On Windows 8, Microsoft sent risk aversion to the recycle bin

For billions of PC users, the Microsoft Windows desktop has defined the look and feel of computing for the past two decades, from the start button in the left bottom corner of the screen to the drop-down menus at the top of it. So there are bound to be some loud grumbles as Microsoft phases out that familiar virtual homebase. Using the new, minimalist Windows 8 desktop, which debuted Friday, instead of the familiar old one will be like having a family member unilaterally decide to throw away that well-worn sofa to make room for a sleek, leather one. The radical change will be especially challenging to the technology-averse, and to large companies whose employees are used to having everything in its familiar place.

But it could also launch Microsoft back into the role of industry innovator. The company should be applauded for taking such a bold, sweeping risk to keep its marquee product fresh and cutting edge. Companies that dominate markets often lose the drive to take those risks, which explains why Microsoft has lagged behind more nimble companies like Apple and Google for a decade.

Windows 8 suggests that Microsoft isn’t content following the others, and that it’s ready to play the part of a scrappy upstart — at a time when Apple, ironically, is being accused of behaving like a self-satisfied bureaucratic behemoth. Microsoft’s new attitude may suit it well. Either way, the competition — and the innovation it sparks — will be good for consumers, too.