Microsoft's Windows 9: What it has to strategically accomplish

Windows 9 will be the linchpin in Microsoft's future plans for cloud and mobile. Here's a look at the to-do list on the strategic front.

Microsoft on Tuesday will preview its next operating system---code named Threshold and expected to be Windows 9---and the rollout is critical to make CEO Satya Nadella's master plan a success.

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Windows 9: Microsoft faces four daunting challenges

The rumor mill says a public preview of the next big Windows release will appear this fall. But don't get fixated by features. This release isn't a "big bang" but is actually just the starting gun for the next stage in a very long race.

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As noted previously, Nadella is steering Microsoft around a platform and productivity mantra with a heavy dose of cloud and mobile. Whether Windows 9 turns out to be a game changer for Microsoft or the last of big bang OS releases remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, Windows 9 will be a linchpin in Microsoft's plans going forward. Here's a look at what Windows 9 has to accomplish.

Be the cloud jump off point. Microsoft is big on platforms and a holistic cloud vision and Windows remains the centerpiece of the company's strategy (even though it isn't the primary cash cow today). Enthusiasm around Windows 9 would keep Microsoft's installed base in the fold and be the on-ramp to the company's cloud products. Should Windows become free Microsoft still could make out if the OS becomes an on-ramp to Office 365 subscriptions at $99 a year or so. Windows could be the key to a recurring revenue stream. Toss in storage and other services and you see that Windows doesn't have to be a cash cow to be critical.

Leading up to Sept. 30:  Microsoft's next Windows release: What's in a name?  |  Windows 'Threshold': More on Microsoft's plan to win over Windows 7 users  |  Windows as a service: What's Threshold got to do with it?  |  Microsoft's Windows 9: Much ado about little, given cloud shift  |  Windows Threshold screenshot leaks: What's there, what's not  |  Microsoft CEO Nadella: 'We will reinvent productivity'  |  Debate: Satya Nadella's brave new strategy: Can Microsoft execute?

Keep Microsoft relevant. Microsoft's enterprise business carries the company, but Windows remains the identity. Microsoft has missed the mobile curve as Apple's iOS and Google's Android moved ahead, but the software giant is one of the cloud leaders. However, Windows is the key to keeping the company from looking like an also-ran. Windows 9 has to drive upgrades, create demand for Microsoft powered tablets and potentially generate some buzz. Microsoft is far from irrelevant, but Windows 9 needs to erase the lackluster rollout of Windows 8.

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Where does Windows 9 fit in this equation?

Be the last of Microsoft's big bang releases. Microsoft, like every other software company on the planet, will ultimately revolve around subscriptions. Windows reflects an old model where software vendors revolve around upgrade cycles and big bang releases. Windows 9 should ultimately look like a SaaS service where we pay an annual fee for twice a year feature releases. If Microsoft really does it right the next-gen Windows wouldn't have a number behind it.

Entice the enterprise to remain Windows based. Microsoft rocks the enterprise with products and services such as Office, Windows Server and Azure. However, Windows is the front end of Microsoft's enterprise identity and the operating system has taken a few hits. Apple's iOS is everywhere in the enterprise and Microsoft can no longer rely on Windows shops remaining that way forever. Windows 9 has to generate some enthusiasm and maybe even drive tablet and PC upgrades in what's likely to be a growth-challenged environment for years. Enterprises have better things to do than upgrade PCs, tablets and smartphones. Microsoft needs Windows 9 to at least spark some enterprise interest.

Advance Microsoft's mobile ambitions. Windows 9 is expected to be a unified platform that can leverage Microsoft's developer base from the PC and application fronts to mobile. Microsoft has tweaked the economics for Windows on key mobile devices to make headway against low-end Android devices. Microsoft needs a unified approach to close the app gap with Apple and Google.

Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR noted:

The next version of Windows will target a more unified approach (e-commerce, developer platforms), a positive as Microsoft attempts to drive a more consistent platform experience and attract an increased number of developers/apps for its mobile offerings and devices, in our view.

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