Microsoft's Windows 8 faces challenges not only on tablets, but also the desktops and laptops where Windows has long dominated.
Just how much of a risk is Microsoft taking with Windows 8?
The answer: a pretty big one.
If Windows 8 indeed arrives at the tail end of 2012, it will
be exactly three years since the release of Windows 7. As Microsoft executives
like to trumpet on the quarterly earnings calls, Windows 7 has sold hundreds of
millions of copies since 2009. In the process, it also earned the critical
success that largely eluded its predecessor, the much-maligned Windows Vista.
But that success creates an issue for Microsoft as it seeks
to promote this latest operating system: How do you sell satisfied customers on
the idea of upgrading so soon?
The answer: You tell them that Windows 8 is uniquely suited
to handle the challenges of the tech landscape as its evolved over the past
three years. That its equally suited for tablets and traditional PCs, and that
the adjustments to the interface by Microsoft engineersincluding significant
tweaks to file systems and securitywill make lives easier for everyone, from
teenagers to power users.
However, that might not prove enough to convince everyone
whos purchased a Windows system within the past two years to shell out the
money for Windows 8. Remember that a majority of PC users clung for quite some
time to Windows XP, which (thanks to any number of software updates over the
years) evolved into a solid workhorse of an operating system; according to Net
Applications, it still occupies some 47.19 percent of the desktop market,
followed by 36.40 percent for Windows 7. In other words, people dont easily
give up their old OS. This is potentially bad news for Windows 8 if it wants to
quickly eclipse its predecessors in overall sales.
Microsofts first big push behind Windows 8 might instead
center on its usefulness as a tablet operating systemas easy-to-use as an iPad
or Android tablet, at least in theory, while also providing the power required
for productivity and high-end entertainment.
Indeed, Microsoft is already signaling that it will place Windows
8s mobility front-and-center in any marketing campaign. Pundits and
tech-watchers expect the company to unveil the Windows 8 Consumer Preview (a
fancy term for beta) at this Februarys Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
And many of the postings on the official Building
Windows 8 blog have centered on mobile-centric features such as Windows
8s app store and support for ARM architecture.
But while the Windows franchise has enjoyed a relatively
unimpeded competitive landscape in desktop and laptop operating systems,
handily dominating that segment for many years, its the underdog in tablets.
Apples iPad currently dominates the market, which is crowded with Google
Android devices. Microsoft will need to make the case to consumers that its
Windows 8 tablets offer something above and beyond those well-tested,
Microsoft executives have spent the past few months encouraging
third-party developers to create apps for Windows 8, with the aim of scaling up
a healthy ecosystem as quickly as possible. It is also leveraging other
Microsoft franchises in the service of making Windows 8 tablets more
attractive, at least to those users who want a lightweight productivity tool.
As part of the flurry of details surrounding Windows on ARM
(the architecture that will power many of the upcoming tablets), Microsoft let
slip that it will support a new version of Office software. Within the Windows
desktop, WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel,
PowerPoint, and OneNote, code-named Office 15, Steven Sinofsky, president of
Microsofts Windows and Windows Live division, wrote in a Feb. 9 posting on the
Windows 8 blog. WOA will be a no-compromise product for people who want
to have the full benefits of familiar Office productivity software and
Will the combination of a big apps ecosystem, Office, and
WOA make Windows 8 an instant competitor to the iPad and other tablets? Thats
a question that Microsoft wants answered in the affirmative. But it faces a
potentially hard battle for adoption, not only on tablets, but traditional PCs
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.