Windows 8 is Microsoft's biggest bet in 20 years - and three challenges could trip it up

The new operating system's success is no racing certainty...

Microsoft is staking a lot on the unified platform approach of Windows 8. Yet a big payout from the new operating system is by no means certain, says Gartner's David Cearley.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to make the shift into what many have called the post-PC era. This is a period when new interfaces using touch and gesture will replace the user interface (UI), and mobile devices take centre stage from desk-bound machines.

Microsoft's approach is to provide a single client operating system platform and modern user experience that spans Intel and ARM architectures as well as the full range of client devices, from mobile handhelds through to fixed-location desktops. Microsoft presents this strategy as "reimagining Windows".

Windows 8

Windows 8 is not a finished product and Microsoft will need a number of iterations to refine itPhoto: Microsoft

Windows 8 is an ambitious project and I generally like the direction Microsoft is taking. The new Metro interface looks promising and Microsoft now supports HTML5, CSS and JavaScript as key elements in the development model.

If Microsoft can come up with the goods and deliver a modernised and optimised experience, and a unified application model across chip architectures and form factors, then it could maintain its leading position in client platforms.

However, this outcome is not guaranteed. The company faces three major challenges:

Challenge 1. Windows 8 needs to mature

Windows 8 is a developer preview, not a finished product. The demos at this month's Build conference in California crashed frequently and we are probably months from a beta product. The new UI is still very rough and there are functionality gaps for Metro-style applications compared with the current Windows 7 environment.

Microsoft needs a number of iterations to refine the product. I don't expect commercially available Windows 8 devices in the market before next August and it could easily slip to...