As 2011 continues to tick away, an increasing number of rumors coming out of Redmond are starting to crop up. The vast majority of those rumors are revolving around Windows 8 and the future of Microsoft's operating system. Speculation abounds that the new OS will have faster boot-up times, an application marketplace and a slightly improved design. It's expected to be released next year.
For now, Microsoft has been publicly focusing its efforts on Windows 7, the fastest-selling version of its operating system ever released. But behind closed doors, it knows all too well that there is a lot riding on Windows 8. If it's a success, Microsoft can keep major competitors-most notably, Google-at bay. But if it's a failure the way Vista was, it could find itself in a very bad situation that could see it lose its power grip in the OS market.
1. Mac OS X Lion looks impressive
If Windows 8 launches next year, it will be up against Mac OS X Lion, an operating system that Apple plans to discuss at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Mac OS X Lion, which should launch over the summer, won't be able to overcome Microsoft's operating system market share. But it could be the benchmark by which Windows 8 is judged. IfMicrosoft's option fails to live up to the standard set by Apple's OS, expect the market to take notice. It could be Windows Vista all over again, and Microsoft doesn't need that.
2. Chrome OS is still out there
Although the coming Windows 8 and Mac OS X Lion are getting much of the attention nowadays, it's important to remember that Google's Chrome OS platform is being prepared to take on those operating systems. Like Lion, Chrome OS won't steal significant market share from Microsoft in the short term. But if Windows 8 turns out to be a loser, consumers will undoubtedly shift their attention to Google's option to see if it's a good fit.
3. The app store
Speculation abounds that Windows 8 will come with an applications market similar to the Mac App Store running in Mac OS X Snow Leopard. App stores are the future of desktop operating systems because developers and buyers are seeing quite a bit of value in them. If Microsoft's app marketplace steals the show, it can maintain its development lead over Apple. But if the marketplace falls short and the App Store leads the way in desktop apps, Mac OS X might prove to be a bigger threat to Microsoft than it is today.
4. It can't take another step back
Coming off the success that was Windows XP, most expected Vista to be a winner. But it wasn't. And Microsoft needed Windows 7 to save the day. Now that Windows 7 has caught on with consumers and enterprise customers alike,Microsoft cannot afford to have another setback. The software giant must prove that it can string a couple of successes together in a row. That should allay any lingering fears about its focus on desktop operating systems.