Microsoft (MSFT) has taken quite a bit of grief from software developers, OEMs and industry watchers for its approach in developing Windows 8, but analysts at Gartner say that the company had to take risks with its new operating system to avoid getting left in the dust by iOS and Android. In particular, Gartner says that the advent of smartphones and tablets have relegated the PC to just another device that people use to work rather than the central productivity tool for workers.
“When the PC dominated personal computing by providing a single device for messaging, Internet access, gaming and productivity, Windows was a powerhouse for Microsoft,” says Gartner analyst Michael Silver. “However, smartphones and tablets, led by the iPhone and iPad, have changed the way people work, making the PC just one of several devices people use. The PC is increasingly simply a peer with other devices.”
With this in mind, Microsoft had to design an operating system that works both as a desktop and a mobile operating system. But most of the criticism leveled against Windows 8 so far has been that it emphasizes tablet functionality too heavily over desktop functionality, making it incredibly difficult for most longtime Windows users to adjust. Even so, Gartner says it’s difficult to see how Microsoft could have continued to stay relevant in the mobile age if the company didn’t take a big risk by making drastic changes to Windows.
“Windows 8 is not your normal low or even high impact major release of the OS,” says Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans. “It’s the start of a new era for Microsoft — the RT era — which follows the NT era, which began in 1993 and is just now starting to fade out. Microsoft eras seem to run about 20 years, so the technology underlying Windows 8 will last a long, long time.”
Gartner’s full press release follows below.
Gartner Says Windows 8 Is a Big Gamble Microsoft Must Make to Stay Relevant in World Where Mobile Devices with New Experiences Are Becoming the Norm
Analysts to Debate the Future for Windows 8 at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012, October 21-25
STAMFORD, Conn., September 24, 2012 — Microsoft is taking a big gamble over the next few months with Windows and Office, the two products responsible for most of its revenue and profit, according to Gartner, Inc. It is a risk that Microsoft must take to stay relevant in a world where mobile devices with new modern experiences are becoming the norm.
“When the PC dominated personal computing by providing a single device for messaging, Internet access, gaming and productivity, Windows was a powerhouse for Microsoft,” said Michael Silver, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “However, smartphones and tablets, led by the iPhone and iPad, have changed the way people work, making the PC just one of several devices people use. The PC is increasingly simply a peer with other devices.”
With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to address the excitement of the tablet market by adding tablet interface to Windows.
“Microsoft’s approach is very different from Apple’s and Google’s, where phones and tablets have much more commonality than PCs and tablets,” Mr. Silver said. “This plays to Microsoft’s strength in PCs, leveraging it not only to enter the tablet market, but also to improve its share of the smartphone market.”
“Windows 8 is not your normal low or even high impact major release of the OS,” said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner. “It’s the start of a new era for Microsoft — the RT era — which follows the NT era, which began in 1993 and is just now starting to fade out. Microsoft eras seem to run about 20 years, so the technology underlying Windows 8 will last a long, long time.”
Making radical changes to Windows poses a risk for Microsoft as organizations like to reduce technology risk by deploying mature, stable, well-supported products. Windows Vista, for example, never gained significant success in corporate environments, and its lack of success — Gartner estimates that just 8 percent of PCs run by Gartner clients ran Vista at its peak — has reduced its useful life as third parties have already started cutting support for it. The bottom line is that IT leaders are questioning whether Windows 8 will suffer a similar fate.
In addition, the new “Metro-style” UI — which includes large buttons for touch and eliminates the ability to boot to the familiar Windows Desktop and have a traditional Windows start menu — is probably the most controversial decision Microsoft has made in Windows 8. The result is an OS that looks appropriate on new form factors of PC hardware including tablets, hybrids and convertibles, but has people questioning its appropriateness for traditional desktop and notebook machines, which comprise the majority of the existing PC market.
Gartner believes that if Windows 8 on tablets is successful, it will have many impacts on organizations. There will be many new device form factors to choose from and users may have very different needs and likes from one another. Some will still want to use an iPad and a traditional notebook and others may want different, new devices. As users gain more power, due to consumerization, IT is less able to mandate that certain products be used or not used in their environment. This makes it harder for IT to buy and support PCs the way they have for the past 20 years and may lead to more bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Organizations also need to decide whether they want to create applications expressly for Windows 8 and Metro, write iOS applications, or something more neutral.
Microsoft licensing is also an important topic in many organizations because it can represent a significant percentage of the annual IT budget. Organizations need to decide if they require Software Assurance (SA) on Windows or an Enterprise Agreement as well as reevaluating their decisions based on changes Microsoft is making to the Windows 8 SKU lineup and SA benefits.
“Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing and will be formally launched in October, but the reality is that most organizations are still working on eliminating Windows XP and deploying Windows 7,” said Mr. Silver. “Organizations will need to decide whether they continue with Windows 7 and or consider Windows 8.”
Additional information is available in the Gartner Special Report, “Is Windows 8 in Your Future?” The Special Report highlights our latest research on Windows 8, its tablet-like interface, and this new era for Microsoft’s flagship OS. The Special Report is available at http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/microsoft/windows-8.jsp
Mr. Silver and Mr. Kleynhans will examine the outlook for Windows at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando 2012, October 21-25.