What does Bill Gates think about Windows 8?

Windows XP turns 11 today, as Microsoft begins launch preparations for the big 8, starting at Midnight tonight. My colleague Tim Conneally is in New York for today's big media event. Way to go, Microsoft. Why have one Windows 8 launch day, when you can stretch it out to two? The software giant needs the extra marketing push, what with Apple rudely preempting the big day with Wednesday's last-minute iPad mini introduction and Google doing something similar on Monday with an Android event that coincides with Windows Phone 8's debut.

Windows XP and 8 represent watershed launches for Microsoft. XP brought the NT kernel, and all its stability and security advantages, to the consumer market. The operating system marked a major architectural change for developers, particularly software accessing hardware and the kernal -- that was suddenly taboo. As such, Windows XP broke many applications, mainly games, and was criticized for it. Windows 8 is in similar state of breaking the mold. For anyone forecasting the operating systems' doom, take a look back at stories about XP and analyst predictions about failure. I wrote some of them. Yet only this summer did Windows 7 finally upset XP as most widely used version. Don't count Windows 8 as dead before it comes to life, people.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was front and center for XP's launch. The company invited me to join eight other journalists for dinner with him the night before. I politely declined, anticipating that the government would use publicity about the launch to file more legal papers in the then contentious US antitrust case. So I stayed in Washington. Sure enough, I was right.

Gates is on the sidelines for Windows 8. He and his wife spend the majority of their work time on philanthropy. CEO Steve Ballmer is center stage now. But what does Gates think of Windows 8? You likely won't find out from press interviews. There are no dinner invites now, not for those of us writing about Microsoft shindigs. I really hate mock Microsoft interviews, where someone from the company interviews someone else from it. Welcome to modern media manipulation -- the corporate blogosphere. But that's what you get from Gates this week.

In the above video, Gates astutely says: "This is an absolutely critical product". That's an understatement. "It's a big step. It's key to where personal computing is going". We all know the direction: Cloud-connected devices and natural user interfaces like touch and talk.

That's the other difference in another October 11 years later. XP debuted at the height of the PC's popularity, even as recession temporarily sapped sales. They're in decline again, severely during third quarter -- as the PC makes its long march into night and the dawning of a new computing era. Perhaps Windows 8 will be Microsoft's last, big PC operating system launch. May it be a good one.

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