Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Microsoft in the Post PC Era

Many a desktop user has complained about Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system migrating to a user interface more suitable to a smartphone or tablet. They do not see the big picture.

If you are old enough to remember the days before the internet, the personal computer was a tool for work and than a gaming device. When the internet became part of our daily lives, computer sales took off. One day, everyone would have a personal computer. This is still true today, but the definition of what is a personal computer has changed. 

For some people, a smartphone alone will be enough to meet their personal computing needs. Others, finding a smartphone insufficient, would select or add a tablet to their stable of devices. Desktops and laptops will eventually be relegated to their status of prior to the advent of the Internet age: machines for work.  

IDC estimates that this year tablets will outsell traditional desktops. By the end of 2014, tablet sales will surpass laptop sales. Nearly three smartphones are sold today, per desktop of laptop sold. All this means, is in two years time, desktops and laptops will make up just about one in every five computers sold.

In what has been dubbed as the Post-PC era, you find Microsoft which once held a 90% share in personal computers, now looking at holding a 90% share in one in five personal computers sold within two years tie. That is really just an 18% share of all personal computers. Holding on to that 18% share is going to be harder in the Post-PC era.

Microsoft's stranglehold on the personal computer market, was secured by the fact that is was the center of application development. Pretty much all software developed was Windows compatible, with only a fraction of the software developed for Windows also being released for Mac OS and Linux. If you wanted a computer that could run your work related applications, and your entertainment applications, a Windows computer was the ultimate jack-of-all-trades.

This is the raison d'ĂȘtre for Windows 8 is to maintain this status. With Windows Phone 8, Windows RT and Windows 8, Microsoft is hoping to get a substantial share of the smartphone and tablet market... the segment which will soon comprise four in every five computers sold. With a substantial share of the smartphone and tablet market, apps would be created for Windows Phones and Windows Tablets, could be easily ported for Windows desktops and laptops. 

If Microsoft is unable to break into the smartphone and tablet market, it will find itself holding on to the lions share of the traditional desktop market, but stagnating app development for desktops in general would further threaten its postion. The app ecosystem that has made Windows dominant for so long, would cease to exist.

As the traditional personal computer retreats to becoming a work device, consumer software development will focus on Apple's iOS and Google Android. Less and less consumer software will be developed for desktops. In this environment, operating systems like Mac OS, Chrome OS and the various Linux distributions will find it easier to compete with Windows. When desktops and laptops are no longer expected to be multi-faceted devices but rather dedicated business machines, it is of little importance whether or not you laptop can run Starcraft III.

Those claiming that Windows 8 tablet centric interface will be the death of Windows on the traditional desktop are missing the point. The failure of Windows Phone and Windows 8 on the tablet is what would sound the death knell for Microsoft's desktop operating system.

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