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Windows 8: last throw of the dice for Ballmer

If Steve Ballmer is remembered for anything once he leaves the building at Redmond, it will be for Windows Vista, the product that completely derailed Microsoft.

As a result of that disaster, the company's newest product, Windows 8, has been released at the worst possible time - when budgets are really strained, and when it has to fight against its own predecessor.

For the home user, it may be a simple process to switch over; the office scenario could not be more different.

Windows 8 comes to market not long after businesses have begun the migration to Windows 7. Changing operating systems takes a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of pacifying of disgruntled office workers. Drivers are still in short supply, applications behave in a weird manner now and then. It will take two or three years for things to settle down. And once an organisation enters that comfort zone, it becomes very difficult to shake people awake and ask them to endure another round of switching.

Microsoft has never got anything right on the first or second try; it is always the third attempt that  results in something that is usable. Over the last two iterations of Windows, it has been the second service pack that has been the clincher; something like 815 issues were fixed in SP2 for XP which was released in August 2004.

After that, XP became a known devil and few among the userbase really cared when Vista went down the drain. The Vista disaster created a problem for Microsoft as it had to come up with a replacement. Else it is quite likely that the company would have paid some attention to mobile computing and come up with an assault on that sector.

But Windows 7 got in the way; it had to come out to mollify people after the technological fiasco of the decade, otherwise known as Vista. Whatever remained of Microsoft's reputation was at stake.

Now, Microsoft does not want things to settle down in the office which runs Windows 7. And to this end, it has made it known that there will be no SP2 for this version of Windows. This is a coded message to administrators: the problems will not go away, you will not be able to bed things down like you did with XP.

Instead, Microsoft is holding out its new treat: Windows 8. This may well be a much better operating system than Windows 7, but on the office scene that really doesn't count for much. What matters is stability.

Windows 8 requires new hardware - who is going to pay for that? Bear in mind that in a majority of cases, new hardware has already been bought for the Windows 7 rollout.

What about secure boot, something that is a part of Windows 8? This is an unknown area, one which with systems administrators are not familiar. What about applications?

No doubt, Windows 8 had to emerge. This is Microsoft's last big stand, its bid to scratch out some share in the mobile market. It is really late on the scene, much later than when it missed the internet boom. In that case, it was able to come back well and retain much of its marketshare. This time it would appear that there are too many players and it is too far behind.

With Windows being the incumbent, it is unlikely to disappear. But Microsoft's finances will be hit badly by the delay in uptake. It is not a question of whether, but when; Microsoft has deep pockets, but are they deep enough to sustain the company during the delay between release and take-up?

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.