Arguing that Windows is a weakness takes some work. Really, it is a potential weakness, but an important one because it is also Microsoft's greatest strength. The 80% to 90% market share Windows holds on desktops and laptops is the reason Microsoft has direct access to most of the personal computing users on Earth, so even small percentage drops in sales are problematic. Windows 7 has sold more than 400 million copies, but revenue declined 2% in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
While Windows 8 will be optimized for both PCs and tablets, Microsoft is holding off on any big announcements regarding the next OS until the BUILD conference in mid-September.
"With a $32 billion chunk of Microsoft's business (Windows Client and Office combined) dependent upon Windows 8's long-term success, it is a fair statement that Windows 8 may well be one of the biggest bets any company has made in a long time," Gillen writes in a new IDC paper titled "Getting Back in the Game: Can Windows 8 Reverse Microsoft's Position?"
There have been various arguments that the PC is dead, but a more accurate description comes from 41-year IBM veteran Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who says the PC is the new mainframe: still profitable, but no longer the center of innovation.
Innovation is happening in cloud computing, and smartphones and tablets. With Microsoft struggling to gain any foothold in mobile devices, the biggest immediate danger to the Windows franchise is that smartphone and tablet buyers will delay the purchases of their next PCs.
It's hard to imagine large segments of the population doing without PCs entirely, but someone who spends hours each day with a smartphone or tablet might wait five to seven years to buy a new desktop or laptop. The 10-year-old Windows XP is still the most widely used version of Windows, after all. And as more people buy Androids, iPhones and iPads, Microsoft's share of all Internet-connected devices will erode.
"All the competitors would like to have you think that next year Microsoft hits the wall and the PC business is cut in half," Gillen says. "That is not what's going to happen. What is happening is we have a proliferation of other devices that are competing with Windows for mindshare. But at the end of the day, users, especially business users, need PCs."