Yes the company has antagonized hardware partners by coming out with its own tablets. Yes the new Windows UI will take some getting used to. Yes Windows Phone 8 is a long shot. But under the covers there are lots of new goodies for IT and, failing these steps forward, Microsoft risked a long, slow decline.
CEO Steve Ballmer at the Build 2012 developers conference last week said the introduction of Windows 8 is right up there with the two other biggest events in his tenure at the company: the launch of the IBM PC and the introduction of Windows 95, the first version with an integrated Web browser.
The early responses are probably better than the company could have hoped for - preorders of the Surface tablet outstripping supplies, 4 million copies of Windows 8 sold in the first three days, and a flood of reviews, most of them positive, including our own:
"Much of the attention being paid to this week's Windows 8 launch focuses on the new Metro-style interface and the fact that Microsoft is extending its desktop OS to tablets and smartphones. But for enterprises, the real story is the way Microsoft has integrated Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 and the Hyper-V hypervisor to create an unmatched system for running virtualized environments" (see "Windows targets virtualization with Windows 8/Windows Server combo").
In fact, at Build Ballmer said Microsoft has already sold "tens of millions" of corporate licenses for Windows 8. Of course that is a drop in the bucket compared to the billion-plus installed base of Windows PCs out there, but it is a healthy start.
What of those observers who say the Windows franchise is threatened by an increasingly mobile workforce relying on tablets and smartphones from other suppliers? There is no denying the influx of these devices, but anecdotal evidence suggests they are adjuncts to instead of replacements for desktops/laptops, so let's not write off Windows so fast.
Change comes slow, after all. Windows 7 just surpassed the XP installed base this past summer. And four big shops we checked in with say Windows is just as important to them today as it has always been.
These companies - an $8 billion energy company, a $2.5 billion consumer electronics firm, a $5.5 billion consumer products company and a national laboratory - use Windows for 80%-100% of their desktops/laptops today and three of the four say they will migrate to Windows 8 beginning in the next six to 12 months. One of these shops will likely upgrade to Windows 7 first.
With the new virtualization and management tools baked in, Windows 8 looks like a winner, regardless of how the Windows tablets and phones sell.