Microsoft faces not only its 40th anniversary in 2015, but a host of challenges that will define it for years to come, analysts said today.
The company, which is in the midst of a strategic do-over after switching CEOs and admitting that its earlier approach to the explosion of mobile wasn't working, has a hard row to hoe, experts said.
"Next year is also the 20th anniversary of Windows 95," noted Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft. "Remember that? People stood in line to get Windows 95. Everyone was excited. That's the big deal for 2015, whether Microsoft can reinvigorate the consumer ecosystem."
Because "consumer" is now synonymous with mobile, and because Microsoft has thus far failed to make meaningful inroads into the mobile device market -- its Windows Phone powered an estimated 3% of the smartphones shipped this year, while Windows tablets accounted for 5% of 2014's total, said IDC -- Microsoft's reinvigoration will be difficult.
"They're the canary in the coal mine," said Miller of Windows smartphones and tablets. Without a play in mobile devices, Microsoft's Windows operating system risks, if not irrelevance, then at least diminished importance for consumers. "Windows as an end-point [OS] then gets shoved into the background," Miller added.
And that's not good.
Microsoft has touted the next iteration, Windows 10, which is slated to ship in the fall of 2015, as the answer to its mobile problems. More than anything else, it's stressing what it calls "Universal" apps, which thanks to a continued merging of the code base, will let developers recycle an application's core, wrapping it with the user interface (UI) appropriate to each device.
Universal apps, Microsoft has argued, will boost the number of apps available to Windows on mobile, including phones and tablets, energize the developer community and put Windows back on firmer footing to take on the two mobile monsters, Android and iOS.
"I'm not sure that's the answer [to Microsoft's problems], but it is their answer," said Miller. "I'm just not sure it will work out."
Windows 10, front and center
To Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, Windows 10 is the biggest challenge Microsoft faces for 2015. "The single greatest test [in 2015] may be whether Microsoft can successfully charge large amounts of money for a new operating system to consumers and still see significant uptake," said Dawson in a piece published Monday on Tech.pinions.
In an interview, Dawson expanded on his thinking.
"Microsoft has a huge installed base on Windows," Dawson said, "and the test will be upgrading this installed base to Windows 10." At least on the consumer side; nothing will dislodge Windows specifically, and Microsoft generally, from the enterprise. "Microsoft's enterprise business is harder to disrupt in the long term. They're ultimately going to upgrade, so Microsoft will retain those customers."
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