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Windows 8, Microsoft's attempt to unify under a single platform all end user computing devices--desktop, laptop, ultrabook, tablet, smartphone--arrives at a moment when the company badly needs a foothold in the most dynamic segment of that market: mobile. It'll be a pretty grand trick if Redmond can pull that off, but I'm not betting against it.
After two years of getting bloodied by Apple and Google, Microsoft now seems positioned for a turnaround success story. Windows 8 is a big, bold, disruptive move, the kind that just might persuade CIOs to rethink a suddenly fractured end user support strategy. Not since Windows 95, which solidified Microsoft's hold on the desktop computer, has there been a more significant operating system launch from the software giant (and yes, software is still its focus, Xbox consoles and Surface tablets notwithstanding).
Windows is entrenched in enterprises and on home computers to an extent Google and Apple can only dream about. There are 1.3 billion Windows users worldwide, according to Microsoft, thanks mostly to the "reverse BYOD" (bring your office to your home) trend prevalent during the past decade.
We see IT anticipation for Win 8 hovering well above the lukewarm response given to most Microsoft operating systems. Early testing has been promising. And even the most vitriolic Microsoft bashers seem to be giving it some respect. Why? There's a lot to be said for a cohesive UI--if it's intuitive and people want to use it. Those are big ifs, and the million-dollar question is whether Microsoft can deliver a good, consistent Windows experience.
End User Wild Card
CIOs know that confusion increases IT support costs. As Kurt Marko points out in one of our three Windows 8 Survival Guide reports, many respondents to our latest InformationWeek Windows 8 Survey are lukewarm on the Metro (now Modern UI) interface, with its busy, scrolling screens of tiles representing apps and data. Some think that, while it's well-suited to touch-friendly devices, Metro will leave PC users cold.
But all fancy new furniture takes some getting used to. Microsoft is betting that touch and a more app-centric (rather than file- and folder-centric) approach will soon become the norm. Or more to the point, that a uniform user experience across all devices will, in time, reduce support costs enough to offset an initial burst of grousing and help desk calls. As people become adept at picking up the right device for the circumstance (travel, in a meeting, banging out a report, at the kid's soccer game), the notion of a single user experience becomes far more appealing. Indeed, 73% of the respondents to our survey say a unified end user interface is a positive thing.
The bad news for Microsoft? Fifty-five percent say they'll "wait and see" whether Windows 8 can deliver that unified experience.
In fact, a deeper dive into the data shows that few plan to deploy Windows 8 immediately on any kind of a wide scale. Despite a lot of media coverage, 64% of those taking a pass on Windows 8 say they plan to stick with Windows 7 for as long as possible--that's up 14 points from when we asked the same question last year at this time. Ten of those points come from people who've finally given up on XP, but undoubtedly, the fact that Windows 7 has proved stable adds to that intransigence. When asked about exact timelines for desktops and laptops, 27% of respondents planning to upgrade say they have none--the No. 1 answer. It's pretty clear, then, that Windows 8 will simply trickle out over the next two years, or more.
Microsoft, of course, will do everything it can to turn that trickle into a steady stream. While it's certainly in no danger of losing its desktop hegemony (survey respondents indicate 88% of their OS deployments will still be Windows in 2014), Redmond needs new revenue sources--and even 88% share of a shrinking market doesn't spell good Wall Street karma.