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Can supermodel minx Heidi Klum SAVE Windows 8? NOT SO FAST

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Feature This year's MTV European Music Awards had everything: slinky supermodel presenter Heidi Klum, swathes of preposterous pop stars, and, er, an enormous Windows 8-powered video wall.

Keen to suck up any excess stardust, Microsoft provided the screen to show what was happening backstage.

The operating system’s appearance at the event this month is part of a glitzy marketing campaign featuring Aussie songbird Lenka and a string of gloss-coated ads revealing gorgeous Americans doing amazing things with Redmond's new software.

But as for the distribution channel here in Blighty? Well, we got a bus.

For the next few months UK distributor Westcoast will send a black double-decker decorated with Microsoft Windows 8 tiles hurtling around the English countryside to educate and enlighten resellers about the benefits of Windows 8.

With Microsoft focussing on consumers, not to mention efforts to capture cloud computing and sell software as a service, some dealers fear they could be shoved to the back of the bus or simply thrown under it.

One of the double-decker's first stops was Bechtle Direct, a reseller based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. To say it was greeted by wildly cheering, confetti-throwing sales people would be a bit of an overstatement. But it was certainly welcomed.

The bus is loaded with desktop, convertible computers and tablet hardware from vendors such as HP, Samsung and Toshiba, all running Windows 8. Richard Gibbons, Bechtle's software sales manager, said it was a “hugely useful” visit because it provided the company's sales team with hands-on experience of Microsoft's new operating system.

Heidi Klum

Could this woman save Windows 8?

As a Microsoft reseller house Bechtle has a clear interest in seeing Windows 8 take off.

“I'm a big fan from a user perspective,” said Gibbons, adding, “Every single business customer I have shown it to is impressed. I think enterprise sales will be quite significant and in the long-term the number of adopters are going to be quite impressive.”

Culture change versus Windows XP loyalists

Part of the pitch to those adopters is that Windows 8 represents a cultural change - a move towards touchscreen computing, which those familiar with iPads and such tablets will embrace readily. Using this logic, and with 80 million iPads shipping a year according to industry analysts Freefrom Dynamics, Windows 8 could enjoy a warm reception.

However, there is also a large installed base of Windows XP, an operating system that is 11 years old and stable. And many companies are still upgrading to Windows 7.

Funded mainly by Microsoft, the Westcoast double-decker team tacitly acknowledged this by dishing up comparative business and sales guides. These are designed to help resellers prise open the doors of clients still running XP, and explain how to sell Windows 8 as a mobile OS to clients happily running Windows 7 on desktops.

But it’s the mobile element of Windows 8 that many in the channel are relying on to drive sales, particularly business-ready tablets. Zak Verdi, director at Software One, boldly stated: “There is a lot of pent-up demand. People are holding back on hardware refreshes because they want Windows 8.”

Microsoft has been emphasising the mobile side of its new operating system in a raft of webinars, seminars, in fact all sorts of "ars", all designed to showcase its benefits. There's an air of optimism that Microsoft may become a realistic player in the mobile space, which in turn is going to generate new revenue streams for the channel.

However, this may be based on hope rather than hard-nosed business expectation.

<p“There may be a general air of optimism because the channel is seeing a huge interest in tablet touch devices," said Alastair Edwards, principal analyst at Canalys, "but enterprises are very cost conscious these days and will be reluctant to move to a new operating system too quickly.

"Windows 8 is a radical shift, it's not just a question of embracing it as part of a natural upgrade cycle. There will be significant training costs. It will take time for it to penetrate and many companies will hang back to see what the experience of early adopters is."

Beyond sharing basic technical knowledge, certification and competency programmes, for now Microsoft is not offering the channel much to work with.

“There's a huge amount of consumer advertising but Microsoft has a bit more communication to do with the channel," said Andy Buss, service director at Freeform Dynamics. "There is some support to help resellers identify opportunities on a case-by-case basis but at the moment most of the marketing bucks seem to be going towards the OEMs [original equipment makers] to ensure that they are developing a better class of device for Windows 8."

Certainly, computer makers are expecting accelerated Windows 8 hardware sales - next year. Michael Keegan, managing director of Fujitsu Technology Solutions, pointed out that the company already has a number of Windows 8 computers that are essentially new, light and more powerful form factors. He expected these to bolster what have generally been “weak sales in the channel in the last three to six months”.

He attributed that to customers holding back on technology refreshes but believes Windows 8 will help accelerate sales: “Microsoft is no longer a monopoly but... with the launch of Windows 8 it is in a much stronger position. It needed to be in the mobile form factor space and the new operating system places it firmly there.”

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