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'Critical point' for Windows starts Tuesday

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 30, 2014
Whatever Microsoft calls Windows 8's successor better wow the enterprise.

Microsoft Windows 9

When Microsoft unveils its next edition of Windows Tuesday, it will face its greatest challenge ever in operating systems, an analyst argued today.

"There's never been a more critical point for Microsoft related to operating systems than now," asserted Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "Enterprises are now considering what's going to happen in the next five to ten years."

Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft concurred. "I do think this is pretty critical," said Miller. "In the enterprise, lots of businesses are wondering how long they're going to stick with Windows 7."

Microsoft is expected to reveal its upcoming Windows tomorrow at an invitation-only press conference in San Francisco starting at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET). The focus of this initial introduction will be how the next Windows -- codenamed "Threshold" and preemptively dubbed "Windows 9" by some -- works with traditional personal computers, those that dominate in business and rely on mouse and keyboard input, not touch.

The introduction will signal just how far Microsoft has retreated from the radical thinking that went into Windows 8, which most have decried as a flop, in order to appeal to its most profitable customers, the corporations that have essentially ignored Windows 8. The company may also provide details of the naming of the new OS, and whether it will be offered free to customers already running Windows 8, or even Windows 7.

"Microsoft must push forward on the tablet and phone front with a touch-enabled OS, but the great takeaway from Windows 8 is that they can't do that at the expense of ignoring the desktop," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

While some may argue that Microsoft has faced similar situations in the past -- notably the introduction of Windows 7 in 2009 after the failure of Windows Vista -- the scene today supports Moorhead's take that this time is different.

Then, personal computer sales were still on the upswing -- Peak PCdidn't happen until 2011 -- while the iPad, and the explosion of tablets in general, was months away. Smartphones were still the purview of the well-to-do. Apple was selling fewer than two-thirds the number of Macs that it does today. And OEMs, the computer manufacturing partners Microsoft relies on, weren't shilling systems powered by Google's Chrome OS because, well, Google had not even released its own reference hardware yet.

Those headwinds now blow Windows' way.

"PC OEMs are holding their breath," said Moorhead. "To be frank, they were so disappointed with Windows 8 that they're taking a conservative approach to expectations" for Threshold. "But at the same time, they're cautiously optimistic because they really don't have a choice but to participate."


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