Microsoft may have engineered Windows 8 to work on tablets, but it will still need sales of the upcoming operating system on traditional PCs if it wants to maintain the Windows division s profits and margins.
Based on new numbers released by research firm IDC, it seems that worldwide PC shipment growth for 2011 was anemic at 1.8 percent. That slow pace will apparently continue through the first half of this year. But Windows 8--combined with new form factors such as Ultrabooks--has a shot at changing all that.
"2012 and 2013 will bring significant changes for Microsoft and the PC community," Jay Chou, an analyst with IDC, wrote in a March 20 research note. "Windows 8 and Ultrabooks are a definitive step in the right direction to recapturing the relevance of the PC, but its promise of meshing a tablet experience with a PC body will likely entail a period of trial and error, thus the market will likely see modest growth in the near term."
Trial and error or no, IDC expects PC sales to rise to 5 percent for 2012.
Microsoft will release Windows 8 in October, according to a new Bloomberg report that cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the schedule. That report also suggested Windows 8 would simultaneously release on devices with Intel and ARM chipsets. While Intel's products continue to handily dominate the traditional PC space, ARM processors run a significant percentage of mobile devices such as tablets.
Windows XP and Windows 7, Microsoft's two most successful versions of the operating system, both arrived on store shelves in October of their respective years. In addition, executives from a major hardware partner told eWEEK late in 2011 that Microsoft was aiming for an October 2012 release date.
To make Windows 8 work more effectively on tablets, Microsoft retooled the traditional desktop-based interface. A Windows 8 machine now offers a start screen composed of colorful, touch-friendly tiles linked to applications; from there, another click or finger tap sends users to the regular desktop, complete with a few tweaks of its own.
Microsoft wants Windows 8 to offer Apple's iPad a significant challenge. But it s the reception on desktops and laptops that might determine whether the operating system s a true success.