Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Windows 8 in Business

Windows 8's problem: It's the hardware

Microsoft's Windows 8 roll-out is taking a few hits from analysts and the press, but the larger worry is a hardware line-up that feels very 1.0.

Microsoft's Windows 8 sales appear to be slow out of the gate and what's really going on will surface on a bevy of tech earnings conference calls this month. Anecdotally, Windows 8 devices aren't screaming home run and my working theory remains that the biggest problem is hardware related.

surface

After a few weeks of going to Best Buy, Staples and other retailers pushing Windows 8 it's hard to find real enthusiasm about the operating system. There's interest for sure. There are a lot of hardware choices too. But Windows 8 and the barrage of hardware feels very 1.0.

And that's a big problem when Windows 8 devices are often positioned near Apple products.

CNET's Shara's Tibken highlights the tug-of-war between Microsoft and its hardware partners over Windows RT and tablets. Hardware partners are miffed. Microsoft is a bit of a control freak. As a result, you have a hodge podge of hardware that doesn't quite scream "gotta have it." The short version of Tibken's story is this:

  • Microsoft freaked out hardware partners. 
  • Windows RT could be a stray judging from the dearth of support at CES. 
  • Microsoft is a hardware control freak. 
  • But it's unclear that anyone outside of Microsoft's Xbox unit knows jack about hardware.

In other words, Microsoft's Windows 8 screams 1.0.

Now I'm not going to hop on the Windows 8 is a failure bandwagon. Instead, I think Windows 8 is a second half 2013 story. That timeline isn't going to appeal to many tech writers given our short attention spans. But it's strange that Windows 8 is all about hardware and software integration yet both sides of the equation feel off to me.

More:  Why you should be skeptical of Chitika's market-share reports  |  Price and 'lukewarm critical reviews' put a damper on Microsoft Surface  |  Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2)  |  What's behind the slump in PC sales? Can the industry turn around?  |  Can Best Buy's PC business survive?

Eight months from now I expect the following:

  1. Microsoft will roll out an update that will smooth out Windows 8. 
  2. Some hardware vendor will come up with a winning Windows 8 design. 
  3. Consumers will react positively to this device. 
  4. Microsoft will get enough app momentum.

Forrester Research also is expecting Windows 8 to pick up into 2014. In a report, Forrester analyst Andrew Bartels noted that:

  • PC demand excluding tablets will remain weak.
  • Apple will sell $7 billion worth of Macs and $11 billion in iPads to the corporate market in 2013.
  • Corporate spending on Windows 8 will remain flat in 2013. 
  • In 2014, increased PC demand and improved Windows 8 devices will deliver 8 percent growth, but that'll trail double-digit growth for Linux, Android, and Apple products.

Today, Microsoft is in a hardware pickle largely as expected . The Surface is promising, but 2.0 will be much better. Think Surface Pro with better battery life. The only Windows 8 hardware that seems to have a following is a touch screen laptop.

Jeff Nolan chronicled his Windows 8 experience and it's worth noting. First, Nolan is a real person---not a tech reviewer---and he also came from a Macbook. Nolan's experience prompted a long discussion about Windows 8 on the Enterprise Irregulars list.

The catch is Nolan liked Windows 8 and appears to recommend it, but has a few hardware issues. If you zoom out you realize that Microsoft and its ecosystem of partners all have the same hardware problems.