possibility that Microsoft could in fact become relevant in the so-called post-PC world. Jean-Louis Gassée, a former Apple (AAPL) executive, wrote that the touch-based Metro user interface added to Windows 8 "is a step along the 'Windows Everywhere' road that leads to a single, elegant UI for all Microsoft-powered devices, whether they're PCs, smartphones, or tablets." TechCrunch called it "actually quite cool and quite intuitive." Even John Gruber, an influential Apple blogger, conceded "it could utterly fail as an iPad competitor, but still be a successful OS."
Okay, much of that may be damning with faint praise, but consider that, only a year and a half after Apple released the iPad, Microsoft has built from scratch an operating system that is winning comparisons to iOS. As Steve Jobs pointed out in a 1996 interview unearthed by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, it took Microsoft 10 years to catch up to the operating system that Apple created in the 1980s.
Microsoft will never become the driving force of innovation that Apple is today. But it can excel again at the thing it was good at in its glory days: copying the innovators and selling it at large-scale to a vast customer base. That is what Microsoft has been pushing for with Windows Phone 7. Aside from an innovative user interface of its own, the mobile OS doesn't break a lot of new ground. But throw in access to Nokia's global customers and, suddenly, some analysts see Windows Phone 7 taking a 21% market share in 2015, surpassing Apple's 15% share.
Windows 8 isn't likely to raise any innovative bars either, but it could keep Microsoft in the race as tablets vie with netbooks in a tech world moving further into the cloud. Most securities analysts following Microsoft were impressed, with a few predicting Microsoft will rise as high as $34 or $35 a share. In other words, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 could push Microsoft 30% higher.
Investors weren't so enthralled. Microsoft staged its developers conference to coincide with an annual meeting with analysts and investors. There, investors seemed most interested in getting a bigger piece of Microsoft's $53 billion worth of cash to be paid into dividends. Such demands are usually made to companies expected to see little, if any growth. Microsoft's revenue is growing around 6% a year compared with a 50% growth rate for Apple. It's the same old story: Microsoft isn't Apple, so it must pay a dividend.
In the near term, a fatter dividend may be the only thing to make investors happy, but Ballmer -- who keeps facing calls for his replacement as CEO -- is finally starting to do a decent job of laying the foundation for Microsoft's long-term growth -- growth that could return to the double-digits.
Windows 8 has a long way to go before it can start adding to Microsoft's revenue. It's unlikely to launch before the end of Microsoft's fiscal year, which ends in June 2012. Sales could disappoint if Microsoft fails to work out any potential kinks or if users are uncomfortable with the new interface. But Windows 8, like Windows Phone 7 before it, offers Microsoft something the company hasn't had in a while: a core product that could keep the company relevant for years. If Microsoft succeeds in making that happen, investors may one day regret this chance to have gotten its shares for cheap.