Microsoft launches Windows 8 later this month after a year of gradually making the new operating system more and more available, hoping for a big hit that will drive sales this holiday season and beyond, and giving the company new hope of grabbing a bigger share of tablet sales.
But what if Windows 8 flops?
For businesses, the problem won't be that dire, says Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications. Businesses that are Microsoft shops already have an operating system, likely Windows 7, but if not, Windows XP with a plan to adopt Windows 7 soon before support for XP ends next spring.
If Windows 8 is a complete bust, enterprises can stick with Windows 7 and wait until Microsoft picks itself up and does a better job with Windows 8 service packs or Windows 9 (or whatever it calls the next major release), he says. After all that's what happened with Windows Vista, says Matthew Casey, an analyst with Technology Business Research, and Microsoft can handle a disappointing Windows 8.
In fact that is a likely scenario, DeGroot says. . "Most of the companies I work with are standardizing on Windows 7. They are not going to be migrating to Windows 8." He says many businesses will license Windows 8 but end up reimaging their networks with Windows 7, similar to how many enterprises licensed Vista but installed XP.
Casey says a Microsoft stumble with Windows 8 will be handled by businesses the same way the performance of Windows Vista was handled. "If that's the case we'll see a similar reaction from Microsoft," he says "It's not going to be them closing their doors." The company will press on with Windows 8 and its fundamental architecture.
The impact on consumers won't be that great, either. If Windows 8 doesn't catch on a big part of the reason will be that consumers are buying some other tablet platform they like better, so they'll be happy. But according to Gartner, Microsoft will be missing a big opportunity to make its mark in mobile devices if the Windows 8 gamble doesn't pay off.
"It is a risk that Microsoft must take to stay relevant in a world where mobile devices with new modern experiences are becoming the norm," Gartner says in a research note "Is Windows 8 in Your Future?"
The popularity of smartphones and tablets has Microsoft playing catch up, particularly with Apple, whose iPad dominates in tablets and whose iPhone holds down big large chunk of smartphones. "With Windows 8, Microsoft tries to address the excitement of the tablet market by adding a tablet interface to Windows," Gartner says.
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