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Windows 8: Microsoft's Progress Debated

Windows 8 is one of those good news-bad news Microsoft products. For every sign of success, unanswered questions or signs of flagging momentum appear.
Windows 8: 8 Big Benefits For SMBs
Windows 8: 8 Big Benefits For SMBs
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To be fair, Microsoft's new platform is making progress. Windows CFO Tami Reller has pointed out, for example, that more than 100 million apps have been downloaded and that more users are visiting the Windows Store. Users are also finding alternatives for some of the top missing apps, like PRadio or Rhapsody in place of Pandora. But developer activity has slowed since the holidays and in December, Google nixed Windows 8 plans altogether, dismissing the OS's user base as too small. The 43,000 apps currently available hardly constitute a flop, but at least one Microsoft exec predicted the store would boast 100,000 apps by now. Neither HP's recent experimentation with Google platforms nor Acer CEO JT Wang's condemning remarks are making it easy for Redmond.

The new Windows ecosystem has underperformed without diminishing its potential, in other words -- and that's where Microsoft Office comes in. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt reportedly estimated in a research note that Redmond could generate an additional $2.5 billion by releasing Office for iOS and Android. IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell similarly said in January that such a move would allow Microsoft to "print money."

[ Are you asking the right questions? Read Microsoft Surface Pro: 7 Questions To Ask. ]

Industry-watchers had expected Microsoft to release iOS and Android-friendly versions in November. Redmond CEO Steve Ballmer has declined to discuss the matter, except to suggest that Microsoft thinks its current lineup is sufficient.

Though negotiations with Apple might be delaying new Office options, IDC analyst O'Donnell suggested another why Microsoft is keeping the product line close to the vest: iOS and Android versions would effectively kill Windows RT. Indeed, a pre-installed, if limited, version of Office is one of the key characteristics separating Surface RT from other tablets. What's more, a multi-platform mobile Office would make millions of iPads and Android tablets that much more equipped for enterprise tasks, meaning that whatever revenue Microsoft gains would have to be weighed against hits to Windows 8's growth prospects.

What to do with Office, then, will be part of Microsoft's shifting strategy as it adjusts to Windows 8's hit-and-miss first quarter. Ongoing Windows Blue rumors, which were fueled most recently by a job posting discovered over the weekend, foreshadow some of the possible changes. Blue is expected to transition Redmond's OS updates to an annual model reminiscent of what Apple uses for OS X. It's also expected to further unite the Windows 8 ecosystem, and to form the basis for future app development across all platforms. It remains to be seen, though, if customer-oriented changes -- such as UI tweaks -- are in the cards.

For the present, Microsoft seems content to let devices catalyze Windows 8's momentum. Surface Pro's dual personality as both a laptop and tablet might allow it break through, and if Redmond's new tablet doesn't soar, buyers will have more options once Intel's new Core processers start shipping. Whatever the case, Microsoft and Windows 8, still lacks an unqualified win, and the longer it takes for one to emerge, the more questions lingering questions will eat at the platform's accomplishments.