A lot of investors see this fall as a huge opportunity for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
Its Windows 8 Phone is expected to gain share in a market where Android is getting hammered for being so much like the Apple iPhone. Windows 8 rolls out in October, and is expected to generate new excitement in the desktop and enterprise markets.
Maybe. But a downside has been quietly building for some time.
TalkingPointsMemo.com, a news site for political junkies (with an admittedly liberal slant) revealed last week that fewer than half the computers connecting to its website in August ran Windows, and barely one in six used the Internet Explorer browser. At the time of the last presidential campaign, Microsoft had 72% market share in operating systems, and Internet Explorer 39%.
We can hope that Fox News viewers are more loyal, but my guess is that -- in this area at least -- there's something like bipartisan agreement. The big story of the last four years has been the steady replacement of PCs as an Internet interface with smartphones and tablets, two markets where Microsoft has almost no presence.
No company has been as negatively impacted by these user changes as Microsoft. So the launch of Windows 8, especially Windows 8 Phone, becomes critical for the company's future -- not just an opportunity, but a requirement.
The problem is that, as the TPM link above indicated, it's happening during the peak political season. When Microsoft or its OEMs seek TV time to sell Windows 8, they may well find stations sold out, that politicians or their Super PACs have already blocked out everything just when Microsoft needs that time to sell its new wares.
Microsoft has reportedly budgeted $1 billion in TV ads for the Windows 8 roll-out. That may be less than a single presidential candidate spends on ads during that time. Will Microsoft have its message heard through the clutter?