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Is Windows 8 Poised for Success or Failure?

Regular ComputerWorld Windows Guy and market observer Preston Gralla got me thinking this morning with his article entitled “Early warning signs point to a Windows 8 apathetic launch.” He makes some very interesting observations based on recent reports from Net Applications about the differences between Windows 7 and 8 uptake during their respective beta test periods. Seems that “at the same stage of development, Windows 7 had four times the market share of Windows 8” he notes, observing that only 0.2% of Windows PCs tallied by Net Applications were using Windows 8 about 4 months before GA release (June, 2012), as compared to 0.8% of PCs using Windows 7 in June, 2009 ahead of its GA date of October 22, 2009.

But that’s not what makes his article so interesting. He opines that with Windows 8 targeting tablet use as a primary goal of its UI design and operation, consumers aren’t as likely to buy into the new OS as they are likely to buy an iPad or some kind of Android tablet. This makes an awful lot of sense to me, and may indeed be a reasonable interpretation for the relative differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8 beta uptake. He also observes, quite rightly, that the sublime awfulness of Vista made Windows users a lot more interesting in some alternative, or any alternative to that OS, whereas users’ primarily positive attitudes toward Windows 7 also help to diminish interest in Windows 8.

I’d add a few more factors to this mix as well. When Windows 7 came out, businesses were facing the end of the life-cycle for their aging fleets of Windows XP desktops and notebooks, and were able to start migrating (a phenomenon that’s still underway, and by no means finished) to Windows 7 with more relief than trepidation. Recent reductions in the costs for RAM and processors (even with the spike in hard disk prices prompted by the floods in Thailand last year) have made buying new machines a powerful value proposition in the last two years as well, which has perforce meant many machines shipped out with Windows 7 pre-installed. Business users recognize that adopting Windows 8 means adopting the Metro UI and training users to be productive in a thoroughly recast Windows environment, so they’re hanging back from the upcoming OS as well.

It’s going to be a long, slow road to Windows 8 adoption. And the jury’s still out as to whether or not Windows 8 will be a blip like Vista or a home-run like Windows XP and 7. It will be interesting to watch and wait, to see how the market reacts when they must choose between a PC or a tablet with Windows 8 pre-installed. I’m guessing many, many buyers will opt for conventional desktop and notebook PCs with Windows 7 instead, for some time to come.

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