There are not one, not two, not three, but at least four Windows 8s! If this fractured OS market model were not nutty enough, it's critical to remember that Microsoft is sort of fibbing here. It is not actually shipping just Windows 8. It is shipping four different Windows 8s. There is one for the PC and most tablets -- the one you're seeing in the Eagles of Death Metal spots on TV. It has various home, student and pro editions, in the $70 range. There is another critical riff on the OS called Windows RT. It's the mobile processor-oriented version that supports Microsoft's coolest product in years -- the Surface portable tablet and keyboard device. RT will not be sold via Web channels or through PC partners as is traditional, but only when built in, a la Apple, to its Surface line of devices. But, wait, there's more. The next 8 is called Windows Phone 8, which is the mobile version that plays on many smartphones. I am not the one making the connection between Windows 8, RT and Windows Phone 8; I can leave that to Mr. Gates himself. Here he is quoted in a blog post by MIchael Stroh that comments on all three products together.
But wait, there is even more Windows 8 floating around. This product also lives in a family of cloud-based versions of Windows software called Microsoft Office 365 and Windows Live. These are essentially the Web-based versions of Windows 8. Though Redmond does not market them as one, we have been testing these tools for easily over a year and, I assure you, Office 365 is as much a part of Windows 8 as anything the company makes. Just click on the online demo for Office 365 and you'll immediately see it's all of the same OS cloth. Playing the 8 hate Here we are again facing yet more grim investor big think. Despite the negative vibe, Microsoft has not lost its mind with Windows 8. Frustrations aside, I have found the system to be fast, light and secure. It works very well across all its various platforms, particularly between Windows Phone 8 and Office 365. Investors should be sure to be positioned to take advantage of the near certainty that companies and consumers will deploy it. But the notion -- and investing economics -- of a single OS that dominates and rationalizes the PC market is going the way of the mouse and the keyboard. We now live in a world where the world's most successful brand, Apple, is not a worldwide brand. It deploys to only a fraction of total global users. What lies ahead is a tricky market of combined niches. If Microsoft can make the sum of these parts more than just Windows 8, Redmond most definitely can stem the tide of its decline. If not, Windows 9 will not save them.