Sunday 21 November 2010

R.I.P Microsoft Windows?

Microsoft is usually very good at presenting new products years ahead of the actual launch - but there continues to be a very remarkable absence of a single strategy for support of Windows applications or Windows as a well integrated desktop.

Android provides many improvements that Windows does not offer as part of the standard platform:

* Easy app discovery and installation (Android Market)
* Easy complete app removal
* Easy and tight Integration of phone book, GIS, messaging, online accounts etc.
* Automatic light control of the display
* Removes the need to terminate apps from the user
* Location
* Sandboxing
* Removes the need to think about file structures, which most users don't seem to grasp.
* Instant on
* OTA OS upgrades

In the future, Microsoft may provide many of these features, too, but it seems that it will take many years, because:

* Windows 8 seems to contain some technologies intended for improving on the mentioned deficiencies.
* Windows 8 is planned for 2012.
* It may take longer than that, before Windows 8 is out, based on Microsoft's historic performance.
* It often takes customers years to upgrade their Windows clients - some large organizations are still installing Windows XP. We might therefore not see a general deployment of Windows 8 before 2014 or much later.
* Microsoft does not make much PR about how to write client-side apps for Windows, how to future-proof them and certainly does not make it easy. Delphi is still king of doing that.
* Microsoft does not seem to prepare a platform for Windows apps that can be installed on Vista, Windows 7 or even Windows XP.

Don't be fooled about the press focus on touch devices; according to Paul Thurrott, Apple is still gaining market share on laptops, and Google is preparing a mouse-based OS, too (Chrome OS). Chrome OS seems to contain many of the features in the first list above, including the concept of installed apps.

Does this mean that Windows is dead? No, not in business, and not on the server. Some hardcore gamers and those that want "the same at home that they have at work" will still keep it, of course. But frankly, once Google Chrome OS is out, there isn't much advantage in buying a Windows PC, if you are an average consumer with no special preferences for specific software packages. Some may even just use a touch tablet with a keyboard.

So, how will the business desktop look like 5 years from now? My best guess is: fragmented.


kmorwath said...

Comparing Android, a small, limited OS to Windows is pretty stupid, but:
1) Easy app discovery: Windows was born far before the Internet became common. Never find an issue to find Windows apps, even before the web became available. Easy installation? Installing a 200k application with limited features is different than installing a 150MB application with lots of features.
2) Complete app removal: often a developer's issue. Too many lame, bad written setups. True, MS should have enforced Windows Installer and get rid of any other way to install (InnoSetup bye bye).
3) Tight integration of phone book, messaging, etc: users and developers would have cried out loud that MS was forcing them to use MS apps for that.
4) Light control: Windows 7 supports this since it was released one year ago. And supports also many other sensors. If hardware doesn't catch up, who's the culprit?
5) Why shouldn't I decide when to terminate an app? My desktop is not my phone. I perform far more complex tasks on it. It's me that decide what runs and what not.
6) Location: see 4). You should update your sources for Windows, looks pretty outdated.
7) Sandboxing: useful but comes at a price. Easy to implement in a small, limited system. Can become an issue in a large, versatile system.
8) File structure: again, in a small, limited device it is easy to think without organization. On systems several terabytes in size it's another thing. In my experience, most user understand file systems. Just the low-end part can't.
9) Instant on: if you put the system in ROM or the like that's easy. It also have disadvantages, especially for large systems, not the small, limited ones.

Anyway, it's applications driving OS adoption, not viceversa. As long as both Apple and any other operating system, GoogleOS included, don't have the applications you need, you're not going to use them. And on your desktop/laptop you need more powerful application than those you accept on your phone.

Lars D said...

I personally don't use Windows for anything that Android could not do - remember that Android is Linux+Java.

Nonetheless, it is a fact, that many apps that exist for Android, like a detailed weather widget for Denmark, is not available for Windows. On Windows, I need to use a website ( in order to get the details.

For the rest of your points, they are clearly typical points of a power user, but not of a typical consumer who doesn't understand the concept of "parent directory" and who gets confused if the same app is open twice. Microsoft has tried to solve the "twice open" usability problem many times, without success.

In Denmark, Office suite knowledge is going down - this was officially measured until it was realized that office suites are a bad metric for IT knowledge in the population. The number of people who know how to merge two Word documents is much lower than previously, because people forget when they don't use it. The same will happen to many actions in Windows that are needed to solve problems, when alternative devices are taking up consumer attention. Windows simply becomes harder to use as time goes unless Microsoft makes some very basic things much easier.

runner said...

Yes, true there will be separation.

1. OS for simple tasks (browsing opening documents...)
2. OS for power users

My wife for instance uses windows more or less for browsing. And she uses laptop for that because it can be carried arround. I am sure if I bought her a tablet she would use that.

I on the other hand do unspecable things to my OS and have so many apps that it is frightening (most open source). But I need that and as much as I like Linux as just can't use it as a primary OS. Not because it is not powerfull (we know it is extremely powerfull) but because it does not have apps that I need.

A lot of people will be happy with simple devices and OS. But that does not mean only OS market will change. Also desktops will probably become less common that they are now. Or people will have both.

On the other hand power users exist and will continue to exists and they need all the power they can get.

kmorwath said...

The next generation of users will be made by more "power users" than the actual one. While many people in their thirty-forties (or over) may have started to use a computer later, most of teenagers and those in their twenties started to use computers very early. They know what a computer can do, and many use them to create contents, not just to consume them. Sure, less people may need to use a word processor today when most text never gets on paper, but there are many other applications people use. The fact that Android is Linux/Java based means little. It's what you're allowed to do with it that matters. And if a weather widget does not exist, is probably because no one needs it when you can get more detailed information
easily. If Windows 7 removed the widget bar display, there should be a reason.
I predict that mobile OS with time will try to move towards desktop OS, not viceversa, because versatility pays in the long run. Users like it, not silly constraints.

Dorin Duminica said...

I don't see Android as a competitor to any Windows product, I'm NOT really a Windows fanatic but let's be honest, a lot of people said "MS Windows is going down" -- WAIT, WHAT?! -- how much market share does Windows have?!
yes... that friggin' much, now please tell me that Android(in which I've started developing simple apps) is very friendly developer environment, I would tell you that it isn't!!
NOW as I've said, I'm not a Windows fanatic, nor a "closed minded" I truly believe(AND HOPE) that Google will give us a wonderful OS for fast boot-up, resource friendly, etc. for browsing and web apps.
Please take a look at Ubuntu 10.10 -- it's fantastic, I've played with it, wrote apps in Lazarus, code blocks, but what's the point if end users are frightened of Linux?!
There are bunch of apps for Audio and Video editing, IDE's, etc. but as a business(which hopes to make money!!) what can you do with a extremely small market which is MOSTLY open source?! just my 2 cents, I hope I didn't offend anyone -- it was NOT my intent...

Lars D said...

Nerds typically judge Microsoft by the technology, but if you stop looking at technology and start to look at the market mechanisms, then you need to analyze segment and market mechanisms. In certain segments, Apple has more than 95% market share, but they are making gains in most common segments. This is news, because it means that the primary puchase criteria no longer automatically favors Windows.

We have seen that before, with browsers. Once MSIE stopped having an advantage in the eyes of the consumer, it's share started to drop, and is currently at below 50%, down from over 90%.

There are numerous reports, that the iPad is cutting laptop sales. As the tablets gain share, software and web technology will adapt, making it less important whether you use iOS or Windows. Does Windows have any advantage except running specific apps? Actually not, except for those segments that I mentioned.

So, if you are in a segment that requires specific apps, you may have a strong incentive to keep buying Windows computers. If you don't care, the color of the laptop or the name of the producer may be more important than the OS choice.

Google has demonstrated, that it has found a formula to make Android sell better than iPhones, even though everybody thought that would be impossible. Don't underestimate that achievement, and don't underestimate their ability to copy that achievement to tablets and netbooks.

Lars D said...

Sidenote: This site now has the following visitor distribution: 76% Windows, 11% Linux, 8% Mac, 1.7% Android, 1.6% iPhone, 0.9% iPad, 0.3% unknown, 0.3% iPod. Same time last year, Windows had 90% share.