Report: Microsoft desktop mode to take backseat to Windows RT and Metro-style UI

The upcoming launch of Windows RT for ARM-based mobile devices could signal the beginning of the end for the traditional Windows desktop, according to new data from Gartner.

Though most users will continue to run Windows desktop apps for the next 10 years, Microsoft will position Windows RT as the platform for new development, tech research firm Gartner predicted.

"Windows 8 is the start of Microsoft's effort to respond to market demands and competitors, as it provides a common interface and programming API set from phones to servers. It is also the beginning of the end of Win32 applications on the desktop," said Michael Silver, vice president and analyst at Gartner. "Microsoft will continue to support Win32, but it will encourage developers to write more manageable and engaging applications using WinRT."

Windows 8, which is expected to launch this autumn, will include the traditional Windows desktop but also a new Metro-style interface inspired by Redmond's Windows Phone design. That Metro style will also be featured on Windows RT-based devices, including the recently unveiled Microsoft Surface tablet.

But don't expect to immediately bid adieu to the familiar Windows desktop at work. Gartner's Silver said it will take enterprises "many years" to transition to the new RT-based model and at least five years for Metro-style apps to gain significant traction.

Businesses that adopt Windows 8 through 2015 will likely run most of their apps via Win32 and the desktop browser. But by 2020, users will likely spend less than 10 per cent of their time in Win32 apps and instead focus on Metro, Gartner said. Eventually, most Win32 desktop applications are likely to be run using server-based computing (SBC) or from hosted virtual desktops, the firm predicted.

"Organisations planning to develop new Win32 applications should switch to Metro for all new user-facing applications beginning in 2013 and should focus on external apps first and internal apps later," Gartner said.

Steve Kleynhans, vice president for client and mobile computing at Gartner, said the introduction of Windows 8 is "more than a major upgrade to Windows — it's a technology shift."

The last major tech shift for Microsoft was the move from DOS technology to Windows NT technology, which began in 1993 and took eight years, ending with the introduction of Windows XP in 2001, Kleynhans said.

"Smartphones and tablets are fulfilling the role of the primary device for an increasing group of users, and most of these devices are from vendors other than Microsoft," he continued. "In this environment, Microsoft needs to move to a platform that enables a new type of application, and embraces new types of user experiences."

ITProPortal and its partners continue to monitor all the developments surrounding Microsoft's latest generational OS refresh. Our editorial team was in Amsterdam this week as part of the press contingent at TechEd Europe 2012, also attending the specialist Exploring Windows 8 workshop on Wednesday. Hands-on analysis features are in the pipeline, but check out our in-depth reflections and summary of Wednesday's events in the meantime.