Windows 8 will be "largely irrelevant" to traditional PC users, a research firm said Monday.
Microsoft faces a tough sell with the new operating system, IDC said, because Windows 8 tries to "offer the best of both worlds" with a single OS suitable for both desktops and tablets.
"Windows 8 will be largely irrelevant to the users of traditional PCs, and we expect effectively no upgrade activity from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in that form factor," said IDC.
Al Gillen, an IDC research vice president, authored the prediction, one of 10 on a list of prognostications for 2012 that the firm released last week.
In an interview Monday, Gillen explained his dour Windows 8-on-the-desktop forecast.
"Customers will be asking 'What value does Windows 8 bring to my desktops and laptops?' and the only real benefit I can see is that it provides access to the Windows app store," Gillen said.
Microsoft first confirmed in August that Windows 8 will sport a "Windows Store," and disclosed more details about the distribution market a month later at a major developer conference. Microsoft is to reveal additional information about the store Tuesday, Dec. 6, at a San Francisco event.
Gillen said that application compatibility issues with Windows 8, and the recent push by enterprises to adopt Windows 7 will also hamper Windows 8 acceptance on PCs.
Application compatibility has been a bugbear for Microsoft, said Gillen, who sketched out previous problems in the arena.
"Windows 2000 Pro required developers to upgrade their applications, but they didn't do it," Gillen said. "So Microsoft was forced to release Windows XP, with better application compatibility. Then Vista came along, and ditto, it was short on application compatibility. Windows 7 improved [application compatibility] because Microsoft had to."
He expects the same application issues to plague Windows 8, in large part because of that edition's "Metro" interface that features a tile-style look and feel, a big reason why he predicted that Windows 8 won't get more than minor traction on desktops until 2013.
Gillen's take on Windows 8's PC chances echoed opinions other analysts expressed earlier this year.
Gartner's Michael Silver, for example, has said several times that "migration fatigue" will prohibit large numbers of business users from upgrading PCs to Windows 8.
"Microsoft has implied that [Windows 8] would not drive an upgrade cycle," Silver said in September, talking about corporations purchasing new computers to replace outdated machines and operating systems. "After all the work on Windows 7 deployment, organizations will think twice before deploying this everywhere. They're looking for a little respite, and planning to take a break because of migration fatigue."
And Windows 7 has been aggressively adopted by users.
Microsoft most recent sales figure for Windows 7 was 450 million licenses as of September 2011, up from 240 million in October 2010. Just as tellingly, Web metrics company Net Applications said Windows 7 powered 38% of all Windows PCs in November, an increase from 22% 12 months earlier.
Gillen was more optimistic about Windows 8 on tablets, but warned that Microsoft had to coax that market to be successful.
Gillen said that the key to Windows 8's success on tablets lay in Microsoft's ability to convince developers that the operating system deserved their attention. If the company can persuade developers to rework existing Windows applications for 8's Metro interface and craft new mobile-centric apps, it has a chance.
"[But] if it is unable to marshal the developer community to invest the way needed -- and over the past several waves of Windows releases the company has not succeeded at this task -- the future is bleak," Gillen said.
While Gillen gave Windows 8 little hope for scoring the kind of upgrade success enjoyed by its predecessor, he was adamant that that didn't mean Microsoft itself was irrelevant.
"You can't declare Microsoft irrelevant when their OS ships on more than 90% of new systems," Gillen said.
Microsoft declined comment on IDC's Windows 8 prediction.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.