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The launch of Windows 8 later this year will give Microsoft a boost in the media tablet market, making Windows-based machines a viable competitor against Android tablets and the iPad, but the company is still destined to be the No. 3 player through at least 2016, according to new projections from the Gartner research firm this morning.

Gartner says Windows-based tablets should account for 4.1 percent of media tablet sales this year, compared with 61.4 percent for the iPad and 31.9 percent for Android tablets.

Windows is projected to reach 11.8 percent by the end of 2016, still in the third slot behind Android and iPhone.

Microsoft was an early leader in tablet computing, with Windows-based tablets on the market a decade ago, but they didn’t catch on with the mass market in part because Microsoft was focusing on business sales. The iPad has caught on by appealing to consumers first, forcing IT departments to adjust to the changing tastes of employees.

“This poses a big threat to vendors that thought about focusing on the enterprise market who will now have to become appealing to consumers as well,”says analyst Carolina Milanesi, Gartner research vice president, in a news release.

She continues, “This is exactly the same trend that vendors such as RIM had to face in the smartphone market. The difference here is that tablets have been created for consumers first and then relied on an ecosystem of apps and services that make them more manageable in the enterprise. When the deployment will come from the IT department we believe that operating systems such as Windows 8 will have an advantage as long as they are not seen as a compromise in usability for the users.”

Microsoft’s Windows 8 comes with a new tile-based interface designed to work across tablets and traditional computers. It’s slated for release later this year.

Gartner has been more bullish in the past about Windows Phone, the Redmond company’s mobile operating system, projecting last year that it could surpass the iPhone in market share by 2015.

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