By 2017 it's predicted that Microsoft will compete with iOS for the second most popular operating system. As Android grows at an explosive pace, will Microsoft become obsolete?

There was once a time when it would be impossible to imagine a world without Microsoft. The brand itself was synonymous with computing and high-tech as a whole. But as consumer preference shifts towards tablet-centric computing, will the company that popularized the personal computer have a future?

A report released by Gartner, an I.T consultancy, last week says that the computing of 2017 will be nothing like the computing of 2013. The company forecasts that by 2017 the number of tablets, smartphones, and “ultramobile” devices sold will almost 10 times the number of desktop and notebook computers sold – almost 2.7 billion units.

"While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, in a release. "As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis."

Microsoft’s challenge for an increasingly PC-free world is how to stay relevant. With Windows 8 the company attempted to make its operating system ecosystem hardware agnostic, but consumers didn’t bite. The Microsoft Surface was well-received but was a non-seller compared to the market’s leading tablets; Windows 8 phones like the Nokia Lumia 920 were praised by reviewers but never caught on in the market. Samsung was able to launch unorthodox and unique phones last year, like the Galaxy Note II, but Microsoft’s mobile OS – the not entirely unorthodox newcomer – can’t make headway.

So what’s left for Microsoft to do? Keep pushing Windows on ARM devices. ARM is the processor of the future, the x86 pretender of the second decade of the 21st century. While Microsoft’s first attempt at putting its operating system on this chipset – with Windows Phone and Windows RT – might have failed it needs to try, try again so it doesn’t become obsolete as Gartner suggests.