The hidden hardware challenge for Windows 8

Predicting the fate of Microsoft's PC business based on the Windows 8 software alone is a mistake

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Microsoft's issue with Windows is that its PC partners offer a degree of configurability that, on the surface, is helpful but turns out to hurt user satisfaction with both Windows and the hardware maker.

I hadn't made this connection until I started to use Windows 7 in a VMware Fusion virtual machine on a new MacBook Air. Yes, I know, the horror! But I need to use Windows for work, I prefer a Mac at home, and when travelling I need both my work and personal machine. Running Windows on the MacBook Air was easier than lugging around two physical machines.

Even with the overhead of a hypervisor and the relatively mediocre Intel Core i5 CPU, my work hypervisor is a delight to use. I've had no issues with driver mismatches or blue screens of death. Windows startups, shutdowns, and resumes from sleep are speedy, thanks to the Air's SSD drives. I actually like using Windows again. More important, my PC is no longer getting in the way of my productivity.

For once, a hardware provider is actually enhancing satisfaction with Windows. Unfortunately, Apple isn't a Microsoft hardware partner.

What's Microsoft to do?

It's difficult to know how Microsoft will address this issue going forward.

Microsoft could get very, very restrictive about configurations and testing before allowing hardware makers to use Windows 8. This would require the same level of testing for fixes and upgrades to drivers used by the hardware configuration. However, considering the billion-odd Windows customers, each with vastly different amounts to spend on PCs, a very restrictive policy would be at odds with Microsoft's business goals.

Increased restrictions could encourage Windows PC makers to offer PCs with Linux or, more likely, Google's Chrome OS. Microsoft is in a difficult spot of being the undisputed market share leader, yet is at risk of losing to Apple at the high end and Chrome and Linux at the low end. Until recently, the high- and low-end competition was theoretical at best, but no longer.

It'll be interesting to see what Microsoft and its partners do if Apple uses its supply chain and lower configurability to offer a much cheaper entry point to its desktops and laptops. In some respects, the iPad is doing just this as it eats into existing PC share.

Whether Windows 8 will be enough to stop the share loss is an open question. The real mystery, however, is how well Windows 8 will be configured and optimized for the hardware you'll be asked to buy. Keep that in mind as you purchase new PCs for your teams and employees.

I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

This article, "The hidden hardware challenge for Windows 8," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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