I suppose we ought to get something straight: Microsoft is coming back. (If only we could keep them from taking 8.5 billion dollars and throwing it into the trash)
Today, they talked about their new version of Windows: Windows 8 (code name, not final product name). If you care, and you should, take a look at this video:
It is nice work through and through. Finally, they have a consistent graphic design paradigm, an interesting view of apps and how they function, and a well designed user interface for how a person might navigate all of these things. It appears that you'll be able to run the new touch enabled Windows on a laptop or tablet device and the user interface is much like the new Windows Phone interface on the new phones. Finally, they're doing something different, relatively clever, and they're innovating.
Apple will announce how they intend to take their app and OS concepts on the iPad back to Mac OSX next week. They gave a preview a few months back, but next week we should see more of a final product. As an example, they're incorporating the organization of apps like they do on iOS, on the Mac platform. I haven't used the new Mac OS (Lion) but initial reports on the betas speak highly of it.
What seems strange to me, both in Apple's offering and even in this new Windows offering is the distinction of user interaction. It is my current belief that the mouse and keyboard aren't going anywhere soon. It is also my belief that gesture interactions with an operating system are great on mobile devices, but feel odd with a mouse and a computer. I think Apple thought this too, as they have designed the Magic Trackpad which brings some of their gestures of a MacBook Pro to the iMac and Mac Pro series. But still, it's not great. You can only do so much without touching the screen.
[It is also worth noting that Apple discussed touch-enabled desktop machines (think iMacs with touch screens) and spoke about how they demo well and look cool, but extended use fatigues a user's arm, etc. No one wants to lift their hand to interact with a screen all day long, especially to do things like typing, etc.]
It seems as if Microsoft is going to use the same Windows OS on the tablets as they do on their traditional computers. The user interface will have a lot to do with the phone interface, but seems to be designed to be different. This is remarkably different than Apple's approach: they took the phone software and blew it up to tablet size. Because the Mac still requires a different input method, they're taking the traditional approach for the future of that operating system.
It'll be interesting to see how each pans out.
Whatever the case, Microsoft is back, and it is so good to see.
Now, to get rid of Ballmer...
UPDATE: When watching the Microsoft people explain it at the All Things D conference today, Walt Mossberg asked a great question. If you watch the video above, you'll see that apps like Microsoft Office (which have kept Microsoft afloat when Windows went downhill) still run in the old Windows 7 interface. You effectively leave one interface to enter the other. Mossberg asked why they didn't redesign the app to work in the new interface. The lady's response: "We don't think people should have to leave what they love just to change to a touch interface"
She's wrong. You do have to. You may not think it is perfect, but touch interfaces use different size buttons, different menu systems and other things. Having the old user interface for this new Windows is a cop out. Apple's system is better. Everything is redesigned and reworked for each screen size AND interaction method.
Perhaps they're coming back, but they need some help.
UPDATE 2: My favorite Apple commentator makes the same argument about how this isn't a great response to the iPad. You can read it here.