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Microsoft must fight to remain influential, say analysts

Gregg Keizer | April 11, 2013
Stormed by a shift to tablets and smartphones, and threatened, even in its enterprise bastion, by new demands from workers, Microsoft may lose its place at the table reserved for major technology players, an analyst argued today.

Microsoft's future as an influential technology company rests on its ability to convince consumers that it can move beyond its comfort zone of the traditional PC and compete in tablets and smartphones. (Data: Gartner.)

Other analysts agreed.

"This is all about how much of Microsoft's future is tied to Windows. You want to be in the growth market. But PCs are not the growth market," said Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy, pointing to the relatively flat sales projections of traditional computers.

"This is the classic innovator's dilemma, where one has so much market share that you believe you're risking [that] by doing something different," Moorhead continued. "Microsoft has had Origami and some decent smartphones, but they flushed that thinking and those people out the door."

But even if Microsoft fails to corral enough consumers, there's still an enormous business left to it: The enterprise.

"Because of the huge installed base of Windows, and sales that will continue to grow gradually, Microsoft will remain relevant in the enterprise," said Frank Gillett of Forrester. "We aren't done with PCs. I'm not ready to count them out of a role to play."

In the enterprise, however, Microsoft faces new challenges. as workers flex their muscles by bringing in devices of their own choosing, which in many cases will not be powered by a Microsoft OS. "They'll still be the dominant operating system, but even on the enterprise side they'll have to deal with BYOD [bring your own device]," Milanesi said.

None of the analysts were overly optimistic about Microsoft's chances of making the transition from a commercial-first company to one that, if not consumer-first, at least could stay in the game against Google's Android and Apple's iOS, the mobile operating systems capturing growing numbers of consumer dollars.

"The game isn't over," Moorhead said. "The question is how big can Microsoft play in the next generation of end-point [systems]? So far, their prognosis doesn't look good."

"This next era will be 'Mobile + PC,' " said Gillett, who rejected both the 'Post-PC' and 'PC Plus' labels assigned by Apple and Microsoft, respectively. "But Microsoft faces an uphill battle outside the PC."

Moorhead, Gillett and Milanesi all cited the disappointing debut of Windows 8 and Windows RT on tablets, and Microsoft's inability, even after several years, to make solid gains in smartphones with its Windows Phone operating system, for their pessimism. And Milanesi's forecasts -- which assume that five years from now, about four-fifths of Windows devices sold will still be PCs, not tablets and phones -- weren't much help.

But they also all said Microsoft was showing some encouraging signs, notably "Blue," the code name for both a refresh of Windows this year and for an multi-year initiative designed to dramatically increase the development and release tempo of the platform to put it on a more equal footing with the pace of mobile operating systems.

 

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