Tempted by a recent promotional offer I upgraded to Windows 8 three days ago. So far my experience is mixed, but I’m not going to bore you with that. Instead I want to point out two things that Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 that are in my opinion noteworthy.

First, this is the first true innovation in computer UI in years. Last thing this innovative was iPhone’s UI. While Android is – in terms of its UI – merely a clone of iOS Windows 8’s tiles are something new and very different. It remains to be seen whether this UI will be accepted, especially by the desktop/laptop users. By necessity innovative UI has some learning curve that is much steeper between Windows 7 and 8 than it was between XP and Vista/7. But even if people will reject it and MS will have to revert to the “Start” menu (invented for Windows 95 almost twenty years ago) they should still be praised for at least trying something totally new. Brave, risky – and, I’d say, a bit unexpected coming from an aging corporation.

Also, the concept of unifying the UI across devices to deliver a coherent experience on all of them is interesting. It is not exactly new – last time Microsoft tried it the other way round: Windows CE had desktop’s UI that required a stylus to navigate. In Windows 8 the desktop did get the Start screen that was clearly designed for touchscreen devices. While it usefulness on a laptop/desktop is dubious I have to say it is surprisingly easy to work with using keyboard and mouse.

But this concept serves another purpose. I think I see the MS’s strategy behind it. They want to regain lost position in the mobile world by leveraging their dominance on the desktop. They hope people will like Windows 8 on laptops and tablets enough to buy Windows phones to go along with it. This is both clever, daring and something they successfully did before – when they overslept the Internet phenomenon they fought they way back by winning the browser wars from their Windows stronghold. Now they want to do it again and the time is high, because if things continue as they are few years from now keyboard-equipped computers may be used only by professional software developers and the like. So current desktop dominance will become less relevant and it makes perfect sense to us it now while it still matters.

All of that of course explains why they sell Windows 8 for around $50 – much cheaper than before. They will do everything in their power to make sure everyone will be familiar with the tiles interface. One company that certainly hopes this will work is Nokia – but this is a completely different story.

Not even two weeks have passed since I wrote here about why the ubiquity of Google worries me and now Yahoo is falling into Google’s hands as well. TechCrunch first broke the news yesterday and now is reporting about the conditions of the deal (which are much better for Google) and criticizing Yahoo executives for, basically, giving up on their company and its fight for a place in the Net.

In any case this is clearly a step in the direction of Google becoming the only search engine known worldwide. That would mean a single entity having monopoly over who gets traffic and who doesn’t. Or, in other words, deciding which content is visible and which is not. And this is for sure bending the worldview of its users – if not intentionally then as a result of the SEO experts’ efforts.

This is why I did choose to use Microsoft’s Life Search instead. Joe Ziz commented asking why switch to a search that is not better and is run by a corporate behemoth too.

You see – the point here is not using something technically better but different. If my worldview – as affected by search results – has to be skewed I prefer it to be skewed in a different way. And the problem with search is that with current technology a good search engine requires resources no startup can build. That leaves Microsoft as the only viable competitor – they can match Google’s resources because they can afford it. Probably no one else in the industry can.

And I’m less afraid of Microsoft’s domination of the past than Google’s (near)monopoly of the present. Microsoft just reaped huge profits by selling low quality software, Google is dealing with a much more delicate matter: information.

Now, the big picture behind all this is whether freedom of speech on the Internet will be preserved or not. It is much more likely to survive if there is not too much concentration – that is if the Internet is indeed a neutral pipe connecting small and big alike and putting them on equal footing. If Google (and a few sites like it) dominates and if Net neutrality goes away (which is something all telcos would love to see – selling access to major sites like TV channels is a great idea for Mammon worshipers) then Internet will become as much a censored propaganda channel as TV and radio have became already.

And this is not impossible – the naive thinking of the early 90ies that because the Internet was designed to function after a series of nuke blasts it will be impossible to censor it was proven wrong by China and its Internet Police. In the end it turns out that even if it is technically doable to go around Internet censorship it doesn’t matter if it is too difficult for the majority of the population.

This is a grim vision. It might or it might not become reality. But it is worth knowing how much the shape of the Internet will affect the shape of the society in world’s industrial nations. Google’s influence is not to be underestimated.