Microsoft Faces Apple Mobility Challenge in Enterprise: Report

Microsoft's longtime dominance in the enterprise faces a significant challenge in Apple and the rise of mobility devices.

Microsoft€™s presence in the enterprise will erode in coming years as workers gravitate increasingly toward tablets and smartphones tethered to the cloud, according to an analyst report from Forrester Research. Apple will prove the main beneficiary of the trend, as its mobile products gain increased traction within businesses large and small.

€œMicrosoft is still a dominant presence in personal technology for work with Windows for PCs and the Office productivity suite,€ Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in a co-authored research report. €œBut our data shows that Apple is already present with 41 [percent] of executives.€ Moreover, the firm estimates that, globally, one in five information workers relies on an Apple product for some part of their workflow.

What does that mean? €œCoupled with Microsoft€™s absence on mobile devices, this signals that Windows€™ dominance is at an end.€

How so? €œIn a fragmented market for mobile devices, customers and partners will look to anoint a solid No. 2 alternative for a full range of personal technology€”and they€™ll choose Apple because of its strength with individuals across smartphones, tablets, and Macs.€

But that won€™t mean Microsoft€™s headed for the dustbin of tech history, with Windows maintaining a strong presence on PCs even as its share on €œall client devices€ in the workplace erodes to below 50 percent. Meanwhile, €œMicrosoft€™s Office franchise will remain strong because of Microsoft€™s growing support for Office on non-Windows devices.€

Apple is a beneficiary of the increasing presence of personal devices in the enterprise or the trend of bring-your-own-device (BYOD). However, Microsoft is just as clearly aware of the potential threat that mobility poses to its various software franchises. Its upcoming Windows 8 will appear on tablets in addition to traditional PCs; many of the postings on its official Building Windows 8 blog have centered on mobile-centric features such as Windows 8€™s app store and support for ARM architecture.

As part of the flurry of details surrounding Windows on ARM (the architecture that will power many of the upcoming tablets), Microsoft also let slip that it will support a new version of Office software. €œWithin the Windows desktop, WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, code-named €˜Office 15,€™€ Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft€™s Windows and Windows Live division, wrote in a Feb. 9 posting on the blog. €œWOA will be a no-compromise product for people who want to have the full benefits of familiar Office productivity software and compatibility.€

In addition, reports suggest that Windows 8 will interoperate in many ways with Windows Phone 8, the next version of Microsoft€™s smartphone platform.

Although Microsoft clearly recognizes that mobility is key to both the enterprise and its own fortunes, the question is how effectively it can take necessary market share from well-entrenched opponents like Apple.

Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter