Mar 2, 2012
On Wednesday, Microsoft demonstratedits new operating system, Windows 8, which is expected later this year. It is a critically important piece of software for Microsoft, which still depends on Windows and Office for most of its revenue.
For all the attention given to Apple’siPhone and iPad, or Google’s Android OS on phones and tablet computers, Microsoft’s lasting market power can still influence how most people think about computing. “In its time, Windows 95 put the Internet browser in the OS, and that led to widespread communications using computers,” said Rick Sherlund, an analyst at Nomura securities who has followed Microsoft for years. Windows 8, he said, “could be a platform shift for enterprises, and for personal productivity.”
Windows 8 shifts toward more cloud-based interactions. More use of the cloud means more demand for servers in big data centers.
Business sales are important to the hardware makers for other reasons too. Apple does not yet dominate that market. Windows 8 will matter to Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo and other makers of personal computers. Dell and H.P., in particular, have recently seen sharply lower sales, both to businesses and consumers. A great new operating system could drive lots of sales, and not just for PCs. Companies often make new operating systems a reason for system-wide upgrades of their computers. Windows Vista, which was poorly received, was a disaster for hardware makers.
Margins in business sales can be higher, with products tied to other goods. Finally, the capabilities in a new OS can drive new designs for the computer makers, refreshing their brand. Margins on new devices might go up, something that hasn’t happened much in traditional desktop PCs.
Windows 8 could mean a lot of changes for business computing, in particular touch computing, like the swipes on an iPad. Microsoft appears to have adopted a refreshing awareness of current events, and with a nod to Apple and Google, designed a user interface that is also centered on apps. If you don’t like that you can go back to the old drag-and-drop desktop-era screen, but it is the new default.
H.P. is not talking about its future designs, but Dell sees the next version of Windows encouraging sales of ultrabooks. These lightweight laptops running Windows 8 are likely to adopt touch screens, like an iPad, while keeping the keyboard preferred for working on things like corporate spreadsheets. “Our view is that the mobile endpoint devices will become more important,” said David Johnson, Dell’s vice president of corporate strategy. “When you are creating content, a keyboard is critical.” For other things, like reading a newspaper, he says, the keyboard might go away.
In the demo, Microsoft showed personalization features that included instant feeds of information from Web-based accounts, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as Microsoft’s own cloud-storage system, called Skydrive. There is every reason to think that an enterprise version of this idea would instantly load updated workflow and task information that is stored elsewhere. That could be very attractive to companies, possibly leading to system-wide upgrades.
Mr. Sherlund said he thought the integration with Facebook, in which Microsoft bought a 1.5 percent stake for $240 million in 2007, could mean that Facebook could begin to have a workgroup function, something Google is also after in its Google+ social networking software. “With the touch capabilities thrown in, this is all about the cloud,” he said.
There is only one loser in this scenario: Intel. Windows 8 will have a version that runs on low-power chips designed by ARM. Those chips are now broadly used in smartphones and tablets. Intel will have to come back with its own low-power strategy. Hardware makers using Windows will immediately have the kind of chips in an iPad, which help a mobile device run longer on a single charge.(via)