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Can Microsoft Kinect it all Together?

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is about to release to the public and allow the world at large a preview of the heard work Microsoft is putting into their next release of Windows and ultimately their vision of computing. So far, we've been treated to glimpses, fleeting glances at the way Microsoft envisions their ecosystem working together, this release will help fill in some of the gaps.

It was very telling how Microsoft ended their final keynote presentation of CES, with Kinect. Kinect and Metro represent Microsoft's way forward. They represent how Microsoft views the future of computing and where they plan to press their advantages. The amazing thing is, both of these products that have been winning praise for Microsoft were born out of delayed responses to the competition. The Metro design arose from Apple and the iPhone and Microsoft taking a real step back, deciding to scrap everything they had and then rise anew with Windows Phone 7 and the Metro interface. Kinect is born out of Nintendo and their Wii gaming platform. I think it's safe to say that the Nintendo Wii sold much better than anyone expected, with the new immersion game-play, Nintendo drew consumers in by making them feel like they were part of the game like never before. Microsoft knew they could not let Nintendo corner the market on motion based gaming, so they took it to the next level, full body tracking.

Now Microsoft's Xbox 360 has seen an update to the Metro interface with full Kinect support, Kinect for Windows is getting ready to launch. Microsoft is gearing up to release Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 this fall, and come Christmas time, the full Microsoft ecosystem will be firing together, working as one unit like never before. Microsoft doesn't have the chance for this to fail either, because both Apple and Google are working hard to tighten up their ecosystems to make switching away even tougher for consumers down the road. Microsoft needs them to switch, maybe not fully, but mostly. Right now I couldn't imagine giving up Google's Gmail for either Hotmail or a Me.com account. But Google's ecosystem is open enough that connecting it to other platforms wouldn't be hard for me. I've used an iPhone before, I could always go back.

My computers are getting further along in their lives and replacement is something I'm beginning to think about. But what do I replace them with? Do I buy or build a new PC? Or do I take the leap to the world of Macs? I work in IT Support for a living, and as one tech once told me, "I use Macs at home because I don't want to have to do tech support at home." He's got a point too. When I'm home, I don't want to troubleshoot my significant other's PC all night, I want it to work for her so she can do her homework and we can get on with our lives. A Mac breaks, you take it to an Apple store, they fix it for you, you get your computer back. A PC breaks, depending on where you bought it, the service plan you may or may not have bought with it, you may have to call support in India, to be told to ship it to Texas, and then 3-6 weeks later, you get your computer back.

The problem that Microsoft has in my opinion is that there's no killer app, no must-have feature coming with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, at least not that I can see. Apple has told us what their killer features are with Mountain Lion, iMessage and Notification Center. No one else has what iMessage has. BlackBerry Messanger is the closest thing, but that doesn't run on PCs. Sure Google has Google Talk, but it doesn't confirm to me that a message was received and if I take a message on my phone the updates stop on my PC. Notification Center is huge as well. Why for the last few years has it been easier to figure out that someone has interacted with me on Facebook from my phone than from my computer? Apple's realized that, and while they haven't announced plans to open up the notification center yet, it makes sense. I should be able to view what needs my attention on my PC with just a glance and not have to launch multiple apps or websites to view what's new.

These are the features that are going to draw consumers in. This is the connected future people want to see. Microsoft may not have played it's whole hand yet, but it's shown most of it, and right now its not an entirely safe bet to say that everyone will be happy to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft's OS, but I can tell you this, everyone will want to update to Apple's latest.

I think Microsoft has all the pieces, they just haven't tied them all together yet. If that happens, Microsoft will be a force to be reckoned with, but right now, they need to make sure their windows are closed tight, because there's a Mountain Lion outside, just looking for his chance to pounce.

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