Windows 8 won’t save ailing companies from disaster

We all know that Microsoft is taking a hell of a gamble with its new operating system. If Windows 8 fails, as many are suggesting it will, that would be a major blow to the Redmond, Wash.-based company. Microsoft is staking pretty much everything on Windows 8 and trusting that ubiquity -- placing the OS on desktop systems, tablets, and mobile phones -- will be enough to persuade people to give it a chance.

The problem: Microsoft isn't just risking its own business. With the traditional PC market stagnating, faltering companies like Dell and HP (which both reported large drops in revenue recently -- HP’s losses being the worst in its 73-year history) need a way of boosting their dwindling PC sales. In previous years, the arrival of a new operating system would have done exactly that. When Windows 7 launched, for example, sales of new computers jumped 40 percent in the first week alone. While PC sales will undoubtedly still increase following Windows 8’s launch, it’s unlikely we’ll see such a big jump as last time around. Partly because many of those relatively recent upgraders will be happy to stick with what they’ve got, and partly because Windows 8 runs better on lower-specced systems than its predecessor does anyway. For those reasons alone it’s unlikely that this version of Windows will drive hardware sales in the same way that previous ones did.

HP recently announced a range of touchscreen all-in-one PCs (the SpectreOne and Envy 20 and 23) and is clearly hoping that consumers will want to upgrade to devices like these to make the most of Windows 8’s touch capabilities. But will they? Or more to the point, why would they? Touch works brilliantly on tablets, but I don’t see the point of leaning over to prod my PC monitor when a keyboard and mouse (which HP’s computers still offer) is a far more comfortable experience.

The new OS will probably help tablet adoptions, but firms like HP and Dell aren’t going to benefit too much from that, especially when the only Windows 8 tablets people are really talking about are Microsoft’s own Surface devices.

Elsewhere, Nokia, which has been in freefall for some years, has decided to bet big on Windows Phone 8. But can its handsets -- as good as they might be -- really hope to steal enough of a market share from Apple, Samsung, or numerous other manufacturers? It’s unlikely. Microsoft’s mobile OS will shortly overtake BlackBerry to cement third place behind iOS and Android, but it’s not going to stand any chance of overtaking the leaders. So for Nokia that means trying to stage a recovery based on hawking handsets running the third most successful mobile operating system… and it’s not even the only manufacturer to be doing so. Ouch.

The fact that companies like HP, Dell and Nokia are having a tough time of it isn’t Microsoft’s fault. They were slow to react to changing markets and suffered as a result. But now they’re looking to Windows 8 for salvation and that means having to gamble alongside Microsoft that the new OS will defy the naysayers and prove to be the hit they all sorely need it to be.

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