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Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Microsoft Could Lose More Than Consumer Market To Tablets

Businesses are starting to ditch Windows PCs and notebooks in favor of mobile devices from Apple and others, triggering little response from Redmond.

The iPad and other tablets are taking a big bite out of consumer sales of Windows PCs, but Microsoft's dominance of enterprise computing is safe from slates, right? Wrong.

New research shows that, contrary to what many pundits first believed, tablets are making significant inroads in the business market as companies look to give employees more technology choice and flexibility. That Microsoft won't have a true slate OS for at least a year could create even more space for Apple, Google, Research In Motion, and others to get their tablets on workers' desks.

In a report issued this week, tech advisory firm Gartner said it thinks tablets are headed to the enterprise in a big way.

"CIOs are determined not to make the same mistakes they made with smartphones, which were written off early as expensive toys, or executive status symbols—which then left room for more inventive leaders who saw the competitive advantage that mobile applications would bring," said David Willis, a research VP at Gartner, in a bulletin.

Willis sees a trend, one that should favor Apple and Google, that puts the lie to the myth that Microsoft doesn't need hits in the consumer market to protect its enterprise franchises.

CIOs "are more willing to see that they don't need to supply and manage every device that employees use at work," Willis said. "Consumerization is here to stay, and moving very fast. If you can think of an application for tablets, your competition may well be thinking in the same way—and acting on it. It is time to explore the use of media tablets in business."

The key takeaway for Steve Ballmer and company should be Willis' belief that consumerization "is moving very fast." That means that, by the time Microsoft gets around to shipping the supposedly tablet-friendly Windows 8 next year, many IT shops will have already begun the process of testing and developing applications for other platforms, including RIM's new PlayBook.

And it's not just the corporate market Microsoft stands to lose. Government agencies have also caught tablet fever and are now rolling out slate-compatible apps and content for employees and clients. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development earlier this year ported presentations for the U.S. embassy in Brazil to the iPad.

And USAID chief Rajiv Shah isn't lugging around a laptop to most meetings, either. "The administrator and his staff are pretty much just using the iPad for all briefing binders and all materials," said Alen Kirkorian, a USAID principal information technology security specialist, on the agency's official blog.

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