Windows 8: A make-or-break moment

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SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer can’t afford to be wrong about Windows 8.

Today in New York, Microsoft will unveil a dramatic overhaul of its ubiquitous Windows operating system. If it flops, the failure will reinforce perceptions that Microsoft is falling behind competitors as its stranglehold on personal computers becomes less relevant in an era of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

If Ballmer is right, Windows 8 will prove that the world’s largest software maker still has the technological chops and marketing muscle to shape the future of computing.

“This is going to be his defining moment,” said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. Ballmer’s “legacy will be looked at as what he did or didn’t do with Windows 8. If Windows 8 is not a success, a lot of people will be looking for Microsoft to make a change at the CEO level.”

Windows 8 is designed to run on PCs and tablet computers, heralding the biggest change to the industry’s dominant operating system in at least 17 years.

Ballmer sees Windows 8 as the catalyst for a new era at Microsoft. He wants the operating system to ensure the company plays an integral role on all the important screens in people’s lives — PCs, smartphones, tablets and televisions.

Ballmer’s margin for error is slim after being consistently outpaced by Apple and Google in his nearly 13 years as CEO. During his tenure, Microsoft’s stock has lost nearly half its value, wiping out more than $200 billion in shareholder wealth.

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