Windows 8 tablets: How Microsoft can win this time

Today, Microsoft promises to reveal its Windows 8 strategy and its path back to innovation. Here's what to look for

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However, as it appears that Windows 8-based desktops will also be able to run these new apps, developers face a challenge that iOS developers do not: having the same app work across the two very different contexts of tablets and PCs. That could lead to poorly chosen compromises or apps that fit poorly on one platform or the other. Microsoft will need to provide the tools -- and perhaps some incentives or penalties -- for developers who choose unwisely.

If you remember the days when PCs were moving from DOS to Windows, you'll recall the many apps whose Windows versions were just prettier than those on DOS -- and these apps failed miserably, as anyone who used to use Lotus 1-2-3 or WordPerfect can tell you. (It's no accident that Excel was a Mac application first or that Windows Word shared almost nothing with DOS Word other than file format.) Microsoft's apparent strategy creates that risk for today's developers. But it introduces a risk for Microsoft: A substantial set of poor Windows 8 apps could make the whole Windows 8 platform look bad, leaving the momentum with the iPad for tablet apps and, ironically, with legacy Windows apps for the desktop.

Similarly, Windows 8 will need to deal with the sensor-heavy capabilities of tablets -- accelerometers, gyroscopes, location detectors, orientation detectors, cameras, light sensors, and microphones -- so apps can exploit them but not be crippled when run on a PC. Apple's separation of the desktop OS from the mobile OS naturally avoids this issue, whereas Microsoft's use of one OS across PCs and tablets introduces this new risk, posing a challenge that desktop developers are not familiar with.

Then there's a market issue: Businesses have only recently begun deploying Windows 7 in significant numbers. So it'll be years before they're ready to go through all that again to deploy Windows 8 -- and if it's really different, it'll make cautious IT organizations even more cautious. Maybe Windows 8 on tablets will be attractive enough -- especially to the many in IT who dislike Apple and wish there was something else users wanted than iPads -- to get meaningful adoption and pull Windows 8 desktops along with it.

Or maybe developers will focus on consumer apps for Windows 8 tablets, making them less attractive to IT -- and giving the iPad that much more time to solidify its existing business hold. Like it or not, the iPad is now considered as much as business tool as a consumer one, whereas Microsoft's mobile efforts (the Kin, then Windows Phone) have been decidedly consumer-focused, with critical business security and management capabilities missing.

Microsoft's different OS boundaries than Apple's across PCs, tablets, and smartphones could give it a great advantage, but also be its Achilles' heel.

This article, "Windows 8 tablets: How Microsoft can win this time," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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