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Mobile technology continues to hammer away at the once-dominant position of Windows PCs, and the future of Microsoft hangs in the balance as the company takes bold steps that will either right the ship or make it even less relevant.
From the antitrust suits of the 1990s to the utter failure of Windows Vista, it seems as if Microsoft is always facing one existential crisis or another. Erasing the mistakes of the past is a crucial component of Microsoft's strategy to move forward.
CEO Satya Nadella wrote off his predecessor Steve Ballmer's $7.2 billion Nokia acquisition this summer, shortly after former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop left the company. The 2013 deal, the second biggest in Microsoft's history, had failed to substantially alter the company's fortunes in the smartphone market.
And the free Windows 10 upgrades currently offered to every Windows user are as much about introducing the new operating system as they are about getting customers off Windows 8 -- an OS that clung too tightly to history at the expense of embracing the mobile future.
These moves do not come without risk. At a time when smartphone sales continue to grow and PC sales drop, Microsoft finds itself without a flagship manufacturer for its Windows Mobile devices. Although Nokia wasn't even one of the top five smartphone manufacturers by market share, according to Gartner, it had some presence. Nadella said Microsoft is committed to its own branded smartphones and pledged to reinvent its business, but details -- which will ultimately determine the company's success or failure -- remain scant.
The Windows 10 update option Microsoft pushed out will make it significantly easier for Windows 7 and 8 users to give the new OS a spin, but this creates a double-edged sword situation. If customers try it and like it, adoption could skyrocket. If it's buggy, or if the learning curve is too steep, people could abandon Windows altogether -- especially if the downgrade process is cumbersome. (Microsoft makes it easy to revert to Windows 7 or 8 within a month of upgrading to Windows 10, but users who wait longer will have to reinstall the old OS from scratch with a USB drive.)
Windows is Microsoft's core business, and its success in the mobile era is essential to the future of Microsoft. Windows is also the core computing platform in the business world, and if it falls out of favor with end users, it will have serious ramifications for IT.
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