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Is it Windows 8 or bust for Microsoft?


Windows 8 or bust?

Microsoft’s fate in the post-PC world is inextricably linked to Windows 8, the newest version of its ubiquitous but antiquated operating system. The computer goliath desperately needs to transition its desktop operating system to new devices such as tablet computers and slates.

Microsoft has launched a developer preview, a pre-beta version, of Windows 8 new for software developers to analyse and review. At the event, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows Division, talked about a “reimagining” of Windows. He said the company was building on the foundations of a successful Windows 7 and its Windows Live services.

Microsoft needs to get two priorities right with Windows 8 – build an operating system that optimizes the Windows experience on a slew of devices starting with the touchscreen tablet computers; and build a robust app system – if it is to stay at the center of the computing world.

More than two-thirds of PCs today are mobile devices — laptops, netbooks, notebooks, tablets and slates. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that Microsoft has gone “all-in” with a complete redesign of the Windows interface to cater to touchscreens. Scheduled for release in 2012, Windows 8 has a similar look-and-feel to Microsoft’s mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 7. But users can switch back and forth to the classic Windows interface if they prefer. This is a bold move for Microsoft because in previous years it has tended to follow the market in terms of user interface design.

Microsoft says Windows 8 will deliver richer security features, faster start-up times and longer battery life – features already available on devices such as Apple’s iPad. It will also run on a wider choice of devices and chipsets – a major shift for Microsoft’s hitherto x86-only Windows operating system.

But in an app-centric, consumer-oriented world, Windows 8’s success will undoubtedly be measured by the revenue Microsoft drives through its new Windows App Store. WindowsLive has 542 million users but Microsoft needs to find a way to derive serious revenue from these users and the best way to accomplish this is through apps. We believe that making a success of the Windows App Store will be a big challenge for Microsoft, but failure is not an option because the company desperately needs to generate a new revenue stream as sales in other areas of its business decline.

Good time to target business users

We believe that the timing of Windows 8 couldn’t be better to target the business market.

Business users have seen the iPad, Android tablets and the BlackBerry PlayBook in the workplace and are excited by these new form factors. But the only way today to deliver traditional Windows-based, line-of-business applications to these devices is by investing in expensive IT virtualisation technology. So, a Windows 8 touch-based slate PC could be a winning thing. Also, the corporate market is currently exploring the idea of offering its employees a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ option.

Can Microsoft and its Windows ecosystem deliver? If not, the game might be over for the Windows PC as we know it.

Richard Edwards is a principal analyst at Ovum, a business and technology consulting firm. Ovum’s research draws upon over 400,000 interviews a year with decision-makers in business and technology, telecoms and sourcing. Ovum is part of the Datamonitor group. You can follow Edwards on Twitter here.