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Perspective: If Windows 8 = Vista, what's Microsoft's next move?

January 28, 2014 10:47 AM ET

That does not seem possible this time. With Windows 8 yoked to the Metro-Classic Desktop two-horsed cart, Microsoft faces unpleasant choices no matter what it does. Every move points to additional delays in stressing mobile.

If it salves the wounds some customers say have been inflicted on the desktop, it weakens the radical strategy behind Windows 8, which was to force touch, force Metro, on every customer in the hope that they would see the benefits, then take to new touch-enabled PCs, and -- if Microsoft was lucky -- gravitate to its tablets as demand pushed developers into quickly creating a massive app market.

A reversal like that would not be a defeat, but it would hamper the drive toward touch and mobile -- which in Microsoft's mind are not one and the same -- and put it even further behind in the contest for tablet hearts and minds because customers would perceive Windows 9 as a sop to the past.

It could wait it out, as it did before, until touch-enabled PCs are more widely available at prices customers will pay, or hybrids and 2-in-1s actually sell, then accept that Windows remains king of a no-growth future and hope that the 300 million or so PCs expected to sell each year actually sell.

It could do what some have urged it for years to do, split Windows between consumer and commercial, since the two markets are increasingly divergent anyway. That might mean removing the desktop from what's now known as Windows 8.1, relying on something akin to today's Windows RT, and spinning off the desktop to an enterprise or professional edition that still relies on mouse, keyboard and finer motor skills.

Or ideally, Microsoft, which is filled with smart people, would devise a solution no one on the outside has thought of or advocated as something the company must do.

Which path to take? The third runs counter to the company's continued assertion that consumer and commercial are too intertwined to separate. The fourth is a wildcard. So that leaves the first two, which seem the most likely because companies, like people, have habits.

Perhaps it's a decision that will be left to the new CEO.

"I think Microsoft will continue to tweak the Windows 8 offering," said Gartner's Smith. "There are lots of areas of concern, and Microsoft is nowhere near unassailable, if it ever was. But it's a very strong company in a lot of ways, with talent and resources."

And it has that bastard child, Vista, to use as an example.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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