Windows has been the lifeblood of most of us that work in IT for many years.
Like the moon affecting the tides, each Windows version every three to five years would influence PC sales and drive business computer refresh cycles.
Intel, the PC manufacturers and computer resellers would salivate over the upcoming release; its influence was so strong and beneficial.
This age is over.
Not only are PC sales stagnant or slipping, but a much bigger factor is at play.
The operating system has become irrelevant
Ask yourself how much time you spend in the operating system at work each day. If you’re like me you’ve moved from being in applications to web apps inside your browser.
My desktop and laptop used to be full of documents, now that’s all in the cloud. I also used to have a lot of third party applications installed - now I only have two or three beyond my browser.
In an enterprise environment almost all applications are delivered into a web browser these days, even the legacy apps.
I’m 34, and I didn’t grow up with smartphones or tablets. What’s clear to me though is that if I don’t care about desktop applications and operating systems, then younger generations definitely won’t.
In fact they probably spend more time inside the Facebook interface than their operating systems.
Operating systems will and should be free
Unlike years gone by, it’s going to be very hard to sell operating systems in the future. Apple and Google give theirs away completely free, even to businesses.
Microsoft might characterise this as the operating system licenses are included when you buy your computer or device, but the average person just sees it as free.
If then in your personal life you don’t pay for operating systems, it’ll be hard to convince IT managers and CIOs of the future that they will have to pay for the same privilege in a business scenario.
It’s hard to imagine this changing and Windows, Android or Mac OS X being seen as a stand alone product again.
I hope that it’s dawned on Microsoft that Google and Apple are competing for the privilege of owning our desktops.
Differentiation hard to find anymore
Most young people can swap between using Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS etc without a blink. They’ve used each of them and while they might have preferences, they can use them all.
The excitement of new operating system features has been completely replaced by the excitement of new apps that you can download and experience on your smartphone and tablet. Tablets, devices and hybrids are the future of how we'll use technology.
This has meant that almost all of the innovation is happening on cloud web apps or in device apps not in the operating system layer.
If you look at smartphones more precisely all the really exciting and cutting edge apps are generally available for Android and iOS, then at a later date, if ever, available for Windows phones.
A hollow victory owning the desktop
Don’t get me wrong, next week’s Windows 10 will drive millions of users to download it free. In coming years Microsoft will still dominate the installed base of desktop and laptops around the world.
Loyal desktop users and reviewers will even heap praise upon Microsoft for Windows 10. It’s finally everything that was promised or should’ve been included with Windows 8.
The problem above all of that is for Microsoft, even if Windows 10 is a victory, it’ll be a hollow one:
- Desktop PCs and laptops are being replaced by new devices like tablets and hybrids.
- All the excitement, innovation and growth is in cloud services independent of your operating system.
- Microsoft hasn’t done well with all the operating system over the top revenue streams like app stores, music services and licensing.
It’s time for an even more radical departure for Microsoft. Realise the operating system is irrelevant and that the Windows brand represents the old way.