The Golden Age of Microsoft Windows is Over

Windows 95 LaunchRemember the launch of Microsoft Windows 95, the company’s first true GUI-driven operating system. The Rolling Stones’ anthem “Start Me Up” was heard around the world as firewalls heralded the arrival of the new application. Soon, Windows 95 and its subsequent versions would dominant the computing landscape.

Well, Hewlett-Packard is starting up a new All-in-One PC – the Slate 21 – that runs Google Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. While HP recently became the fourth PC manufacturer to develop Chromebooks based on Google’s Chrome operating system, this is the first foray of a Google-powered large desktop device.

Clearly Slate 21 is a consumer device, but nowadays consumer devices are leading rather than following enterprise IT adoption. This AIO could be the cornerstone of a new generation of Google-powered PCs to permeate the consumer and commercial markets.

Windows ain’t what it used to be, and evidence has been mounting in advance of this week’s Microsoft Build and the following week’s Worldwide Partner Conference. While Google’s Chrome operating system makes up a fraction of the install base, it is gaining traction among OEMs, presenting Microsoft with a thorny challenge.

In San Francisco next week, Microsoft will unveil Windows 8.1, the update to the latest operating system, which will add or restore many features demanded by customers. Most notably among them, the vaunted Start button that users have grown to love over the past two decades.

While Microsoft maintains Windows 8 is selling briskly – as much as 100 million units since the launch last October – PC sales continue to fall. IDC estimates PC shipments in 2013 will be down as much as 8 percent. And, for the first time this year, tablets – mostly of the Apple and Google variety – will outsell notebook computers. Many analysts blame lackluster PC sales on the shortcomings and lack of appeal of Windows 8.

To be fair, Windows 8 probably isn’t the problem for the PC slump. Businesses and people have more options. The commercial market really didn’t need another operating system; Windows 7 was a vast improvement over Windows Vista and worthy replacement for Windows XP. As a result, businesses are reticent to change. Consumers, on the other hand, have more options for consuming digital information, and smartphones and tablets have become their medium of choice.

Microsoft was slow to get into the tablet market. Surface, Microsoft’s first tablet device, and Windows 8, aren’t bad devices and platforms for mobility. They just face a steep uphill climb against Apple, which created and dominated the tablet market, and the ocean of Android-powered devices. Even if Microsoft doubles annual tablet sales, it will still be 1/10th of the sales pace Apple posted for the iPad over the holiday season alone.

The real trouble for Microsoft is the defection of longtime allies in the PC manufacturing segment. Earlier this month, HP announced a partnership to resell Google Apps, giving Google a large and strong ally to challenge Microsoft’s Office and Office 365. Now, with HP’s Slate 21, the PC manufacturer is sending a signal that it’s willing to spread its bets beyond Microsoft.

HP isn’t alone in moving away from complete dependence on Microsoft and Windows. Acer and Samsung have been partners with Google from the launch of Chromebooks in 2011. And, recently, Lenovo joined the pack by developing a ThinkPad Chromebook for the education market.

Many questions remain open for Microsoft on its future in mobility, tablets and operating systems. Microsoft is already shifting its focus away from Windows and more toward its business systems, which includes the Office productivity suite. And Microsoft is expected to announce a major reorganization next week that will likely consolidate the Windows and Windows Phone units. The biggest question isn’t whether Microsoft can regain its magic in Windows, but rather where Microsoft will find its next big of magic in the post-Windows world.


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4 Responses to “The Golden Age of Microsoft Windows is Over”

  • Apple has innovated on operating systems for years and now comes Mavericks. If you check Apple’s computer sales and margins, which have risen far above any Windows based players (dell is the most obvious to witness the tragic gap) you clearly see how designing great OSs drives product sales. It is that simple. They still call it “Windows” after 17 years and they still cannot get it right with zillions of lines of MS DOS bloated code.

    But the biggest sin is that for many MS Window users, they think it totally logical to be required to enter “Control+Delete” to Start Windows and then go to “Start” to log off. That is the nature of the backwards/upside down user experience warped thinking at Microsoft, where billions of software engineering dollars can’t seem to implement a feature toasters, radios, and light switches have had for over a century: “On” and “Off”. Try it. It works quite well for Apple.

  • I don’t think that Windows are over. People will allways need PC with Windows because smart phones can’t replace them

  • Jesse Wallace:

    I agree with Schyler.
    Its pretty ridiculous to think that windows is no longer dominant.
    Unless you think that controlling 90%+ of the content creation hardware in the market “marginalized”.

  • Schyler Jones:

    People are missing the points of what is really happening or not happening. The slump in PC sales has little to do with the commanding market share of Apple and Google when it comes to phones and tablets. Those are relatively new and supplemental devices, not replacements for Windows PCs. As you indicate in your article, they are popular as “consumers” of information – that is, other than pictures and email, they are still rather weak at being used as information processors and producers. Apple and Google still don’t have suitable replacements for the full suite of Microsoft Office applications, though a relatively small percentage of people get by with the basic capabilities of alternative apps. And couple this with the lack of real business apps for Apple and Google including ERP, accounting, and other line-of-business applications that mainstream businesses are already using and which still live predominately on Windows, it will be a LONG time before Apple and Google devices can be reasonably considered as true replacements for Windows PCs. Instead, the major cause of the PC sales slump is a combination of reliable hardware and Microsoft’s very reliable Windows 7 OS (including improved security), and the fact that in its 64-bit editions, we can really load the OS with memory to improve performance far beyond that of previous PCs. These facts are extending the life-cycle of moderns PCs, we simply don’t need to replace them as often.

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