3. Better for Microsoft to fail when it has the luxury -- and learn from it
Microsoft needs to figure out what Windows is going to be from now on, especially with the PC space mutating and fragmenting. The only way to do that may be to gamble with the next release of Windows and see what happens.
If Microsoft has safety nets in place, with both Windows 7 as a fallback and the diversity of the company generally, it can afford to use Windows 8 as an experiment. It's a wide-ranging attempt for Redmond to get a piece of the tablet market, which took on a life of its own entirely without Microsoft.
Microsoft has a bad track record for letting new markets get away. Windows Phone 7 is only the most recent example -- don't forget Bing, Zune, or the Kin "social phone" project.
People forget, though, that a company the size of Microsoft has the luxury of failing, as long as it doesn't overcommit itself. Sometimes those failures pay off; the Xbox was considered a joke when it was first introduced and now it's outrageously successful.
Microsoft's game to lose?
The Windows 8 experiment may not give Microsoft a success anywhere near the scale of Windows 7, but I honestly don't think that's what the company is shooting for. Microsoft did this to shake up its own complacency about the desktop, to see what is possible outside of the usual keyboard-and-mouse metaphor.
Microsoft also did this to get software developers along for the ride, so they won't abandon Windows in favor of touch-centric environments. Metro is going to be a long road, much as .Net has been. It's an attempt to apply what Microsoft learned from its phone interfaces to the desktop. There's no guarantee that experiment will be successful. If it fails, it's best that failure occurs while Windows users still have the option to stay with what they know and trust. Yes, I think Metro is a poor fit for big screens, but Microsoft is gambling that the next wave of major computer purchases won't be devices that have big displays anyway.
In short, Microsoft needs to gamble, and right now might well be the best time for the company to do it. The company needs to learn from its mistakes as quickly and nimbly as they can -- and then turn around and make Windows 9 exceed all of our expectations. Because if Microsoft doesn't ... well, then there might well be a Mac in my future after all.
This story, "Why Microsoft can afford to lose with Windows 8," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.