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.