Microsoft launches Windows 8 this week the company's mobile and tablet strategy depends on how the operating system is received. Perhaps the biggest wild card is guessing how fast Windows 8 will be adopted.
The user interface is different. The hardware choices are all over the place. It's unclear whether Windows 8 will be able to bridge smartphones, tablets and PCs. And no one knows how Microsoft's Surface or these newfangled hybrid devices will fare.
In other words, anyone who tells you how Windows 8 will play out in the market place is full of it. The Windows 8 launch could be a simple binary event: It'll thrive or dive. Or Windows 8 may land somewhere in the middle.
For me, the hardware in the Windows 8 equation is a total grab bag. As I noted on Wednesday, the Wintel ecosystem is throwing devices up against a wall to see what sticks. The devices that have revolved around Windows 8 are plentiful and unknown commodities.
On the software side of the equation, Windows 8 requires a learning curve. And some gestures just aren't intuitive. Windows 8 with a mouse annoys me. A touchscreen laptop seems to work well with the OS. I had to try a bunch of devices to figure out which one would work for me. Everyone will have to go through the same process.
Add it up and it's a leap of faith to just close your eyes and preorder something---including the Surface. The people who preorder blindly may become the biggest critics of Windows 8.
I'm not going to bother making some big prediction. If I were to guess, I'd say Windows 8 will launch, a few loud folks will scream and a backlash will ensue, word of mouth will be so-so at best and then Windows 8 will ultimately be adopted. Multiple pundits will call Windows 8 a failure prematurely and could be proven wrong.
With that backdrop it's worth pondering the rollout scenarios. Here's a look at the three scenarios in order of probability.
A flurry of activity and then a slow crawl. There's just no way that the average bear is going to get Windows 8 in just a few seconds. Windows 8 on a tablet works well. Windows 8 on a laptop or PC can annoy you. Half of the Windows 8 adopters will reside in desktop mode so the OS acts like Windows 7. Under this scenario, Microsoft will take a perception hit and then recover. Ultimately, Windows users will get on board with the latest release. It could take a year before Windows 8 gets its hero device that's mainstream. Under this scenario, Microsoft's Surface does ok, but isn't a cult favorite.
The big bang. Microsoft's Windows 8 adoption and buzz is carried by the Surface. Hardware partners are angry and flopping, but Microsoft's bet pays off. The worries about Windows 8's learning curve are overblown. People get it and Windows 8 pulls Windows Phone demand along. Microsoft executes on its multiscreen strategy and grabs some market share. In addition, Microsoft grows its app selection and developers see it as a viable mobile player. Nevertheless, the mobile world remains the domain of Apple and Google's Android. Microsoft becomes a solid No. 3 and enterprises put the software giant in their mobile plans.
Vista redux. Windows 8 stumbles out of the gate and makes no dent in the post-PC market. After early critics dominate the discussion, consumer word of mouth kills Windows 8. People with convertible tablet/laptop devices are openly mocked. Microsoft's influence wanes. After the Windows 8 debacle, Microsoft begins to ponder a breakup. Xbox is spun off in a unit. The consumer division separates from Microsoft's enterprise unit, which by the way carries the company going forward. Microsoft ceases to be everything to everyone and focuses on business technology.
Those three scenarios could ultimately blend together and as usual the truth probably lies somewhere between No. 1 and No. 2. A complete failure is possible, but Windows 8 is compelling. This view has been influenced by my 10-year-old daughter. I installed Windows 8 on an old laptop and handed it to her with one request: Tell me what you think?
On day one, she went with the desktop mode right away. She called the Windows 8 interface weird. Two weeks later she was messing around with the Windows 8 interface as the Windows 7 view faded away. In other words, Windows 8 grew on her. Windows 8 probably still ranks behind Mac OS X and Windows 7, but has appeal. That Windows 8 adoption curve, however, may take time.