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How big is Microsoft gambling with Windows 8?

Gregg Keizer, Computerworld | June 3, 2011
Analysts try to parse the risk Microsoft's taking by blending touch with the desktop in one OS

Analysts parsing what Microsoft revealed of Windows 8 earlier this week are split today on how big the company's gambling with its operating system cash cow, some saying the bet was for the farm, while others said it was the best move Microsoft could make.

"They're betting the farm on this one," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft who worked in the Windows team from 2000 to 2004. "This is a bigger jump for Microsoft than .Net," he added, talking about the software framework Microsoft debuted in early 2002.

Earlier this week, Microsoft showed off parts of Windows 8 -- company executives stressed that the name was not official, but what it was being called for now -- at the All Things Digital technology conference, and at a computer trade show in Taiwan.

Windows 8 will feature a "touch-first" interface to help it compete in the fast-growing tablet market, but underneath that will offer a more traditional Windows-style desktop. In demonstrations, Microsoft showed the touch-style start screen for Windows 8, and how users could switch to a more familiar icon-based interface.

Calling Windows 8 a "reimagining" of the decades-old OS, Microsoft said the all-in-one OS will respond to both touch and keyboard-and-mouse navigation, and run on a wide range of devices and form factors, from small tablets to large desktop systems and screens.

That strategy got both kudos and criticism from Microsoft experts -- sometimes both from the same analyst -- with the critics wondering how the company's biggest customers will react to an upgrade that so aggressively pushes touch.

"Microsoft's problem is how do they keep the existing customer base with Windows while addressing touch," said Miller, all without alienating the enterprise customers that drive Windows revenues. "Some will look at this and think of the old Saturday Night Live skit.... 'It's a floor wax and a dessert topping,'" Miller added.

"The gamble is that by dragging legacy Windows to the tablet, Microsoft runs the risk of damaging its traditional desktop Windows business," said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. "Windows 8 is all about the tablet. I think it's dead on arrival for business customers."

Others said much the same, calling Windows 8 a "consumer" release that offers little or nothing for business.

"Yeah, there's a gamble here," said Michael Silver of Gartner. "This will be more likely to be taken up by consumers than businesses."

"Honestly, Windows 8 is all consumer," agreed Miller. "It's all about 'How do we deal with this iPad problem?'"


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