With all of the announcements this week, I decided to sit down and look at the future of personal computing, both as a consumer and as an enterprise. I spoke with a couple of colleagues and got their input as well. There’s definitely a shift coming over the next few months, and where exactly we’ll end up is yet to be seen. Microsoft is releasing Windows 8 tomorrow along with introducing Windows on tablets and tablet/laptop hybrids (link). Apple is coming out with a new iPad, an iPad Mini, a new MacBook Pro, and a new iMac (link). Blackberry should be releasing BB10 in Q1 2012 as long as there’s no more delays. Microsoft will be releasing Windows Phone 8 and devices should be available soon. Android continues to chug along with Ice Cream Sandwich and now Jellybean, along with new Nexus devices. Google is doing more with web apps (link) and Chromebooks (link).

As you can see, there’s a lot of changes coming, and we’re only at the beginning! The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 is definitely an exciting time for technology! This change will effect both hardware and software and will probably change how many of us use our computers. More focus is being had on “the cloud” instead of traditional hard drive storage, or even USB sticks. The operating systems and devices are transitioning from the old “point-and-click” to being more interactive and touchscreen-friendly.

All of the major players in the computer world are moving to cloud-based storage and even subscriptions for software. This is definitely the future while CDs and even USB sticks will eventually go the way of the floppy disk. We won’t cover too much of this in this article.

Google

We’ll start off this article with Google. Google is everywhere! Smartphones, tablets, the internet, browsers, chat, social networking, and even computer operating systems. I’ll admit, I’ve never actually used a Chromebook, so I can’t really speak from any experience. I’ve used Android pretty extensively though, on both a phone and a tablet. Like I mentioned earlier, Google’s primary focus has been their cloud solutions for everything from office documents to pictures and music. Their browser can sync all of your settings and bookmarks and even installed add-ons just by logging into your account. Unlike the other two players I’ll be talking about later (Apple and Microsoft), Google hasn’t made any of their own hardware…yet. For Android, they have Google-branded Nexus devices, but they’re all manufactured by third parties. Google is now the one to beat when it comes to smartphones, but they’re still playing catch-up in the tablet world.

Apple

Next up is Apple. Apple just released a bunch of new devices the other day, ranging from a new iPad to the iPad Mini, a new MacBook, a new iMac, etc. They have one of the biggest names in smartphones, the iPhone, and the biggest one in tablets, the iPad. Their MacBooks and iMacs are still trying to catch up with Windows PCs, and they might have a big chance to do that really soon. They introduced the iCloud recently, which lets you backup your phone and tablet wirelessly. You can also sync your contacts and calendar with it. One thing to note, which will be important when I talk about Microsoft, is that Apple is supporting multiple operating systems. They have OSX for laptops and desktops, and iOS for their phones and tablets. iOS is where it’s at for apps when it comes to phones and tablets. They have the largest selection of apps out there. What we all used to do on websites, now there’s an app for that. Oddly enough, that’s one of the drawbacks of switching to a Mac. People are used to the software they can run on Windows, but its just not available on the Mac. That’s been changing though and even Microsoft has released its Office suite on Mac. Also, when we talk about desktop software, its usually different than what’s available for phones and tablets. Apple is giving Microsoft a run for it’s money though!

Microsoft

And finally, we have Microsoft. Microsoft has come a long way over the years, and this year is no different. They’re launching Windows 8, which is “the biggest thing they’ve done since Windows 95″. They canned their old smartphone OS (Windows Mobile) and started fresh with Windows Phone and are updating that this year as well. Microsoft also tried to be one of the first to offer a tablet PC, which completely flopped. Apple paved the way for tablets, just like they did with smartphones, and now, Microsoft is ready to enter the market with a bang.

One of the main points of this article is to discuss how Microsoft is trying to change the game, much like how Apple did with iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. Remember how I mentioned how Apple and Google have two operating systems? One for computers and one for phones and tablets? Well, that’s what Microsoft is trying to change with Windows 8 devices. They’re making a huge bet on touchscreens and are basically requiring that it be the future. We are becoming a mobile generation and everything is on-the-go. We want to have the power of a computer in the palm of our hands. Smartphones have given us much of that, but they still lack productivity because of the size limitations. Nobody wants to walk around with a 7+” touchscreen smartphone. Microsoft is attempting to bridge the gap between the traditional computer OS and the smartphone/tablet OS by making something that will work across all devices. They have a slimmed down Windows 8 RT, which is for tablets. It uses the new interface but has many restrictions, like it won’t be able to run legacy Windows apps like those found on Windows XP and Windows 7. Windows 8 Pro will also be available on tablets, as well as laptops and desktops. This version will have the new interface, but will also let you run older apps in desktop mode. Windows Phone 8 devices will also share the same core as Windows 8, making it easier for developers to create apps for a variety of devices.

I’ve used Windows 8 and to be honest, I liked the idea behind it, but I hated it on my old-fashioned laptop. My mouse supports multitouch and gestures, but I kept wanting to just touch the screen to do things instead of using the mouse. Even the way it looks makes you want a touchscreen. I have a feeling that most people with non-touchscreen computers won’t be upgrading to Windows 8 and instead, will wait until its time for them to replace those computers. I can honestly say though, that I want a Windows 8 tablet hybrid that has a keyboard, and I can tell you that it will replace my personal laptop. Right now, I’m thinking the Microsoft Surface Pro, but I’m interested to see what other manufacturers release.

The biggest downfall of Windows 8 RT right now is the lack of apps, which comes with any new operating system. They have a lot of the big names already and will constantly be adding more. Not to mention, there’s always the old-fashioned way of just using the internet. Windows 8 Pro won’t suffer from this as much since it can run legacy apps. Hopefully they won’t run into problems from developers.

Another risk that Microsoft is taking is the learning curve. Everyone will have some growing pains if they’re switching to Windows 8, which might also give them reason to look at alternatives, like Mac. If they’re going to have to learn their computer from scratch, now is just as good a time as any to compare alternatives.

The other risk is businesses and the professional environment. They’ve added a lot of security features to Windows 8, which is a plus, but the whole operating system is focused a lot around social networks and personalizing it. This isn’t necessarily what a corporation wants since they’re all about productivity. I think its great for students and personal use, but I don’t see many corporations adopting it this early in the game.

Conclusion

In the end, I think Windows 8 will eventually be a success and the computing world will transition to a more mobile lifestyle, including touchscreens. Microsoft will definitely feel some growing pains for a while and might lose some customers to Apple or Google, but that’s to be expecting when you’re trying to change the norm.