Too little, too late.
Microsoft is the new Novell. Novell was once the 800lb gorilla of networking, and then along came Microsoft to relegate them to relative obscurity. Novell dropped the ball, stopped innovating, and Microsoft produced a good-enough clone with just enough added blue crystals to take the lead. (It didn’t help that Microsoft isn’t inclined to play fair, but what company playing at that level ever is?)
Today, we are witnessing the death of the Microsoft client operating system. While it has the bulk of the market share in desktops and notebooks, this is largely a product of inertia. The constant game of “me too” and “catch up” has produced an impending death by a thousand cuts. Apple, Google and others, (Palm/HP for example) are simply out-innovating Microsoft while producing solutions that developers can live with and customers actually enjoy.
Microsoft has already lost the smartphone wars; nothing short of divine intervention will change that. The war for the tablet might be over before it even begins; we are about to enter into the Christmas season with no evidence of either an Android or Windows tablet that doesn’t royally suck in sight. While I’m not 100% sure, I suspect that being allowed to go unchallenged for an entire year is more than enough for Apple to establish itself as the king of this particular hill, capable of fending off all challengers handily.
So what’s left, the desktop? Traditional notebooks? I am sure there will always be a call for these, maybe even a fairly significant one. With VDI, cloud computing and a slew of credible alternative operating systems on offer, Microsoft stands to see a dramatic reduction in market share over the next decade. Apple has always been too expensive to realistically consider as a competitor for the desktop/notebook space, but Linux (in the form of Android, MeeGo, WebOS or ChromeOS) might finally be ready to start eating the low end.
Do your thin clients need to run Windows embedded? Once your corporate applications are recoded as SaaS apps deliverable through a browser, can’t at least some of those desktops be some flavour of Linux? Does Aunt Tilly require a home PC with a 350W+ PSU running Windows to heat her living room just so she can use Facebook and Gmail?
I don’t ask these questions or make these comments to attract flames, and I am not saying that this will all happen tomorrow. I am saying that in my opinion, over the next ten years, Microsoft will slowly fade out of the /client computing/ scene. I fully expect them to remain a server superpower, but I would be willing to bet that their desktop operating system versions will be used only by people requiring what we used to call “workstations” and by enthusiasts.
The real problem is the bloat. Microsoft couldn’t make a competitive operating system even if they got rid of Ballmer. The new black are these operating systems that can run cheerily on a 500Mhz processor with less than 512 MB of RAM. They are thin, light, have their own app store and will give the non-power-user all the computer they want in a package that eats less than 5 watts fully loaded.
Microsoft’s best embedded operating systems don’t even come close, nor do they get the kind of love or attention the flagship product does. If Microsoft wants to survive, then it’s time to say goodbye to the NT platform. NT is great for workstations, gamers or other demanding users…but until they can bring a credible lightweight operating system out as their mainstream they are cooked.
They could front something based on Windows CE (or buy Novell and just birth a mobile Linux like sane people,) but it’s more than just the OS. If you look at the gong show that is Windows Phone 7 they are so culturally indoctrinated into the idea of “copy the competition” they are not only copying the positive aspects (such as an app store) but the brutal mistakes (such as lack of copy/paste, lack of full multitasking, walled gardens, etc.)
If Microsoft want to play in so many different pools at once, they need to be capable of making products that are excellent on their own, interoperate beautifully with other Microsoft products but also interoperate with products from other companies. (Remember that they are competing not against Apple or Google…but the entire largely cross-compatible Linux/UNIX ecosystem.)
They lack two critical elements to pull off all of the above. The first is someone with a grand unifying vision that truly has the depth of scope necessary to understand how all of Microsoft’s offerings contribute to each other and thus to the whole. The second is management capable of actually executing and doing so on tight deadlines.
In the meantime, I will continue to wait around for a sub-$1000 tablet with 1366x768, SD card slot, USB and that either allows me to install whatever or want or can be easily rooted. Will Microsoft be capable of delivering, or will Android get there first?