A robust ecosystem of developers has historically been Microsoft’s strength -- a factor that should help the company compete with Apple. Though Microsoft is keeping its cards close to its chest, Ovum believes that the ‘Windows Store’ will play a key role when Windows 8 finally launches. Richard Edwards, an analyst at Ovum, feels that in an increasingly app-centric, consumer-oriented world, the revenues that Microsoft drives through a Windows app store will undoubtedly be an important measure of the commercial success of Windows 8.
The initial move to Windows 8 will, however, be determined by the extent to which Microsoft’s vast ecosystem of partners and developers support the new operating system. If hardware devices and applications are scarce or incompatibilities arise, then Windows 8 could be another ‘Vista.’ With Android and Apple also vying for market attention, industry observers cite a bit of hesitancy from the developer community on building native Windows 8 applications.
“This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation for the company. Microsoft needs a user base to be attractive to a developer community and a developer community to be attractive to the user community. They will need to find developers more optimistic about their prospects for making money for Windows on ARM and eventually build the user base,” says TBR’s Krans. Progress will be incremental and there will be no tipping point that will automatically win the customer base and its developers along with it, he added.
Aside from some advanced Windows 8 users – the tech elites – the OEM’s may not be all that excited about ARM, adds J Gold Associates’ Gold. He rationalizes that ARM’s growing market share in the smartphone and tablet spaces make it an ideal candidate for Microsoft to partner with. But he does question if the performance of Windows on ARM will be on par with that of Intel. As a result, he feels Intel and the Atom chips will continue to be important going forward.
The enterprise approach to Windows 8 will also be split, anticipates Gillen. ISVs who develop applications not optimized for touch interface or those who develop business-oriented applications could move slowly towards Windows 8 and the Metro UI, as there might not be any market pull for their products in the near term.
This also relates to the shift in the industry. Organizations today are eliminating their Windows XP machines and deploying Windows 7. IDC believes this will continue, and for the most part, the majority of the organizations will probably skip Windows 8. “And frankly that makes sense and Microsoft understands that. In fact the advice Microsoft is actually giving their enterprise customers is to not focus on Windows 8 and continue with the deployment of Windows 7,” Gillen says.
Microsoft has kept the industry guessing as to exactly how the new OS pan out. Nevertheless, Windows 8 is Microsoft’s most important release in a decade and it is starting to generate interest in the industry. Designed to be fun and easy to use across a range of new and existing device types, Windows 8 straddles the old world of PCs/laptops with the new mobile world. Supported at launch by the Windows Store and well-established channel and ecosystem, Microsoft has a real opportunity to catch-up and overtake Android in the tablet space and to defend its position on the desktop against Apple.
If Windows 8 does succeed in holding off the threat from Apple, research firm Forrester believes it could mean a total realignment of alliances and competition. In its report ‘Microsoft Transforms Windows for the Post-PC era’, Forrester opines that a Microsoft win could kill Android on tablets.
Furthermore, a successful execution of Windows 8 implies OEMs could ditch their failed Android tablets in favor of Windows. The report adds that while Android tablets appealed to vendors like Dell and Toshiba, a great Windows 8 experience (provided that it’s available in 2012), could lure these vendors back to Microsoft.
Forrester also envisage a new competition for PC manufacturers. With netbooks and tablets, nontraditional competitors from the PC and mobile markets went head-to-head in the manner of Acer versus Motorola, Dell versus RIM, etc. Forrester believes that a Windows OS that runs natively on ARM has the potential to further open up the already competitive landscape.
The research firm believes that within a year of the Windows 8 launch, the competition for Windows devices will be significantly altered from what it is today. And lastly, given Microsoft’s choice of Computex as a venue to demo Windows 8, the Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) could have an opportunity to move up in the Windows value chain and compete head to head with brand-name OEM’s.