Microsoft is Confident Devs Will Embrace Windows 8
Gartner predictions are at odds with others who think the new platform will win converts.
Will Windows 8 and Windows RT prove popular with developers? That's the $64 million question for Microsoft.
For a platform to get market traction, it needs a thriving app ecosystem. But that ecosystem, to a large extent, only grows when developers see profit potential in the platform.
But despite tepid enthusiasm among businesses for Microsoft's new tablet-oriented Windows 8 and RT operating system launched last week, the software giant is confident they will move to the new platform.
"Our enterprise customers will love the new Windows," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the launch event in New York on Thursday. "Windows gives them the tools they need to protect their corporate data. Business departments tell us Windows 8 will give them what they need while at the same time giving them the ability to let their employees select the devices they want."
Yet experts predict Microsoft will be hard-pressed to ensure Windows maintains the dominance it has long enjoyed on PCs as tablets become more widely used. A report released last week by Forrester Research forecasts Windows will only account for 27 percent of tablet unit sales by 2016. Gartner, which last week identified its top 10 strategic trends for next year and beyond, predicted that by 2015, tablets would account for half of all client devices used and Windows would rank third behind Apple's iPad and devices based on Google's Android.
"Most enterprises will sit on the sidelines for now," Gartner said in a statement, referring to Windows 8.
Notwithstanding the predicted decline in Windows' dominance, Forrester analyst Frank Gillett said Windows 8 and the new Windows UI (formerly referred to by Microsoft as Metro) will be a significant platform for developers and enterprise IT. "Once you get to 50 million units in market, you have enough developer attention on that market," Gillett said in a brief interview at the launch event. "They'll get there on that. "
Irwin Visser, senior director of Windows commercial marketing in Microsoft's Windows business group, said in an interview that Microsoft worked with about 50 enterprise and mid-sized customers who tested the new Windows 8 UI on tablets and hybrid PCs, as well as millions of volume license and beta customers who tested the new platform. Among them were Rooms To Go, a chain of 175 furniture stores, and a marketing group in the TV and movie syndication organization of 20th Century Fox.
Rooms To Go CIO Russ Rosen, who joined the retail chain when it was founded in 1991, said the company wanted to give sales reps tablets so they can sit with customers and browse inventory, look up available stock and set up delivery dates without having to walk to a store terminal. When Rosen learned of the pending arrival of Windows 8, he decided to wait for it.
With help from UI design firm Wintelect, Rooms To Go developed a Windows 8 app in C# and is planning to test it out shortly. Rosen said he is leaning toward pure Windows RT devices such as Microsoft's Surface RT or systems from some of the OEMs such as ASUS, Lenovo and Dell, which are releasing such tablets in the coming weeks.
"The plan is to use Windows RT. The battery life is better and they are less expensive," Rosen said in an interview. "We are also considering a VDI implementation."
Tanya Tallino, vice president for enterprise IT at 20th Century Fox, said the development of her company's Windows 8 app, available in the Windows Store, only took two days to build a proof-of-concept and 30 days for its in-house Visual Studio developers to build in .NET. The Silverlight-based app is targeted at 20th Century Fox clients, which are typically TV broadcasters that license its large catalog of syndicated programs and movies.
Currently, 20th Century Fox's broadcaster clients can access their accounts on a dedicated Web site, enabling them to preview content and look up various forms of information. The goal is to let them access their accounts on their own Windows 8 devices. The app is for those clients who have accounts. "If they have tablets running Windows 8, they can download the app from the Windows Store," Tallino said in an interview.
Asked if she plans to make the app available for the iPad and/or Android, Tallino said, "Right now, we're focused on Windows 8."
Peter Renner, director of Microsoft professional services at Los Angeles-based Gold partner En Pointe Technologies, said he is fielding inquiries from customers interested in piloting Windows 8. Renner said En Pointe, which works with enterprise customers, has about 20 proofs-of-concept under way. "It may not sound like a lot but given most enterprises are risk-averse, I think that's a pretty good interest," Renner said.
Most of those proofs-of-concept are clients still on Windows XP and thus face the 2014 deadline when Microsoft will stop supporting the OS. "I really think Windows 8 To Go is really going to help," he said, "especially for companies with a lot of remote employees."
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.