Traditional, WinNT-based Windows software will be a rare sight by 2020, according to Gartner analysts. And this year's release of Windows RT, along with a market that increasingly favors mobile computing, are to blame.
Windows RT is an ARM-compatible version of Windows 8 developed with tablets -- and businesses -- in mind. Tablets sporting the operating system will ship with "Office 15," a touch-optimized version of Microsoft's business productivity suite.
Among Windows RT's most distinguishing features is Metro, a touch interface with self-updating tiles that has roots in the discontinued Zune media player and Windows Phone 7. This fall, it will grace Microsoft's Surface tablet along with PCs and slates from other computer manufacturers.
Metro apps run on both Windows RT and the x86 version of Windows 8 and as it grows in popularity, software developers will devote fewer resources toward making traditional Windows desktop software, according to Gartner vice president Michael Silver.
"Windows 8 is the start of Microsoft's effort to respond to market demands and competitors, as it provides a common interface and programming API set from phones to servers. It is also the beginning of the end of Win32 applications on the desktop," said Silver in a statement for the press.
While the software giant will continue to support Win32, expect Microsoft to pour its resources into growing the WinRT software market, says Silver.
Gartner predicts that businesses adopting Windows 8 through 2015 will largely stick to traditional Win32 applications and desktop browsers. In effect, little will change from today's Windows business computing experience.
That will change by 2020, when Metro becomes the interface of choice. Gartner expects users to spend just 10 percent of their time in Win32 applications as the new decade approaches. Eventually, says Gartner, most Windows desktop apps will give way to server-based or from hosted virtual desktop software.
The "bring your own device" (BYOD) era isn't only reconfiguring corporate IT, it's having an impact on how software is developed. The future of Windows is being shaped by the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets in the enterprise.
"In this environment, Microsoft needs to move to a platform that enables a new type of application, and embraces new types of user experiences," says Gartner's Steve Kleynhans, vice president for client and mobile computing. "Microsoft is responding to competitive pressures that have made it rethink not only how its products should look, but also how they should be architected for security and manageability," adds Kleynhans.