The popularity of smartphones and tablets has Microsoft playing catch up, particularly with Apple, whose iPad dominates in tablets and whose iPhone holds down big large chunk of smartphones. "With Windows 8, Microsoft tries to address the excitement of the tablet market by adding a tablet interface to Windows," Gartner says.
If Windows 8 does become popular with consumers and finds its way into enterprises via the bring-your-own-device phenomenon it will still have hurdles to clear with IT departments.
Ultrabooks and tablets still need to establish themselves in the corporate world where their use raises questions, Casey says. Who will pay for them? How will they be secured? "These are pieces that need to fall into place in the enterprise planning cycle," he says.
It's also questionable whether they will gain traction as platforms for business applications, DeGroot says. "I think that is going to be a very tough sell," DeGroot says, because the apps have to be vetted by the Microsoft Store before they will be allowed on closed Windows 8 devices. Businesses won't want to leap that hurdle nor will they want to side-load apps on devices to get around the restriction that Windows 8 apps must be reviewed by and sold through the store. "I have some difficulty imagining many organizations are going to want to do that."
Beyond that, developers are not prepared to write for Windows 8; their training and experience leans toward traditional enterprise applications for conventional desktops without touch capabilities, DeGroot says. Touchscreen can actually be a barrier.
With Windows 8 Microsoft is overhauling the underpinnings of its operating system with the introduction of Windows Runtime, a new architecture that gives a common footing to applications across a range of devices. Such applications can support both x86 and ARM hardware, potentially opening up the possibility of writing apps once that can run on any device.
Microsoft hopes it can write its next major chapter with Windows 8 and Windows Runtime, Gartner says, and that is what makes a Windows 8 success - and avoiding a flop - so important. Windows 8 is simply the biggest turning point for Microsoft in decades.