Microsoft and Apple at Their Crossroads

by Jason Pontin, Technology Review

What Windows 8 and Surface and the iPad Mini suggest about the two companies’ capacities for reinvention. There’s a smug maxim in Silicon Valley and the places that imitate it: “To survive, you must destroy your company every x years” (where x varies according to how much the speaker wants to stress the pace of technological change). Sometimes attributed to Intel’s former chief executive Andy Grove, it is a maxim more repeated than observed. But it can be a lovely and startling thing when a large, publicly traded company takes a big bet by replacing its core product. Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system, which went on sale last Friday, is the most dramatic gamble by a technology company since Intel abandoned the memory market to make semiconductors in the 1980s. Windows is a civilizational tool; there are more than a billion Windows users around the planet. But when, after being given a new personal computer by their IT manager or buying a new device for themselves, those users boot up the new OS, they’ll recognize nothing.

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