Is Hardware Choice Hurting or Helping Windows 8?

Does the wide array of products available to Windows hardware buyers these days translate into more choice or more confusion? By James E. Gaskin

Windows 8 seems to be starting slow, even though Microsoft states that more than 100 million licenses have been sold, not counting corporate volume licensing agreements. Yet StatCounter, a Web analytics company, reports only 4 percent of current PCs run Windows 8, while XP still has more than 38 percent of the market. Are the 2,400 devices certified for Windows 8 (according to Microsoft) confusing the market?

“The vast majority of users don't care what OS they have,” says Mitch Garvis, partner at SWMI Consulting Group, an IT training services firm in Niagara Falls, N.Y. “There are about a billion Windows PCs, and 100 to 150 million of them turn over every year. No matter what new computer form factor you want, from desktop to laptop to tablet to Ultrabook to convertible, you can get Windows 8.”

And users who are nervous about Windows 8's new look and feel? “People ask me about the start button and how to search, and in 30 seconds I can show them how to click here and click there, and they're fine,” says Garvis.

But “certified” to run Windows 8 doesn't mean a device is playing to Windows 8's strength. “The biggest problem with Windows 8 hardware has not been variety, but rather the lack of touchscreens coupled with the relatively high cost of the devices,” says Steve Kleynhans, a research vice president, mobile and client computing group, Gartner Inc. First-generation Windows 8 tablets must compete with fourth-generation iPads. “This fall, second-generation devices with new processors at better prices will be appealing to consumers,” he says.

Analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group also expects more Windows 8 success later this year. “If a product has touch and is priced under $650 it is moving better,” says Enderle. “One product that is selling out is Lenovo's Windows 8 Hybrid [Lynx] product. They can't keep it on the shelf.”

Larger organizations are still examining Windows 8 while they finish rolling out Windows 7. Srivatsan Srinivansan, senior product marketing manager for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Druva Inc., a mobile device endpoint backup, sync, and governance developer, also predicts a strong second half for Windows 8. “Regulated industries need to stick with Windows” for compliance and governance requirements, says Srinivansan. “We're seeing the first testing of in-place upgrades for corporate laptops from XP to Windows 8. But when you have 10,000 laptops, you can't do the upgrade overnight.” Most of the interest among Druva's customers for in-place upgrades is shifting from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8.

Conventional wisdom says “never install Microsoft dot-zero software.” Fans of this tactic are waiting for Windows 8.1, code-named Blue. Manufacturers are refreshing product lines for the back-to-school cycle and the holiday sales cycle. Windows 8.1 will miss the earlier school rush since it's scheduled to ship in October.

Officially, Microsoft has said, “Windows 8.1 will support a broader range of device sizes,” says Kleynhans. Since smaller tablets are outselling larger tablets, a 7- or 8-inch Windows 8 tablet could help invigorate the market. A survey of Taiwan tablet component vendors found they expect Windows 8 tablets to be 5 percent to 8 percent of the global tablet shipments, or between 10 million and 20 million units. In comparison, Apple is expected to ship 80 million to 100 million iPads.

Higher pricing for the first generation of Windows 8 touch-enabled devices surprised the consumer, says Kleynhans. “Buyers have been conditioned to expect PCs to get cheaper, and instead saw a major bump for the few touch-based devices that were available,” when Windows 8 debuted. “Most PC makers have only introduced one or two laptop models with touch, and really haven't pushed them very hard.” Compared with the marketing for iPads, Windows 8 tablet makers are far behind.

Garvis works as an ambassador for Microsoft, and says “they lead, but sometimes they have to run from behind up to the front. But when Microsoft gets down to business, never bet against Microsoft.”

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