Microsoft Windows 8: Five Reasons It Isn't a Failure Yet

NEWS ANALYSIS: Various sources note tepid initial sales of devices running Windows 8, but a number of factors will combine to make the ramp-up different from that of Windows 7 or its predecessors.

Windows 8, after barely a month on the market, is being viewed by many industry observers almost as a big failure, but there is still reason to believe the new operating system will gain traction soon.

One Website, The Next Web, cites NetApplications stats that show desktop computers running Windows 8 captured just 1 percent market share and Windows 8 tablets, statistically, earned zero share. But the NetApplications figures are for the week ending Nov. 11, just 18 days after Windows 8's official release. Computerworld, meanwhile, cited Forrester research that showed that Windows 8 adoption in the enterprise is half that of Windows 7 at the same point after its launch in 2009. But many enterprises are still in the laborious process of migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7.

I'm not being an apologist for Microsoft by saying this, but there are a number of factors affecting the growth curve for Windows 8 that indicate this story isn't over yet.

1. Microsoft has just begun to fight

Advertising Age reports that Microsoft is spending $1 billion to advertise Windows 8, and if you've watched any TV of late, the ads are so ubiquitous that you'd think Windows 8 was running for office. Microsoft is also spending heavily to advertise Windows Phone 8, featuring celebrities like singer Gwen Stefani, actress Jessica Alba and "Saturday Night Live" cast member Andy Samberg. It isn't even Black Friday yet, so we'll have a clearer sense of how Windows 8 will fare after New Year's.

2. We saw this coming

A financial researcher, after talking with suppliers in Asia, reported that after a rush of orders right after launch, production of Windows 8 devices would slow but pick up in the second half of next year. Also, Gartner Research forecasts indicate that Windows 8 devices will finish 2012 with a scant 3.8 million units, but could zoom to 21 million units by the end of 2013.

Gartner, as well as other analysts, say enterprise adoption of Windows 8 is going to be cautious. Many of them are still in the process of migrating to Windows 7 from XP, and they would have to do a thorough evaluation of Windows 8 before taking on yet another migration project. And while Forrester analyst David Johnson reports that only 4 percent of enterprises surveyed have a plan to migrate to Windows 8 in the next 12 months, adoption can be influenced by the trend sweeping enterprise IT—bring your own device (BYOD). Employees who bring their Microsoft Surface or other Windows 8 tablet to work can expect co-workers to gather around their desks for a closer look.

3. Get used to the new UI

To be sure, Microsoft has got its work cut out for it educating consumers about the new Windows 8 user interface. The tiled interface and lack of the familiar Start button on the Windows desktop image will be disorienting for many. Forrester's Johnson said switching from the Windows 7 user interface in the enterprise will require additional expenses for training and support. But Microsoft has placed its bets on the new UI and expects that, with the inclusion of the Office productivity software suite and enhanced security and management features, adoption will gradually build. Over time, people will get used to Windows 8.

4. Windows Pro 8 is coming

The first devices to hit the market have been those running Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 for machines running ARM processors. Windows Pro 8, the version for computers running Intel x86-style processors, is due out sometime in late January, as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reminded the public during an appearance last week in Silicon Valley. Windows Pro 8 is targeted more at enterprises that already have an installed base of x86 machines in their offices.

5. It's Microsoft

That could be a plus or a minus, depending on what you think of Microsoft overall. The company languished through what a Vanity Fair article portrayed as Microsoft's "lost decade" under Ballmer of missed opportunities, limited vision, product flops and a $6.2 billion write-down for a failed acquisition.

But Microsoft is finishing up a busy year of aggressive innovation and product launches, including Windows Server 2012, Office 2013, Office 365, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and its first-ever tablet with Windows hardware running Windows software, the Surface. And Windows still enjoys a 92 percent share of the desktop operating system market, according to NetApplications. Although its mobile/tablet share is now just 1 percent, well behind Apple iOS (60 percent) and Google Android (27 percent), Windows has nowhere to go but up. A year from now would be a better milestone for judging Windows 8's success or failure.