(September 18) It was just over a year ago that hedge fund manager David Einhorn called for Steve Ballmer, the CEO ofMicrosoft Corp., to step down. Citing a stock price that hasn’t budged from US$30 in a decade, and a stuck-in-the-past corporate world view, Einhorn said it was time to “give someone else a chance.”
Ballmer didn’t pay any attention. And now it’s clear why. In recent months, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has re-emerged as one of the most interesting—and even innovative—companies in the technology sector. While Apple and Google churn out similar-looking smartphones and tablets—so similar that Apple recently won a US$1 billion patent infringement case against Google’s hardware partner, Samsung—Microsoft’s new Windows 8 platform (to be released officially on Oct. 26 for PCs, followed by versions for tablets and phones) is a controversial attempt to import the world of touchscreen mobile devices to desktops, while offering the biggest rethink of the user experience since Windows 95. Gone is the familiar desktop grid of icons and folders with their 3D shading. In their place is an interlocking set of two-dimensional “tiles,” which gives users more information about programs or applications at a glance. For example, an email tile displays recent messages, while a social-media tile displays updates from friends. The new interface, dubbed “Metro,” is an attempt to provide a seamless experience across a wide variety of devices and, as a result, involves a lot more swiping and scrolling (with a finger on a touchscreen or a mouse on a desktop) as opposed to pointing and clicking.