Windows 8 could be Microsoft’s biggest gamble: Analysts

Touch interface in Windows 8 operating system is necessary for the company to stay relevant, but making "radical changes" could make enterprise customers wary, says Gartner

The launch of Windows 8 and Office 2013 this year is a risk that Microsoft must take to stay relevant in a world where mobile devices are the norm, according to Gartner analysts.

Gartner US distinguished analyst Michael Silver said that when the personal computer (PC) dominated personal computing, Windows was a “powerhouse” for Microsoft.

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However, smartphones and tablets, led by the iPhone and iPad, have changed the way people work, making the PC just one of several devices people use.

According to Silver, Microsoft is trying to address the excitement of the tablet market by adding a touch interface to Windows 8.

"Microsoft's approach is very different from Apple's and Google's, where phones and tablets have much more commonality than PCs and tablets," he said in a statement.

“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."

Gartner Canada research vice president Steve Kleynhams added that Windows 8 is the start of a “new era” for the company.

“However, making radical changes to Windows poses a risk for Microsoft as organisations like to reduce technology risk by deploying mature, stable, well-supported products,” he said.

According to Kleynhams, Windows Vista didn't gain significant uptake in corporate environments, and its lack of success — Gartner North America estimates that just 8 per cent of PCs run by Gartner customers ran Vista at its peak — has reduced its useful life as third parties have already started cutting support for Vista.

In addition, he said that the new Windows 8 "Metro-style" user interface, which includes large buttons for touch and eliminates the ability to boot to the familiar Windows desktop, is “probably the most controversial decision” Microsoft has made in the operating system (OS).

“The result is an OS that looks appropriate on new form factors of PC hardware including tablets and hybrid computers, but has people questioning its appropriateness for traditional desktop and notebook machines, which comprise the majority of the existing PC market,” Kleynhams said.

Windows 8 enterprise impact

According to the Gartner analysts, if Windows 8 on tablets is successful, it will have many impacts on enterprises.

For example, there will be many new device form factors to choose from. However, some enterprise users will still want to use an iPad and a traditional notebook while others may opt for the new devices, according to Kleynhams.

“As users gain more power, due to consumerisation, IT is less able to mandate that certain products be used or not used in their environment,” he said.

“This makes it harder for IT to buy and support PCs the way they have for the past 20 years and may lead to more bring your own device [BYOD] programs.”

Kleynhams added that organisations also need to decide whether they want to create applications expressly for Windows 8 and the new UI or write Apple iOS and Android apps.

According to Silver, Microsoft licensing will also be an important topic in many organisations because it can represent a significant percentage of the annual IT budget.

“Organisations need to decide if they require software assurance [SA] on Windows or an enterprise agreement as well as re-evaluating their decisions based on changes Microsoft is making to the Windows 8 stock keeping unit [SKU] lineup and SA benefits,” he said,

In addition, he added that many enterprises around the world are still working on phasing out Windows XP and deploying Windows 8.

"Organisations will need to decide whether they continue with Windows 7 and/or consider Windows 8,” Silver said.

Australian analysts have been contacted for comment by Computerworld Australia

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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