Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer met with investors and customers Thursday, pitching the firm's new Windows 8 operating system as key to his efforts to redefine his company and get away from the software giant's stodgy reputation in the face of challenges from rivals Apple and Google.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company Thursday unveiled the highly anticipated new Windows operating system at a technology show in New York. The most notable innovation is a touch screen that will be featured on new computers in addition to the traditional keyboard and mouse -- an attempt to blur the line between personal computers and tablets, such as Apple's iPad.
Microsoft also introduced the new Windows Store, an attempt to compete with the popular Apple Store, and said existing customers can upgrade their devices to Windows 8 for $39.99 starting Friday.
Microsoft is branding its new models as the "best PCs ever," and Mr. Ballmer called them "magical."
"Windows 8 shatters perceptions of what a PC really is," the Microsoft chief said. "One device now pairs the greatest qualities of the PC with the greatest qualities of the tablet experience."
Microsoft is trying to set itself apart from Apple, which has succeeded with the iPad, by introducing regular computers that have touch-screen capabilities.
"While most of our screens we use every day are touchable, for most of us, our PC, the screen we rely on the most, is not touchable and that shouldn't be," said Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division. Mr. Ballmer's back is up against the wall with Windows 8.
Microsoft is trying to keep up with competitors. This move might stop the bleeding from losing millions of customers over the years to Apple and Google, analysts say, but it won't outpace them by any means.
"I think what it's going to do is keep Microsoft customers from switching to Apple," said Jeff Kagan, a technology analyst based in Atlanta. "But I don't think it's going to steal customers away from Apple. Apple's customers are Apple."
Decades ago, Microsoft was the first computer company to take control of the market with its Windows operating system. That was back when Bill Gates was the Steve Jobs of his day, and mouses used to navigate desktop computers were the big thing.
"Looking back, we see a world that was without the Internet, without email, without smartphones, without text messages," Mr. Sinofsky said. "We lived in caves."
Then, Apple came out with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Google also got into the game. Soon enough, Microsoft wasn't cool anymore, and it stayed that way for years, because Microsoft was content with its role as a basic, less-exciting option for more traditional customers.
"Their existing technology was good for yesterday's world," Mr. Kagan said.
But these competitors continued to chip away at Microsoft. Since Mr. Ballmer took over in January 2000, the stock has lost more than half of its value, closing Thursday at $27.88, down 2 cents from the previous day.
The company now seems to recognize the need rebrand itself to keep up in the ever-changing technology marketplace. But its recent efforts to do so have fallen short. Some say Windows 8 is Mr. Ballmer's last chance to prove himself.
"They don't want their core business to slip through their fingers," Mr. Kagan said.
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