Windows 8 is a big risk to the consumer PC industry

Summary:Windows 8 represents the biggest change between versions of the operating system on most consumer PCs, and for better or worse it is going to be very important for that industry.

The consumer PC industry is in the doldrums, with sales down at bothersome levels and a near-tangible lack of enthusiasm in the air. The Ultrabook is launching in full force, and while that is intended to reignite consumer passion it alone is not going to do the trick. Windows 8 will launch in the consumer market with great fanfare this year, and how the average PC buyer will react to an OS that is such a radical departure from past versions of Windows is a big question mark.

Adopting the Metro interface in Windows 8 is a major effort by Microsoft to make the PC OS appeal to the average consumer, but it's not a given what that reaction will be. Fact is, some consumers have an aversion to new things that are radically different from what they are used to, and that may be especially the case with PCs that many already find intimidating.

One risk Microsoft has taken with the move to such a radically different interface in Metro is the message it sends about current versions of Windows. In a way, it is an admission to consumers that Windows 7 and older versions are too outdated, and not good enough for today's PC user. This may bite them if the reaction to Metro in the mainstream market is not positive at launch.

PC makers depend on new versions of Windows to jumpstart sales, as most consumers upgrade the OS by buying new systems. Systems with Windows 7 will still be available for a while, but Windows 8 is going to be needed to really get systems flying off the shelves. Windows 8 is so different, if buyers are reluctant to make such a big change then system manufacturers are going to be in a real pickle. They won't sell new systems with Windows 8 due to the radical changes, and they might not be able to continue selling PCs with the older Windows if it's viewed as too outdated.

Microsoft has a lot riding on the market acceptance of Windows 8, but it's not alone. PC makers have even more to lose if the market has a knee-jerk reaction to the Metro style.

The marketing message from Microsoft better be well-thought out for Windows 8. Consumers need to believe it is so much easier, so much better that they have to have it. This is critical to market acceptance for something so different. If this is left up to the OEMs, the message will end up being confusing at best and negative at worst. It is the most important marketing campaign Microsoft has ever undertaken, and it better already be under careful construction.

If Microsoft and OEMs begin the Windows 8 message to address how it not only covers "regular" PCs but fancy tablets and other forms, massive confusion will follow. Consumers don't want to run the same Windows on PCs and tablets, they are likely only in the market for one or the other at a given time. Multiple device support, Intel and ARM support, touch and non-touch support is not the message for consumers. Just show what the buyer can do with Windows 8, nothing else.

Windows 8 is a big risk to the consumer PC industry, and a lot is riding on it. Microsoft better get it ready like no other Windows before, and sell it the right way. I am excited by Windows 8 and the Metro interface, but I'm not who they need to sell. It's all the people who haven't even seen Windows Phone yet that they need to convince how good Windows 8 will be, and that's most everyone.

Image credit: Flickr user Robert S. Donovan

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Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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