Does anyone need Windows 8?

@CNNMoneyTech June 2, 2011: 2:34 PM ET
the-lorax-dr-seuss.top.jpg

A Bar-ba-loot inspects a Thneed sewn by the Once-ler in Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. Consumers are looking at Windows 8 with the same skepticism.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, the Once-ler manufactures Thneeds, a does-everything garment that "all people need." But a quick glance at the bizarre creation makes it obvious that no one actually needs such a thing.

Could Windows 8 be Microsoft's Thneed?

Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) previewed its impressive next version of Windows on Wednesday night. In a YouTube video, the company convincingly demonstrated how its innovative new interface can work on any device, ranging from standard personal computers to large touch screen displays to tablets.

"Our approach means no compromises -- you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love," said Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's Windows experience vice president, in a blog post. "This is sure to inspire a new generation of hardware and software development, improving the experience for PC users around the world."

Windows 8 will allow users to perform all PC functions through a touch-based interface similar to the design on Windows Phone devices. Legacy Windows applications with a traditional user interface will work on Windows 8, but Microsoft is encouraging developers to write applications that will integrate its new tile-based UI.

It sounds nice, it looks beautiful, and on the surface it appears to be a way for Microsoft to keep Windows relevant. Consumer PC sales tumbled 8% last quarter, sending Windows sales down 4%. Microsoft admitted that was because of a noticeable tablet impact.

Tablet sales may hit $75 billion by 2015

But analysts say there is a major hole in Microsoft's Windows-on-any-device approach: Microsoft is misguided in its continued belief that consumers want every device they're using to function like a PC.

"Where Microsoft fails is in its continued desire to replicate a full PC experience on everything. It's an archaic concept. You don't need that anymore," said Zeus Kerravala, analyst at Yankee Group. "Microsoft doesn't understand how people work, live and play today. Whatever success Microsoft has with Windows 8 will be short-lived."

In other words, Microsoft has correctly recognized the trend but incorrectly identified the root cause. Yes, consumers are switching away from PCs to a tablet form factor. But it's not just the tablet's look-and-feel that people are after.

The abundance of cloud-based services like Flickr, Yahoo Mail, Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) Docs and Pandora mean consumers are increasingly able to use the Web for everyday computing tasks that once required PC software.

Tablets are popular because they can handle all of those needs through apps and the Web, while offering a light-weight operating system designed specifically to take advantage of the mobile form factor. The devices don't lend themselves to productivity, so why would anyone want to run Microsoft Office or Adobe (ADBE) Photoshop on them?

Productivity certainly remains a need for businesses, and they're still stocking up on full-featured PCs. Corporate PC sales grew 13% last quarter, according to a Microsoft analysis.

At the same time, business IT professionals are also leery of the all-in-one nature of Windows 8.

"Windows 8 is a unicorn -- it can be whatever you want it to be," said John Welch, IT director at the Zimmerman Agency, a digital marketing and PR firm. "But how are we supposed to support it? As a tablet, a Windows device, or a weird-looking iPad PC? With Windows 7, an Android phone or the iPad, I'm fine with it because I know what I'm supporting."

But businesses could end up as the prime customers for Windows 8 devices.

A recent Yankee Group study showed that 40% of employees are taking their own devices to work and using them for business purposes. Though Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) Steve Jobs pronounced the beginning of the post-PC era and likes to tout how the lightweight iPad is being deployed in businesses across the globe, the vast majority of businesses continue to operate within a Windows framework.

"There are so many things we need to do in our daily professional lives that you need a PC for," said James Brehm, connected devices strategist for Compass Intelligence. "I'm not so sure Microsoft is barking up the wrong tree by putting a PC-like experience on that form factor."

So who knows? The Once-ler made quite a business on Thneeds. So much so that he had to cut down all of the forest's Truffula Trees to make them.

"You poor stupid guy!" he said to the Lorax. "You never can tell what some people will buy." To top of page

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