Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 9/14/2011 | 28 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
We're now seeing what is, according to my best calculations, the 829th episode of "This Is Microsoft's Last Chance." This week's episode is brought to you by the Letter W and the Number 8 -- put them together, and it's all about the Windows 8 action ahead.

Many observers are making the point that Windows 8, like MacOS X Lion before it, is supposed to bridge the operational and user interface gaps between personal computers and tablet devices. If you're convinced that tablets will be the only client platforms that matter within a short time, then this alone is enough to make Windows 8 a "do or die" product for Microsoft. If, like me, you think that the laptop form factor is going to be around for quite a while to come, then Windows 8 remains important, but for a somewhat different set of reasons.

Microsoft spent quite a bit of time talking about Windows 8 at the Build conference. If you're interested in seeing the important new features in a condensed format, you can check out the Windows 8 in 8 minutes video over on Lifehacker. It's undeniable that tablets and their touchscreen interfaces have influenced Windows 8, but starting at about 4:30 in the video you get to see how the interface works with mouse and keyboard as input devices.

While the number of tablets sold will almost certainly pass the number of PCs sold on a quarter-by-quarter basis, laptop computers are going to remain the workhorse platform of the enterprise user for a long time to come. They may evolve in terms of total features (it wouldn't surprise me to see touch screens on a growing number of laptops) but the keyboard/storage/processor combination that's possible in a laptop package is too valuable to ignore.

"Ahh," I hear some of you say, "the cloud will make all the processing and storage unnecessary." There's something to that point of view, but I've learned that there are still many spots around North America where the Internet connection required for a solid cloud application experience just isn't possible. For those places, laptops will remain the top choice, and for many other enterprise IT shops the mere possibility of a connection-free location will make a laptop the "go-to" platform of choice.

So is Windows 8 truly make-or-break for Microsoft? While I think it's very important, I don't believe the company will succeed or fail based on Windows 8. It's important because it will become the upgrade of necessity for all those enterprise customers still clinging to Windows XP. It's important because a solid performance could convince hardware manufacturers that there's a real alternative to Android in the non-Apple enterprise tablet market. It's important because it will be the designated client for servers running Windows Server 8 (a product that I'm hearing very good things about.)

Add them up and you're left with the inescapable conclusion that Windows 8 is a Very Big Deal for Microsoft. You may see it on a laptop or a tablet, but I'm betting that you will be seeing it -- because whether or not it's a huge "win" in the marketplace, Microsoft isn't going anywhere.

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suranjithfernando   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/29/2011 2:20:39 PM
Re: Make or Break?
Less than two months after releasing the TouchPad, HP stopped production of the new webOS-powered tablet and sold off all existing inventory in a well-publicized fire sale. HP spent billions of dollars buying webOS (part of its acquisition of Palm) and developing the TouchPad, but it was all for naught. So what happened? Will Microsoft fall victim in the same way?
The_Phil   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/20/2011 5:06:26 PM
Re: Make or Break?
I think that once again, it will take time for users to get accustomed to it. Especially as most consumers are just getting used to the look & feel of Windows 7. So there will most likely be some resistance. But maybe MSFT will make it a good value offering... somehow and make us want to upgrade.
Cyrus   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/19/2011 11:31:32 PM
Re: Will MSFT "convince" with Windows 8?
@Curtis I find it interesting that Microsoft has tried so hard since Windows XP to bridge the gap between the development of its consumer and business products when the actual needs and wants of these two groups have changed vastly during this time.

There can be lots of debate about what the consumer space is going to look like, because consumers are fickle and companies never seem to learn from past mistakes. I was talking to a fellow consultant today about how the latest Netflix flap may be to that company what AOL's "busy signal fiasco" was to it in the late 90s. When those events first came to light, few thought they'd have long-term significance, yet the way the 2 companies handled them did a lot to change consumer perception about their brands.

Microsoft at times seem to not care very much about what the consumer thinks or wants. That worked when they were the only game in town, but now you have not only OS competition, but platform competition, and that's going to demand they stay on their game.

To me, they'd be better off splitting their business and consumer units in two silos and developing things for those two segments differently. Consumers like convergence in some areas, businesses largely don't. As I've mentioned here before, I'm on a long-term consulting project with a major financial firm. The company's PCs still run XP Pro and most machines were just upgraded from IE 6 to IE 8 within the last six months. As far as Office, it's still 2007. Upgrade plans have been announced to Office 2010 and Windows 7, but I can't see any way they're going to go to Windows 8 given the track record. I wager that they and many businesses will skip Windows 8 because to a business, the incremental advantages just aren't worth it.
catalyst   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/19/2011 10:26:48 PM
Re: Microsoft Isn't Going Anywhere
@Cyrus:

[...] while their dominance in the PC market -- especially the corporate segment -- is strong [...]

It is precisely because Microsoft has a dominant share in the corporate segment that will enable it to gain future share in the smartphone space. As far as I know WP7 devices will be the only ones that will have Office run on them. That doesn't mean Android devices via Office-like apps won't work, but native support by Microsoft for cloud linking and syncing Office documents will be a significant reason that IT departments will consider WP7 devices.

On the gaming side: there are more than 50 million Xbox users and I'm sure they can't wait another day to get their gaming on on a WP7 smartphone, the only smartphone that'll let you do that.

Most large enterprises have Windows deployments at the front end and at the back end. The reason why regular folks got a Mac at home was because the PCs along with Windows were a pain to maintain with all the viruses, patches, etc. With Windows 8 and Metro that will likely change, especially if Microsoft reduces the price of full and upgrade versions. I would hope Microsoft copies what Apple has done with OS X Lion and price Windows 8 aggressively with a price never seen before.

I agree with some of your sentiment that Microsoft has lost its mojo, cool, or something that makes everyone go after their products. That's changed but I think Microsoft is in the process of changing too.
Cyrus   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/19/2011 8:12:31 PM
Re: Microsoft Isn't Going Anywhere
@Catalyst It's much easier to forecast Microsoft's fortunes in the PC arena, where they've been dominant for 20 years, than it is to say how they'll fare in any other market. The reason for that, quite simply, is because while their dominance in the PC market -- especially the corporate segment -- is strong, their penetration in other areas is not nearly as strong.

I don't think  can easily be said that a vast percentage of previous users are going to do anything anymore. Basically, the only way Microsoft gets people to move up en masse comes either when users have to replace equipment or when MSFT stops supporting a product. Many people still regard their legacy products as "good enough" when they switch due to lack of support.

As far as Windows Phone, that's a very minor player in the market -- so much so that I doubt you'll hear much about it going forward. Android and the power of an open ecosystem will continue to trump not only Windows Phone, but will continue to make inroads against RIM.

While Microsoft certainly isn't going anywhere and you can't exactly call it an "also ran" either, changes in the marketplace and technology development as a whole, along with a shift in consumer preferences, have lessened its influence significantly. Stock price is for sure just one barometer, but a chart of MSFT isn't pretty.
CurtisFranklin   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/19/2011 5:51:14 PM
Re: Make or Break?
Wow, @The_Phil, I had just about blanked the memory of that Windows 1 color scheme from my mind! I can remember when the choice was between that wonderfully-subtle color scheme and a Macintosh OS that was entirely black and white!

It is going to be interesting to see how people respond to the new Windows 8 interface -- assuming, of course, that the final release looks anything like what we've seen in the early developer's beta!
CurtisFranklin   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/19/2011 5:47:25 PM
Re: Will MSFT "convince" with Windows 8?
@Cyrus, I appreciate you taking the time to join the conversation here. I agree that Microsoft has long followed a practice of using the "automatic" dollars from operating system sales to subsidize other products. They've also used that cushion to iterate their way to success, launching "placeholder" products that would gradually be improved until they were good enough to grab significant market share.

Windows Vista broke part of the model, as many companies chose to down-grade to XP rather than accept Vista on enterprise client systems. The pattern continued with Windows 7 since those companies had decided that XP was "good enough" for their purposes. It's going to be fascinating to see just how long companies feel they can wait before finally making the move to a new client operating system, and whether they'll hang onto Windows 7 a year or two into the Windows 8 era.
catalyst   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/19/2011 4:01:31 PM
Microsoft Isn't Going Anywhere
I think Microsoft will continue to dominate the desktops or tabletops with Windows 8. Not because it is better than everything else out there, but because of the sheer number of Windows XP/Vista/7 users. Hundreds of millions will need to move to Windows 8 and there's a lot of cool things waiting for them. And there's potentially more, a lot more.

We haven't seen how Microsoft will connect Windows Phone 7 with Windows 8. If Microsoft can bring its smartphone to play nice with PCs and tablets combined with Xbox and Kinect, I think we're in for a wild and enjoyable ride. Microsoft isn't going anywhere: it'll continue to stay at the top for quite some time being the king of operating systems.

It's interesting that Apple has migrated its smartphone OS up to the tablet while Microsoft has brought its PC OS down to the tablet.
The_Phil   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/17/2011 4:52:58 PM
Re: Make or Break?
Check this out:

Windows 1.0 v Windows 8
Cyrus   Windows 8 Isn't Make or Break   9/16/2011 7:40:22 PM
Re: Will MSFT "convince" with Windows 8?
@Curtis I'm a consultant at a major financial services firm that has yet to move to Windows 7 and just moved off IE 6 in the past few months. We now at least have IE 8 and Windows 7 rollout will happen this year.

However,  I think this experience showcases a big problem for Microsoft. They essentially built their warchest by rolling out inferior products that would force people to upgrade. Once they finally got a good product in XP, and especially in Windows 7, that compulsion won't exist really.

To be certain, Windows will continue to be a big moneymaker, but their ability to use Windows to subsidize massive failures in other area of the business will be dramatically curtailed. How many times did it take them to come up with an entertainment product people would buy? To this day, the Xbox is pretty much the only one they have. Zune anyone?

It's really a story that doesn't get told very often and one that continues to amaze me.
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