This year's International Consumer Electronics Show was poised to be Windows 8's big coming out party. The operating system has been on the market for more than three months now, and CES 2013 represented for many the first opportunity to get a hands-on look at Microsoft's latest and greatest.
Vendors ranging from Intel to Samsung had booths on the show floor that were overflowing with new tablets and convertible PCs running the software. Attendees' reactions to these new devices were mixed. Some commended the new tiled and touch-optimized interface, whereas others felt it required too steep a learning curve to be embraced back at the office.
"I run an IT department for an international company, and I will not be installing [Windows 8]," said Thomas Lisciandra, an IT manager at Tate Snyder Kimsey, an architectural practice based in Henderson, Nev. "The interface just doesn't seem to work well in a work environment, in my opinion. I just think it's taking away speed of the employees being able to do their jobs."
[Related: CES 2013: 10 Sleek Devices Running Windows 8]
Lisciandra also noted that the Windows 8 experience really demands a touchscreen PC, something end users in his organization haven't yet adopted. To take full advantage of the new Windows 8 tiled UI, his team would not only need to upgrade end users' software, but their hardware as well.
"If the touchscreens were already out in the workplace, that might be a different story," he told CRN. "But I think [Microsoft] kind of rushed the project. I think [Windows 8] will have its day, but I don't think it's yet."
Joseph Gonzalez, associate buyer of electronics, computers, and video game systems at Overstock.com, agreed that the totally revamped UI in Windows 8 may hurt the software's adoption, particularly among enterprise users still leveraging traditional notebook PCs.
"I hate to say this, but the [Windows 8] operating system really does look like a robot threw up on it," Gonzalez said. "People still like to use their PC computers to do PC work."
Microsoft erred in making Windows 8 a one-size-fits-all solution for both PCs and tablets, Gonzalez continued. Unlike Apple, which has two distinct operating systems for its iPad and its Macs, Microsoft is trying to make Windows 8 work across both mobile devices and PCs, a strategy that isn't going to resonate well with users who like to use a PC for certain tasks and a tablet for others.
"When you use a Windows 8 computer, you do feel like you're messing around on a tablet, and the multitasking isn't as good either," Gonzalez said.
NEXT: Microsoft's Quiet CESSome CES attendees, however, applauded Microsoft and its new Windows 8 OS, feeling the UI overhaul was a necessary move for the software giant to stay competitive in today's consumer-driven tech market.
"We're selling a majority of Windows 7 because, from a gaming standpoint, that's what customers want," said one CES attendee who requested anonymity and works for a systems integrator specializing in high-performance and gaming PCs. "But Windows 8 is a great operating system, for the people who know what it is and want it."
Windows 8 brings a lot of great features to the table, the attendee continued, citing fast boot-up times as an example. He said much of his business still revolves around Windows 7, but he anticipates Windows 8 to take off as the adoption of touch-enabled PCs continues.
"I think [Windows 8 adoption] is going to get better as the hardware ecosystem fills out, and it was the right move [for Microsoft]," he said. "I think they are out innovating Apple right now in terms of design. I think they're very forward looking, but we are all still in a kind of a transition phase."
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite Windows 8 dominating much of the CES conversations this year, Microsoft's presence at the event felt drastically scaled back. The software giant didn't deliver the main keynote address as it has for over a decade, and, while CEO Steve Ballmer still piggy-backed a Windows 8 plug on top of the Qualcomm keynote earlier this week, Microsoft's historically sprawling booth on the show floor was nowhere to be found.
Microsoft announced at the 2011 CES that its 2012 keynote would be its last. The software giant said in a company blog it was looking for "new ways" to communicate with its customers, namely through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Some CES attendees suggested Microsoft may also be following the suit of Apple, which has traditionally opted out of CES to launch products instead at its own homegrown media events.
"It was surprising to me, but with Apple doing it a few years back, I really wasn't surprised Microsoft followed," said Tate Snyder Kimsey's Lisciandra.
Other attendees attributed Microsoft's scaled-back presence to the fact that CES has seen several major tech companies, including HP and Dell, fall off its exhibitor list. "I think CES on the whole is kind of less and less what it used to be," said the systems integrator who requested anonymity. "I know, for us, we don't have a presence this year here."
Some CES-goers, like Overstock.com's Gonzalez, suggested Microsoft wouldn't have had any new announcements to make anyway this year, given its recent launch of Windows 8.
"I think they understand that Windows 8 wasn't as successful as they hoped it would be, and I don't think they have anything pressing that they want to call out right now ... so I guess it doesn't really make much sense for them to spend a lot of money here," Gonzalez said. "But I think they are running a few risks right now. They're kind of being eclipsed by the other technology giants and that's dangerous for them."
Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said Microsoft's scaled-back presence won't directly hurt its Windows 8 push, but the company could have seized the opportunity to at least tout the software among the more than 150,000 attendees at the show.
"Microsoft should have come to CES to at least demonstrate more reasons why consumers should be excited about Windows 8," Moorhead told CRN in an emailed statement. "While it won't hurt them in their lack of attendance, it won't help their cause to promote Windows 8."
PUBLISHED JAN. 10, 2013