To read technology news lately, it’s as though the company whose software runs the vast majority of the world’s personal computers barely even exists. Not too many years ago, Microsoft loomed like a leviathan over its industry - so much so that antitrust experts debated whether and how to break it up. Since then, Apple, once seemingly moribund, has turned a string of slick, successful consumer products into world’s highest market capitalization. Microsoft kept generating healthy profits, but got a reputation for boring, bloated software that seemed designed by committee. If the iPod spoke to Steve Jobs’s influence, the infamous Microsoft Office Assistant - you know, the thing with the cartoon paper clip - had to be the brainchild of Dilbert’s boss.
Which makes it all the more noteworthy that Windows 8, the forthcoming version of the company’s operating system, is earning rapturous praise for useful new features and a clean and thoughtful design. No successful multibillion-dollar company can properly be described as an underdog, but companies that have lost some of their former luster usually struggle to earn their reputations back. It’s encouraging to see Microsoft move forward not by running after Apple, but by charting a new direction of its own.