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 liability 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 can deal with the sensor-heavy capabilities of tablets: accelerometers, gyroscopes, location detectors, orientation detectors, cameras, light sensors, and microphones. That's great when you're using a tablet, but developers need to be sure that their apps are not crippled when run on a PC without these sensors. 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. Realistically, it'll be years before they're ready to deploy Windows 8; if it's really different, it'll make cautious IT organizations even warier. 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 gain meaningful adoption and pull Windows 8 desktops along with it.
Or maybe developers will focus on consumer apps for Windows 8 tablets to reach the hundreds of millions of Windows users, 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 a 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. Using Windows 8 for both desktop and tablet devices should solve the security and management issue on those devices.
Ironically, these adoption issues have more to do with developers than Microsoft. Sloppy developers could thwart Microsoft's seeming reinvention of Windows from taking root. Or, as happened with Apple's iOS, developers could wholeheartedly adopt the Windows 8 model and deliver an amazing portfolio of apps that pulls in users and drags IT behind them.
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. At this point, I think it'll be a big advantage. If Microsoft delivers, of course.
This article, "Watch out, Apple: Windows 8 could trump the iPad," 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.