Gillett, of Forrester, echoed Milanesi's timeline. "Things will be sideways until next year," he said. "It's still so early in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8."
But any way they looked at it, the analysts saw Microsoft at a point that will make or break its influence. If it can regain its mojo by grabbing consumers' attention, it will continue being a critical part of the technology landscape. If it can't, well....
"They need to get this," said Milanesi. "Users now have a choice, and Microsoft needs to fight for their user base." And the fight must be different, as this shift will be unlike others Microsoft's managed. "With tablets, there's a fundamental shift of behavior happening."
That shift, more toward content consumption with less emphasis on the creation that's been the domain of PCs, has been fueled by vibrant app ecosystems, a wide range of device form factors and prices, and an attention to ease-of-use -- all which Microsoft arguably has yet to show it can pull off.
"I'm very concerned about how they're going to dig themselves out of this hole," added Gillett. "They've made major changes before -- Bill Gates' call on the Internet, for example -- but they've never had to do it under this kind of pressure. They were once in a dominating position, but what works when you have 90 percent of the market doesn't work when you have 30 percent."
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers, and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
Read more about Windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.