Five ways Windows 8 could fail

Here are five concerns that I still have related to Microsoft's next version of Windows.

The more I see of the Windows 8 platform, the more i like it. The other day I got the opportunity to see a build that is very close to the Consumer Preview expected at the end of the month and I was impressed with the changes that have been made since the release of the Developer Preview back in September last year.

But no matter how well refined and well rounded the operating system is, it could still become another Vista around Microsoft's neck.

Here are five concerns that I still have related to Microsoft's next version of Windows:

1. Touch could still turn out to be a fad

Microsoft has put a lot of time, effort and money into making Windows 8 a touch-based operating system. Sure, you can still drive it with a keyboard and mouse -- thankfully -- but key areas such as the Start Screen and built-in applications have been heavily remodelled, so that they'll work with both pudgy fingers and a precise cursor.

It seems to me that Microsoft is betting that touch (and tablets) will be a big thing during the reign of Windows 8, but that the company is making his assumption based on one device -- the iPad. That worries me. Tablets have been around in one shape or form for over a decade, but each new model withered and died on the vine.

The fact that there's a market for the iPad doesn't mean that there's a broader market for tablets in general. Take the enormous success of the iPod. There was many a company that saw the success of the iPod and thought that would translate into a broader market for MP3 players in general. It wasn't the case, and companies lost a lot of money pursuing a dead market.

And that's just one cautionary tale.

Tablets aside for one moment, it's hard to see PC OEMs seriously embracing touch on desktops and notebooks because of cost. At best it's going to create a divide between cheaper keyboard/mouse systems and pricier touch-enabled systems, but the problem there is that OEMs are having a difficult time shifting high-end systems.

Microsoft has yet to answer what is to me the million-dollar question: What advantages does Windows 8 offer over Windows 7 on non-touch enabled systems?

2. ARM confusion

Microsoft has finally clarified some nagging questions I had about the Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) platform. Specifically, Microsoft has said "WOA PCs will be clearly labelled and branded so as to avoid customer confusion with Windows 8 on x86/64." While that's good news, I still wonder whether the presence of two such different versions of Windows on devices won't cause problems.

With Windows 7 we finally (at least pretty much) managed to draw a line under the whole "Windows 32-bit vs. Windows 64-bit" debate that had been confusing consumers since Windows XP. The problem with the x86 vs. ARM debate is that there's going to be a unification down the line and the two platforms will always have a gulf between them.

How exactly are consumers going to react to two different sets of marketing messages? I still don't think that most consumers have a clear idea of the differences between the various flavors of Windows (and that's a pretty simple thing really). I'm not sure whether folks who aren't sure as to whether they was Windows Home Premium or Ultimate are well equipped to deal with x86 vs. ARM.

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3. A crashing PC market

In case you hadn't noticed, the PC market isn't a buoyant as it once was. The PC is under pressure from post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets. While the PC isn't going to vanish any time soon, it is losing ground. And if PC sales lose traction, sales of Windows licenses are also going to lose traction.

I think that the biggest problem with PCs right now is that no one sees them as sexy. Even new classes of PC like the ultrabooks are essentially PCs, and consumers are smart enough to see that (but they're still not smart enough to know the difference between different flavors of Windows ... go figure). There are a lot more new, shiny, sexy stuff that's drawing the eye on consumers. Unfortunately for Microsoft, a lot of it is powered by Android or iOS software.

Can Windows 8 make PCs sexy again? To be honest, I don't think so. The OEMs might be able to do that, but they're already operating on razor thin margins and the last thing they want to do is start taking risks.

4. App ecosystem could be a flop

A platform needs a thriving app ecosystem if it is to grow and succeed. iOS has one, and Android has one. Platforms that don't have a supporting ecosystem don't fare so well. Look at what happened to the likes of HP's TouchPad.

Microsoft is putting a lot of emphasis on Windows 8's ability to run apps, which will be available from the Windows Store. Remember, ARM apps have to all come from the Windows Store. No installing stuff from disc or downloads. This means that this store as to work.

...and that's something Microsoft hasn't had all that much success with in the past. Case in point: Windows Marketplace. This was part of Windows Vista, but chances are that you never knew about it. Not only was it buried in the OS, it didn't really offer anything all that compelling. Unless Microsoft can make its app store as easy to use as Apple's App Store (in other words, one-click, simple stuff), it could be dead again.

But there more to a successful app ecosystem than an easy-to-use app store. You need apps, and as Microsoft has found with its Windows Phone platform, it's tough to convince developers to jump on board a new platform (especially when that platform might crumble under them).

5. Enterprise reaction

I already know what many enterprise customers think about Windows 8. They look at that that new user interface, and all that touch stuff and see having to throw a lot of dollars at training employees to make sense of it all. And this at a time when dollars are tight.

Another problem that those I've talked to in enterprise have with Windows 8 is that they can't see a compelling for touch to be in the OS as they can't see a need for it outside of specific (and quite limited) scenarios.

Enterprise customers aren't going to be replacing traditional keyboard and mouse systems with touch systems in a hurry given the cost of doing so, and that might mean they stick with Windows 7 and see what happens with Windows 9.

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