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Will tablet developers rush to Windows 8?

With Windows 8 in pre-release, focus now shifts to tablet developers

September 15, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Now that developers have in their hands a pre-release version of Windows 8 running on a special edition of the Samsung Series 7 tablet, analysts are weighing in on how many developers will ultimately build Windows tablet applications.

Microsoft says Windows 8 will work on all the traditional platforms, such as desktops and laptops as well as tablets, which would suggest that a traditional Windows developer would simply port the desktop and laptop versions of Windows 8 to new tablets.

There's no guarantee that will happen, however.

Some analysts aren't sure how well Windows 8 will run in different tablet screen sizes and resolutions, and with the tablet's priority for touchscreen input, or with inputs using a keyboard, mouse or digital pen.

Analysts also question what Windows application developers will do in the coming months if they want to join the tablet trend now, instead of waiting as long as a year for a generally available Windows 8 tablet. Microsoft is already seen as woefully behind in a tablet market dominated by Apple's iPad and Android devices. Most experts believe the applications designed for iPad and Android tablets are a big reason there is a tablet fad at all.

App developers -- many of whom are independent operators from small shops -- are often considered the tail wagging the tablet dog. How developers react in coming weeks to Windows 8 preview technology is a key factor in how well Microsoft performs in its tablet future.

"Certainly the developer folks who already support Windows will be interested in Windows 8, especially if they think they can build an app once and have it play across many platforms. But it is not yet clear that it is possible," noted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"But the Win 8 tablets are at least a year away, and in the mean time, no app vendor is going to be able to just sit back and wait," Gold added. "So I think you'll see a mixed reaction: Clearly Windows developers will be interested in Win 8, but they will also have to have an answer for the popularity of iPad and Android."

Other analysts said Microsoft might be overreacting to the tablet trend with Windows 8, noting that desktops and laptops will still dominate computing for years to come. In that sense, they hope the Windows 8 OS truly serves the needs of traditional desktop and laptop Windows developers.

Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC, noted that Microsoft has been selling software used in tablets and slates for 10 years with limited success. IDC said only about 1.4 million Windows-based tablets, slates and convertible laptops were sold in 2010. By comparison, IDC recently revised its forecast for 2011 to say that there will be 63 million media tablets sold in 2011, with nearly 70% of them iPads.

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