Analysts at Gartner said on Monday that Microsoft is making a big gamble with Windows 8, but a necessary one if the Redmond company wants to stay relevant in a multi-screen world.
The news arrives as the release date of Windows 8 grows near. Microsoft has received a lot of criticism for the new operating system's new touch-based focus, seemingly pushing aside the typical desktop user that has fed it millions for decades. Even Microsoft's own Steve Ballmer has admitted the importance of this launch, calling 2012 the company's most epic year.
As Michael Silver, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, points out, Windows was once a powerhouse for Microsoft when the PC platform dominated personal computing. However, smartphones and tablets, led by the iPhone and iPad, have changed the way people work. The PC is now one of many computing devices – a peer with several other gadgets that are more user-friendly on-the-go.
But with Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to play on the same level, to feed off the "excitement" of the tablet market by adding its own tablet-friendly features. "Microsoft's approach is very different from Apple's and Google's, where phones and tablets have much more commonality than PCs and tablets," Silver. "This plays to Microsoft's strength in PCs, leveraging it not only to enter the tablet market, but also to improve its share of the smartphone market."
Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, said the release of Windows 8 isn't your normal low or even high impact major release of Microsoft flagship platform. Instead, it's the start of a whole new era – an era that includes the launch of a new non-x86 platform for Microsoft: Windows RT. This ARM-based OS follows the NT era which began in 1993 and is just now starting to fade out. That said, Microsoft "eras" seem to last 20 years, so the foundation of Windows 8 should last for a long time.
Making radical changes to Windows poses a risk for Microsoft as organizations like to reduce technology risk by deploying mature, stable, well-supported products, the firm said on Monday. There's also the controversy surrounding the Modern UI – it looks appropriate on new form factors like tablets, hybrids and convertibles, but people are questioning its appropriateness for traditional desktop and notebook machines, which comprise the majority of the existing PC market.
Gartner believes that if Windows 8 on tablets is successful, it will have many impacts on organizations. It may also force IT to establish additional bring your own device (BYOD) programs, as it will be harder for IT to buy and support PCs the way they have for the past 20 years. Many workers will still want to use an iPad and a traditional notebook and others may want different, new devices.
"Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing and will be formally launched in October, but the reality is that most organizations are still working on eliminating Windows XP and deploying Windows 7," Silver said. "Organizations will need to decide whether they continue with Windows 7 and or consider Windows 8."
Additional information is available in the Gartner Special Report, "Is Windows 8 in Your Future?" which can be read here.