With Windows 8, which straddles desktops, mobile devices and gaming consoles, Microsoft hopes to deliver a compelling new user experience via a single operating platform that spans multiple hardware architecture (x86/ARM).
But will the new OS live up to its potential? Will Windows 8, which Microsoft claims is about re-imagining the OS, fulfill this big promise?
Most industry observers appear to be bullish about Windows 8 release. In a January 2012 analyst report on Microsoft’s earnings, Credit Suisse says that Windows 8 holds promise despite the potential impact of lackluster PC demands and the continued disruptions caused by HDD (hard disk drive) on Windows’ revenues.
Mathew Casey, software research analyst at Technology Business Research (TBR), echoes the optimism about Windows 8. “Windows, we believe, can play a much bigger role in the mobile space, which Apple and Google currently dominate. The benchmarks are high. Microsoft thus far has been at a disadvantage and Windows 8 could be their best opportunity to take some of the market share in the tablet space,” he says.
Even consumers appear to hold an encouraging view at the moment -- though perhaps fueled by Windows 8 rumors. Recent research by iYogi Insights finds that 69% of PC users endorse Microsoft’s strategy for a seamless interface across multiple devices. 85% of existing tablets users would like their PCs and tablet interface to have the same look and feel. 19% of the respondent who do not own tablets stated that they would upgrade to Windows 8 and 57% of tablet users like the idea of the Windows 8 touch screen interface and would love to upgrade given the opportunity.
But, a huge question remains – Will Windows 8 user interface provide users with experience superior than that of Apple? The industry-shaking success of Apple’s iPad and iPhone has been built almost singularly on user experience.
“Microsoft in the past has been seen as clunky and hard to use. This is what needs to change with Windows 8. It remains to be seen if they can take on an Apple and a Google, but that is what they need to go after. If they do not, then their market will be significantly limited,” says Jack Gold, principal analyst at tech research firm J Gold Associates.
The new ecosystem, industry observers believe, complements the existing one. Microsoft has worked very hard to protect its ecosystem, unlike Apple, which shares a different philosophy.
“Apple was not afraid to build a new ecosystem and start with zero installed base of applications,” remarks Al Gillen, IDC analyst. When Apple built the iPhone, for instance, it did not bring on board any application from the MAC OS X10.5 world.
Consequently, Apple today has two ecosystems – the iOS and OS X10.5, exclusive environments that call for developers to develop two versions of the same application. “In Microsoft’s case, standardizing on a single OS across multiple hardware architecture is a key strategy. What will be vital to the company is to not sacrifice their existing core user base but add more functionality and capabilities with new mobile applications and support,” says Gillen. This is where Microsoft’s dual strategy comes under the scanner.
Industry observers appear divided on how Microsoft’s support for ARM will pan out in the Windows 8 release. On the one hand, Allan Krans, an analyst at TBR, feels Microsoft’s support for ARM is an erosion of one of its core partnerships with Intel. “It symbolizes the severity of how Microsoft views the shift in mobile playing out. For the first time, it has been forced to look outside of Intel to ensure its relevance in the market,” he says.
On the other hand, IDC’s Gillen believes this is a smart move. Clearly, Microsoft cannot afford to walk away from its huge x86 customer base. The x86-based tablets give customers a better transition path from the existing PC environment to the tablet-based form factor.
With ARM, the company has to start from ground zero primarily because of its different architecture – but there is a strategy in place. While the existing applications will be unable to take advantage of the Metro user interface, it will be compatible with Windows 8 on the x86 architecture.
So, those who do deploy the Windows 8 OS on their PCs will be able to utilize the same applications they have used before. However, the new applications will only be available on the Metro UI, which calls for some backward compatibility – a decision ISVs will have to make.