HERE IS WHAT I FORESEE as the likely impact of Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system release on the PC market later this year and in 2013.
I think that the impending release of Windows 8 will be good for the PC market, in the sense that I predict that it will likely spur increased sales of PCs... ones that are preloaded (or later 'downgraded') with Windows 7.
I tend to doubt that it will lead to expansive PC sales growth, however, because large enterprises will sit on their wallets, with no compelling reason to migrate to Windows 8.
Windows 8 promises to become a replay of Microsoft Bob, Windows ME, and Windows Vista all rolled into one. It's ugly and hard to use, so I believe that a lot of consumers and especially enterprise users will reject it.
By ugly, I mean that the colours of the desktop are nauseating and the blocky rectangular desktop layout, while it might be somewhat suited for smartphones and tablets, is all wrong as a desktop motif.
There's so much wrong with Windows 8 usability that a brief column like this can't even begin to address it in detail, so I'll just say that I think Microsoft's ham-handed attempt to force tablet and especially PC users to work within the limited screen space available on smartphone displays is destined to fail.
These are different types of devices, used in different ways, and trying to make people use the same display layouts and modes of working on all of them simply won't be accepted. You'd have thought Microsoft would have recognised this sooner, but apparently it didn't, and I think it's going to pay the price for trying to cram this down users' throats.
Windows 8 seems to be inspired by the mass transit kiosk or industrial controls school of design, more suited for use by perpetually hungover Homer Simpsons than inspiring and enabling flights of productive creativity by information workers, academics, scientists and artists in mathematics, wordsmithing, graphics and performance media. It's a leap backwards in usability.
It's not going to lure any Apple Mac users back to using PCs, and even most Linux desktops look a lot better and are more usable than Windows 8. It might even drive more consumer Linux adoption.
There will be a spike in back to school sales of PCs running Windows 7 soon, but I predict that PC sales will drop sharply shortly after Windows 8 is released and gets preloaded on new PCs.
PC OEM's will react to this by continuing to offer Windows 7 preloaded as an alternative, and they might well press Microsoft to extend the availability of Windows 7 as a 'downgrade', much as they did with Windows XP in the aftermath of Microsoft's catastrophic release of Windows Vista.
Microsoft might do okay on modestly increased sales of new PCs running Windows 7, but I don't think it will see large sales growth in either new PCs running Windows 8 or Windows 8 licences.
However, Windows XP replacement should continue to gain ground, so Microsoft can probably point to that and pretend that Windows 8 is helping. Well, it probably will help PC sales a little, but not in the way that Microsoft will want to see. It will try to spin this, of course, but I think Windows 8 is going to be seen as another disaster for Microsoft. µ