Will Windows 8 Win? Microsoft's Uphill Battle Against Apple, Android

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2012 is shaping up to be a make-or-break year in the crucial mobile operating system market and, for perhaps the first time in its distinguished history, Microsoft will be looking up at incumbent market leaders.

Windows 8, Microsoft’s next-generation operating system, is scheduled to launch this year, with a beta release slated for February. Unlike its many predecessors, the new OS is slated to deliver an entirely new user interface optimized for both desktop and touch-screen-enabled mobile devices. As more details emerge about the new release, reactions are being stirred up among OEMs, developers and solution providers -- many of which view Windows 8 as a pivotal, do-or-die move for the software giant.

While Microsoft made a sizable splash at CES 2012 with Windows 8 (the OS was featured on numerous Ultrabook and tablet demos), the spotlight shifted when Intel unveiled a major mobile alliance with Motorola Mobility around the chip maker's new Atom chip, code-named Medfield, for tablets and smartphones. The move displayed Intel's support for Android (Motorola Mobility is in the process of being acquired by Google) and left questions looming about how Microsoft and its operating systems will fit into Intel's plan for mobile dominance.

A lot of the uncertainty surrounding Windows 8 stems from the fact that, historically, Microsoft hasn’t had much of a foothold in the mobile space. While Apple and Google have managed to capture a significant chunk of mobile market share, Microsoft has stuck, more or less, to its PC-centric roots. According to recent statistics published by Web analytics firm Net Applications, 43.1 percent of U.S. mobile devices run on Google’s Android OS, while 16.7 run on Apple’s iOS. Microsoft, however, wasn’t among the top five, as Windows Phone 7 has lagged behind.

It’s with these statistics in mind that many are questioning whether Microsoft is joining the mobility game too late -- and whether Windows 8 will ever gain the traction it needs to compete. Developers and solution providers told CRN that, while a new touch interface and an app store may pique the industry’s interest, they won’t necessarily mean a quick win for Microsoft’s new OS.

Bill Lucchini, COO of OnForce, an on-site services marketplace that matches service buyers with service providers, believes only a game-changing device or OS could successfully enter today’s already saturated mobile market.

Take Apple, for instance. It was able to enter the mobility space four years ago and succeed -- even among mobile giants Nokia and Samsung, which already had staked their claims -- simply because the iPhone was different. That same innovation is required to compete (at least seriously) in the marketplace today, Lucchini explained. “Apple changed what it meant to be a phone, and therefore took such a strong position, as Android did afterward,” he said. “So I think there is still room for that, but somebody needs to come up with that market-changing idea in order to get in at this point.”

While it’s too early to tell whether that “somebody” is Microsoft, Windows 8 does tout several new features that distinguish it from both competitors and previous Windows releases. The new Metro user interface, for instance, is fully touch-capable and replaces the traditional desktop Start menu with a tile layout similar to that of the Windows Phone 7.

NEXT: Breaking Down Windows 8

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