Gartner: Windows 8 is a must-win gamble by Microsoft

The analyst firm says Microsoft will be left behind by the mobile-device-oriented world if Windows 8 fails to catch on

Gartner is elevating Windows 8 to a must-win gamble by Microsoft if it wants to matter in the evolving world of personal devices, according to a Gartner special report.

"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," according to "Is Windows 8 in Your Future" by Gartner analysts Michael A. Silver and Stephen Kleynhans.

[ Windows 8 is coming, and InfoWorld can help you get ready with the Windows 8 Deep Dive PDF special report, which explains Microsoft's bold new direction for Windows, the new Metro interface for tablet and desktop apps, the transition from Windows 7, and more. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

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By giving Windows an interface that is more in line with ever-more-popular tablets and smartphones, Microsoft is de-emphasizing the PC as the main computing tool used for work, a drastic change given the company's historic dominance in PC platforms. But that is changing.

"Once the hub connecting all of a user's devices, the PC increasingly is simply a peer with other devices," the report says. "For many, the PC is not even their preferred device, yielding to smaller and lighter devices that feel more personal and intimate."

In one sense Microsoft has an advantage over competitors Apple and Google, whose phones and tablets have more in common than their PCs and tablets, the report says. "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," the Gartner report says.

Windows 8 is a dramatic departure from previous Windows that it is likely to underpin Microsoft's offerings for the next 20 years. The Windows Runtime Library, or WinRT, is the key difference, making it possible to write applications once and have them run on both Windows 8 PCs and tablets. "We believe it's the start of a new era for Microsoft, the Windows RT era, which follows the Windows NT era that began in 1993 and is just starting to wane," Gartner says.

The modern user interface dominated by text and tiles that users press on tablet touchscreens is good for tablets and smartphones, but its utility as a desktop interface has businesses in a quandary. "The result is an OS that looks appropriate on new form factors of PC hardware, including tablets, hybrids and convertibles, but has people wondering about its appropriateness for traditional desktop and notebook machines that comprise the majority of the existing PC market," according to the Gartner report.

Some businesses might try to get around this problem by letting employees bring their own tablets and smartphones to work for business use, but the overall effect is to complicate IT equipment decisions. "This makes it more difficult for IT organizations to buy and support PCs the way they have for the past 20 years, and may lead to workplaces where BYOD (bring your own device) is common," according to the report.

If Windows 8 devices enter the workplace via BYOD, IT departments may be more receptive to them than they might be to other devices that have less developed security, the report says. "Microsoft has added many security features that organizations will like, including Secure Boot and improved BitLocker support," Gartner says, "and organizations should investigate whether these security improvements are sufficient to motivate a move to Windows 8."

Businesses need to consider how long it will take for other vendors' security products to support Windows 8, a factor in drawing up a timeline for adopting the new operating system. "Support will certainly come," the Gartner report says, "but may not be there until after your security and tool vendors supply updates, and could require months to be tested and implemented."

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.comand follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "Gartner: Windows 8 is a must-win gamble by Microsoft" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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