Early Windows 8 bird may spell channel bonanza

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The software giant hides Windows 8 under a cloud of unknowing

Sources at the CeBIT show in Hannover last week suggested that there was increasing pressure on Microsoft for an early release of the next version of its operating system, Windows 8.

If those reports are true, such an early launch will be welcomed by the channel, which stands to make significant gains from the usual Microsoft upgrade cycle.

But there are obstacles in the way. Firstly, large enterprises have not yet completed their plans to move to Windows 7. Microsoft is reassuring companies and end users that it will be an easy matter to move from Windows 7 to Windows 8 – the hardware requirements are exactly the same. And, for that matter, the OS can look exactly the same as Windows 7, although of course Microsoft is being pushed by competition to make Windows 8 the de facto choice for tablets and for mobile devices too. It’s long wanted to make inroads into both these sectors – it was an early promoter of tablet and pen computing, and now must have spent many millions on the mobile version of Windows, without any noticeable signs of success.

It’s not just the channel that wants and wishes Windows 8 to succeed, and to come as soon as possible. Intel is currently pushing Ultrabooks and believes that the introduction of the new operating system will help sell the thin notebooks it wants to push into the marketplace.

There are serious external pressures on Microsoft too. For one thing, its so-called Metro Apps, applications for tablet based machines running Windows 8, faces severe competition from Google and Apple – both these companies have thousands of apps already available for stable platforms. Microsoft will need to entice developers to create apps for Windows 8, and if the July date holds true, it will have to sweeten them up with considerable incentives.

It appears we will also have to wait for Microsoft to divulge a whole bucket of information as it is dripping out some details while refusing to reveal others. At a press conference at CeBIT last week, the company refused to describe licensing for the operating system, wouldn’t discuss exactly how Windows 8 for ARM devices would work, and hinted on extra security features for enterprises. No one knows just how many SKUs there will be of Windows 8 either. It’s quite probable that Microsoft doesn’t know either.

All of this uncertainty is not a good portent for Microsoft. While it is no doubt briefing its enterprise customers, its developers, its channel partners, tablet makers, phone manufacturers and notebook manufacturers behind the scenes, it is conveying a mixed message – and businesses hate mixed messages. Without suggesting that there’s some cosmic pattern at work here, Microsoft does have a track record with consecutive releases of Windows of hits and misses. Vista, most agree, was a dog, while Windows 7 was number one on the hit parade.

And there’s another thing. Much of Microsoft’s profit is tied up in its Office software. If it is forced, under pressure from its competitors to dilute this profitability, that’s going to seriously impact its bottom line. There are more questions than answers, and Microsoft really does need to come clean rather than veil its future offerings under a cloud of unknowing.

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