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Will Windows 8 Survive in the Post-PC World?

Try as it will to break through in the mobile space, Microsoft is still struggling to gain any ground with Windows Phone almost a year and a half after its launch.

Things have gotten so bad that that in a recent market share report by research firm Nielsen, Windows Phone market share was so small in the U.S. that Nielsen didn't even bother to break out its usage. It was relegated to the dreaded "other" category.

Well at least there's the dominant Windows client OS, right?

Right?

As a PC operating system, Windows has been dominant for decades. But there's a palpable change in the air. The post-PC world is becoming the real world, transforming before our eyes in homes, at airports and in office towers.

Connected mobile devices basically smartphones and tablets running Apple iOS and Google Android are quickly encroaching Windows PCs coveted space.

A new report from research firm IDC gives credence to the post-PC worldview.

New smart-connected devices shipped out to consumers and businesses are expected to exceed 1.1 billion units in 2012 and will reach 1.84 billion units by 2016 which is twice the current ship rate of 2011, according to the research firm.

The report's conclusion is that Windows on x86-compatible chips i.e. PCs will take a big hit between now and 2016, and Android OS will rise in power in the same time period. While the amount of Windows PC shipments will grow slightly between now and 2016, the PC's share of all devices shipped will decrease by almost 11 percent.

From the IDC press release:

"IDC expects a relatively dramatic shift between 2011 and 2016, with the once-dominant Windows on x86 platform slipping from a leading 35.9 percent share in 2011 down to 25.1 percent in 2016."

"The number of Android-based devices running on ARM CPUs, on the other hand, will grow modestly from 29.4 percent share in 2011 to a market-leading 31.1 percent share in 2016. Meanwhile, iOS-based devices will grow from 14.6 percent share in 2011 to 17.3 percent in 2016."

Windows across all devices, at least according to IDC, will get bypassed by Android in four years and will lose ground to Apple iOS. In short, we are not too far from tablet and smartphones being the world's dominant devices, as Windows-based PCs fall further into the background.

Slideshow: Windows 8 Consumer Preview: A Visual Tour for ITSlideshow: A Deep Dive into Windows 8 Consumer Preview

What should be most disturbing for Microsoft is that the IDC report assumes Windows 8 tablets (Windows on ARM) and Windows Phone will have little affect over the next four years.

Windows 8, released as a Consumer Preview last month, is designed for touch-enabled devices such as tablets and will also be touch-enabled on desktops and laptops (but do you really want to tap and swipe with your fingers on a PC monitor?).

Windows 8, in fact, was created to keep the Windows brand alive in the mobile arena so IDC's numbers do not bode well for Microsoft's mission. Unlike previous releases of Windows, Windows 8 is not targeting enterprise deployments, as many enterprises have only recently implemented Windows 7 after battling through a recession.

Windows 8 is a consumer play and Microsoft is relying on consumers to embrace Windows 8 use on tablets or smartphones to keep Google and Apple at bay, and then spill over into the enterprise as part of the BYOD (bring your own device) movement, says Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess, an IT consulting and managed services company that provides enterprises with OS deployment and virtualization technologies.

"Microsoft knows that enterprises are not ready for Windows 8," says Suzuki.

"If a big company does deploy it they will likely tune it back to make it more like Windows 7. Windows 8 is about becoming part of the diverse operating system environment of smartphones, tablets, laptops and virtual desktops. It's about catching up with Google and Apple, getting consumer share and not losing out on mobile devices."

If that indeed is the criteria for Windows 8, Microsoft better hope IDC's got its numbers wrong.

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at [email protected]

Read more about operating systems in CIO's Operating Systems Drilldown.


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