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Microsoft's Windows 8: Why I Changed My Mind

Stocks in this article: MSFT AAPL GOOG

Measuring Windows 8 success based on the RT version or the initial Surface tablet should therefore be a mistake. However, Microsoft as a company still faces (reputational) risk from consumer backlash over RT and the Surface. This needs to be monitored carefully.

What Does This Mean for Microsoft?

Microsoft was losing badly in the consumer market. Not one person I know has switched from Mac to PC in recent years, whereas many people have done the reverse. A quick walk over to your nearest Starbucks (SBUX) will confirm this.

Can Windows 8 stem this tide? The potential is definitely there, although I think it will take at least another year for a clear verdict to emerge. Windows 8 now has the stability, security and manageability of the Mac OS and offers something Mac does not: a touch screen.

Then add the further potential if Microsoft can close or meaningfully narrow the applications gap for the RT platform. RT runs on processors designed by ARM Holdings (ARMH) and initially manufactured by Nvidia (NVDA) and Qualcomm (QCOM), and is therefore both cheaper and power-efficient.

If Microsoft plays things right before Apple also shifts its Mac line to ARM Holdings processors, it could have a trump card.

Apple's advantage remains its superior sales and distribution model, including the lifetime customer support afforded by its almost 500 stores. Until Microsoft -- or Google -- matches this, it will be an uphill battle competing with Apple, quite aside from actual product merits.

Now there is, of course, another pink elephant in the middle of the room, which changes this competitive equation in yet another dimension, and this is Google's PCs based on the Chrome operating system. These are the Chromebooks (laptops) and Chromeboxes (desktops). If you want the ultimate in simplicity, where there is no need for customer support (stores) because there is nothing causing a customer support event to begin with, then these Chrome OS PCs are for you.

Both Apple and Microsoft are trying to simplify their PC products, but if you want the ultimate in simplicity, why isn't the 100% pure Web experience the answer? Google removes any and all need to set up and manage your PC in any way -- backups, security, synchronization, storage management, application management, updates, etc. -- and makes the PC experience totally foolproof.

With Windows 8 Microsoft may have stemmed the hemorrhaging of customers in Apple's direction, and it may be able to reverse that trend over time. But both Apple and Microsoft also now have a new threat from the ultimate next-gen product from Google: the $249 laptop, and other models that are sure to emerge from Google in the next few months.

At the time of writing, Wahlman was long AAPL, GOOG, MSFT, NVDA and QCOM.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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