What broke the symbiotic link?
Newell was hired by Steve Ballmer in 1983 and spent 13 key years at Microsoft. These were important because they laid the foundations of a successful PC software business that became a successful apps, server and tools giant.
You could argue he’s the old guard who doesn’t “get” touch, and that times have moved on and Newell should go trade memories with Bill Gates over tea sometime.
Also, Newell wasn’t pulled up on his comments: which OEMs did he mean and why? There aren’t too many PC manufacturers left today, thanks to Dell and Intel, which helped drive many rivals out of business and were pulled up by the authorities as a result. Gone in the UK are Elonex, Tiny and Evesham; among those left are Viglen and Stone.
That said Windows 8 does change things for OEMs on a number of fronts: it sees Microsoft exert control over the hardware like never before by wielding UEFI secure boot, while Windows 8 on ARM hardware rules out x86 makers who are alien to ARM architectures. Also, Microsoft has floated its Surface tablet-cum-laptop, a reference design it wants PC makers to follow and that it will manufacture and sell direct itself as an added incentive to make PC manufacturers fall into line.
The whole ethos of Windows 8 goes against what has been Windows's success for decades: it might be closed-source code, but you were pretty much welcome to put it on any PC hardware you wanted. It was designed to be the exact opposite of Apple’s hardware control freakery. That’s one reason why Windows sits on 90 per cent of the world's desktops while Apple perches on six per cent.
Whether all this marginalises PC makers and drives them out of business remains to be seen. Certainly Microsoft’s new requirements for future computers could act as a deterrent to new entrants - never mind the more opportunistic players who don’t have a 30-odd year relationship with Microsoft and can’t be bothered with the overhead of new onerous restrictions and rules.
What should be more troubling for Microsoft is this: that somebody behind one of the most successful games franchises of all time, who has moved with the times - building first for Windows and then for Playstation - is now looking at Linux because of his concerns about Windows 8.
To touch, or not to touch
Like other third-party software factories, Valve will be evaluating whether it should bother turning titles built for x86 gear that are connected to mice and keyboards into something for touchy gadgets running Windows 8. Newell is cool on touch, calling it a short-term idea compared to the mouse and keyboard that have dominated computer input for 25 years.
Games on the PC helped establish Windows and Valve. Windows 8 may put PC makers out of business – and truth be told, few will shed a tear – but the problem for Microsoft will be what if more software makers such as Valve turn to Linux rather than stick with Windows 8. This could be something that finally helps establish Linux as an alternative to Windows on laptops and PCs.
Steam is the place where Newell’s company today releases all its titles. Valve has been a paid-up member of the Windows third-party developer ecosystem. If Valve goes, then so goes the ecosystem; if the ecosystem goes, then it’s game over for Windows 8’s easy mass-market adoption. ®