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MICROSOFT COURTS CONSUMERS
Of course, Microsoft also is hoping Windows 8 will be a hit in the consumer market, a space where it's facing steep competition from tablet leaders Apple and Google. According to IDC, Windows has a 2.9 percent share of the worldwide tablet market, a number that pales in comparison to Apple iOS' 53.8 percent and Google Android's 42.7 percent.
But some analysts question whether Windows 8, with its revamped interface and multiple versions, will leave some consumers overwhelmed with choice.
Even Surface, Microsoft's first homegrown tablet, is a product clouded by confusion, argued Gartner analyst Mike Silver. The device launched in October running Windows RT and is slated to launch again in January running Windows 8 Pro. On top of these two models, consumers have various storage options, and can also choose to buy the product with or without two different types of covers, the "Touch Cover" or the "Type Cover."
Silver contrasted the Surface portfolio with that of Apple's iPad, which has risen to fame, he said, largely because of its simplicity.
"The [Windows 8] story is really confusing. The Surface announcement sort of confused people on what Windows 8 was, and what was shipping, and when it was shipping," Silver said. "There's so much complexity there and Apple's hallmark is simplicity. You walk out of the Microsoft store with a whole bunch of things to figure out. You walk into the Apple store and you have three choices of tablets: large, medium and small."
Microsoft has not disclosed how many Surface tablets it has sold so far. But some partners fear its decision not to sell the tablet through its channel partners could hurt its chances of succeeding with Microsoft's bread-and-butter enterprise customers. While Surface, like other Windows-based tablets, can more seamlessly integrate into Windows environments, Microsoft channel partners don't even have a chance to communicate this advantage, said Saratoga Technologies' Walters.
"Selling [Surface] direct isn't the way to go because people may not realize the benefits of going with the Windows platform because all they know is Apple iPad," Walters told CRN.
Gartner's Silver said part of the confusion surrounding Surface and Windows 8 stems from the fact that Microsoft "refuses" to put out a product that is either strictly for the enterprise or strictly for consumers; instead, the software giant tried to make Windows 8 a one-size-fits-all solution, and, in doing so, could just leave both markets wanting more.
Thomas Koll, former corporate vice president of Microsoft's Network Solutions division and the current CEO of Laplink, a software vendor based in Bellevue, Wash., feels strongly that Microsoft shouldn't be counted out of the consumer market yet. But, like Silver, he also believes Microsoft may have been better served by rolling out a completely distinct operating system to run on tablets and smartphones, rather than attempting to shape its legacy Windows OS as a be-all, end-all solution for any computing device.
Microsoft could have taken a cue from Apple, Koll noted, which supports two distinct operating systems -- OS X for its Mac notebooks and desktops, and iOS for its iPhones and iPads. "Microsoft, for too long, clung or attached itself to the Windows environment," Koll told CRN. "But you need something different for a smartphone or a tablet."
The enterprise will always be Microsoft's go-to market, but consumers are driving IT trends today more than ever, Gartner's Silver said, which makes the consumer market an especially important one for the software giant.
"We're getting to the point where if you look at all sorts of end point devices, including phones and tablets, a few years ago, before that existed, most folks were using Windows for most of their computing needs," he said. "Now when you factor in phones and tablets and iOS and Android, at some point, Microsoft will be on a minority of devices, where it used to have a near monopoly."
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