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Windows 8, Surface Tablets to Lead Microsoft's Fight for Relevance in 2013

Shane O'Neill | Jan. 8, 2013
Microsoft made big bets on Windows 8, Windows Phone and Surface tablets in 2012, and now it needs to make those bets to pay off. As more consumers and businesses go mobile, 2013 will be Microsoft's most challenging year yet.

"Microsoft's main weakness is that Windows and Office are no longer growing," says Kay, adding that he is doubtful that Microsoft can still invest in newer markets while shrinking cash cows maintain the company.

The biggest shock to Microsoft's system, he says, is diminishing Windows revenue over the past year, which will be particularly troublesome if Windows 8 fails to catch on in 2013.

"Windows 8 showcases touch, which is useful, but not in non-modern form factors like desktops, which are still widely used in the enterprise," says Kay.

This underscores the risks of putting the touch-centric Windows 8 user interface (formerly known as Metro) front and center on laptops and desktops, machines that have not made much use of touch-screens in the past.

"I'm just not sure the demand is there for touchscreens on laptops and desktops," says Miller. "But, to be fair, Windows 8 is only two months old so we should give it some more time to find its audience."

However, one thing is clear: Enterprises do not have much motivation to adopt Windows 8 wholesale for all employees like they did with Windows 7. Kay predicts that businesses will use Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets as sidekicks to existing PCs, but that's "not likely to provide the revenue that Microsoft needs and has come to expect from Windows, and Microsoft is a company designed for high volume and high revenue."

Did Microsoft Betray Partners With Surface Release?

Last summer, Microsoft surprised its hardware partners (to put it mildly) by announcing Surface, a Microsoft-branded tablet with versions running Intel-based Windows 8 Pro and ARM-based Windows RT. The Surface marks a bold break with tradition as Microsoft finally adopted Apple's integrated hardware-software model for its own devices.

So far, sales of Surface and other Windows 8 devices have been lackluster. After the Windows 8 launch on Oct. 26, Surface RT devices were available only in Microsoft Stores and on, but in mid-December, after realizing that making Surface "exclusive" was counterproductive, Microsoft chose to expand Surface to other retail outlets like Best Buy and Staples. Perhaps this expansion, as well as the availability of Surface Pro devices running the full-bore Windows 8 Professional version in late January, will boost sales in the coming months.

But whether Surface becomes a flagship product or a flash in the pan, analysts agree that it has done damage to Microsoft's relationship with hardware partners.

"Microsoft has a long history with OEMs, so some see the Surface as a betrayal," says Miller.

Kay agrees, stressing that the tarnished relationship between Microsoft and its hardware partners was apparent in the weeks following the Windows 8 launch.


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