Yesterday, Microsoft released a preview of the latest version of its iconic operating system, Windows. It is still one of the most successful products on the planet, but it has been losing ground, disgruntling users, and disappointing the press for, well, the better part of a decade. With this release, they're continuing their usual pattern—releasing an OS that is universally hated and then following it with an excellent update only to have everyone say, this is what it should have been in the first place.
Early reviewers of 8.1 are impressed, but generally feel that it's what Windows 8 should have been in the first place.
The sense of déja vu aside, the new features in Windows 8.1 are truly a sign of the times, and show that Microsoft, Apple, and Google are all agreed on where the battle is going to be fought—even if none of them has found the winning formula yet.
Integrated search, apps, and the cloud are the big new pushes for the system. Like Apple, MS feels the need to rebrand the cloud, creating "SkyDrive" to compete with "iCloud." And, just as Google figures we'll all be Google+ users eventually because they can integrate their social network into everything we do, Microsoft figures we'll all start using Bing just because they can integrate it into everything we do that isn't already Google.
Of course, looking at early versions, I'd bet that Microsoft—like Apple—isn't nearly as good at the cloud as Google, nor can it touch Google search. That would suggest that Google is winning, but Chrome OS is all cloud (and no OS) and people don't really want that either.
Where Microsoft wins is in applications—Apple may rule apps on mobile, but on the desktop, Microsoft is still king—and surprisingly enough, in design. Windows, with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, has been setting the standard for modern, sleek (read: flat) design. And Apple's recent iOS 7 announcement shows that for the first time in maybe ever, Apple is playing catch up when it comes to curb appeal.