NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When I last wrote about Microsoft's ( MSFT) Windows 8, I described its Metro user interface as "one interface to rule them all," because it can be adapted to PCs, tablets, phones, and even game machines. I suggested it might do for Microsoft what Linux did for IBM ( IBM): unify disparate product lines. But it turns out it's more than that. Metro is making Microsoft the most interesting stock in the world. That's because, according to former Apple ( AAPL) and Palm executive Michael Mace, this is the most important rollout Microsoft has had since Windows 3.0 more than 20 years ago, and an entire industry is on the line. There are three possible outcomes:
- Microsoft wins and extends its desktop dominance into phones, online services, tablets and social networking.
- Microsoft loses, and becomes vulnerable to desktops using other operating systems such as Apple's Macs and Google's (GOOG) Chromebooks.
- Meh. Users resist upgrading, and we go on as we have been.
Why will "meh" be the worst possible outcome? Because it would leave Microsoft's biggest OEMs, Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and Dell ( DELL), vulnerable to Chinese competitors such as Lenovo that can better handle today's value pricing. It would prevent these American companies from gaining a toehold in the tablet market. Something has to change, in other words, or Microsoft's whole ecosystem, including Nokia, goes down in flames. Mace wrote in his blog post that he did a search comparing "I hate Windows 8" and "I love Windows 8." Hate outran love by 3-1. But my own Googlefight on those same two terms showed love outrunning hate by nearly 30-1, and a straight comparison of the terms on Google.com had love outrunning hate 15-1. (Mace later wrote to say he got it wrong.) But we don't really know. Microsoft is doing a slow, controlled rollout, and the current view may be down to PR -- it may all be marketing hype. We won't know the result of all this until the fall, after the software is officially released. Microsoft has been a sort of widows-and-orphans stock for a decade, bouncing between $25 and $30 a share. Those days are ending. It will either rise or fall with Metro. Which way will it go? Your guess is as good as mine. At the time of publication, Blankenhorn held shares of Microsoft, Apple and Google.