In a recent study, Forrester Research predicted that by 2016, Windows will remain the leader in desktop and laptop OSes, be a contender in tablets with about 27 percent of unit sales and trail Android and iOS in the smartphone market with only 14 percent of units.
At least publicly, Microsoft has expressed complete confidence that Windows 8 will succeed. It has spent more than a year trying to create excitement around the product among developers, OEMs, ISVs, consumers and enterprises.
However, key questions remain.
The new tile-based Windows user interface, formerly called Metro, is a radical redesign meant to optimize the OS for tablets with touchscreens and stylus pens. Windows 8 is also designed to work on desktops and laptops using keyboards and mice.
It is possible to toggle between this new interface and a more traditional Windows desktop in Windows 8. However, some observers are skeptical, saying that the new interface could be a deal-breaker for consumers and enterprise buyers who find it too different, and thus counterproductive and inconvenient.
There is also skepticism around enterprise adoption, primarily because a majority of companies have either recently finished migrating to Windows 7 from Windows XP, or are in the process of doing so.
As of May 2012, Gartner had estimated that in developed countries, Windows 7 had been fully implemented in about 10 percent of enterprises, while 55 percent were in the process of deploying it and 25 percent were just starting.
Since enterprises typically let several years pass between corporate desktop refreshes, many industry observers are predicting that many IT departments will not consider upgrading to Windows 8 until 2014 at best. Some may bypass Windows 8 altogether.
Microsoft has been trying to strike a delicate balance between promoting Windows 8 without discouraging enterprises from upgrading to Windows 7 from XP. In pitching Windows 8 to enterprises, Microsoft is focusing on its optimization for tablet devices and on the opportunity for IT departments to standardize on a centrally managed fleet of Windows tablets, as opposed to a heterogeneous, BYOD approach.
This may be a compelling message. A recent survey of 100 U.S. IT managers found that almost half of them plan to standardize their company's mobile platform on Windows devices. That compares with 8 percent for Google's Android OS and 14 percent for Apple's iOS, according to the survey, conducted by ThinkEquity, a financial research and services firm.
Microsoft is also highlighting enterprise features like Windows to Go, which lets users boot and run Windows 8 from USB devices such as flash drives, desktop virtualization improvements and new security capabilities.
Questions have also been raised about the Windows 8 version for ARM-based devices, called Windows RT, which has significant differences with the main Windows 8 version for x86/64 chips from Intel and AMD.
Windows RT also launched today, but it will only be available pre-installed on devices, which will be based on system-on-a-chip hardware platforms from ARM licensees Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments. The idea is that these Windows RT devices, compared with Windows 8 tablets, will generally be lighter and thinner, with longer battery lives and lower prices, and thus fulfill different needs.