I remember when years ago people were hoping that Linux would end Windows’ domination in the market place, especially with a crippled Apple at the beginning of last decade. Linux, an open source OS, was our last chance for that happening, at least back then. But Microsoft made sure nothing would be threatening their monopoly, and over the years they made deals in such a way that manufacturers were compelled to use Windows anyway. Add to that the fact that they’d rather turn a blind eye to the piracy in Asia and other poor countries, and have Windows on every machine there, than force them to choose the free Linux, and help Linux rise as a popular consumer OS, which would’ve meant a lot of popular programs would’ve been on it, too, and it would’ve become a real choice against Windows.
So after a decade of failed attempts to usurp Windows’ domination, you’d think that there’s no way for any other OS to beat it. But I’d argue that both iOS and Android have shown that there is place in the world for other operating systems, that could eventually threaten its domination. Microsoft tried to fight against this with WP7 and now Windows 8, but we’ve already seen that WP7 was too late to market, still stagnating at 1% market share, and I believe Windows 8 for tablets will suffer a similar fate, although probably not as bad. What’s worse, is that I think Windows 8 itself also poses a huge risk to the Windows domination.
Too Little Too Late
A new research from Forrester says that consumer interest in a Windows tablets has dropped almost in half since last year, from 46% to 25%. To be honest, I’ve always thought that people were crazy about wanting Windows on a tablet in the first place. It’s been on the market for almost a decade and it never caught on, in part because of the expensive x86 battery burning chips, that made the tablets last too little on a charge, and in part because Windows and the programs running on it were made for the mouse, not touch. The drop in interest shows that more and more people are understanding this today than they did a year ago.
But now you’d say that Windows 8 is optimized for touch, so the interest should rise high again, right? Well not so fast. The very reason so many people believed in a Windows tablet in the first place, was 1) because it’s the only OS they knew, and 2) because they thought they’d be using all those Windows programs on it. But as I said, they are now coming to the realization those programs would’ve never been a good experience on a tablet anyway.
But if the main reason for using a Windows tablet in the first place is gone, then why would they even want one now, especially when, unlike in the early 2000’s, you now have real alternatives in iOS/iPad and Android tablets. The reason to get a Windows 8 tablet now is certainly a lot less compelling than when Windows was the only OS most people knew, and the only OS that could give them the apps/programs they needed. The situation has radically changed now, and instead of being in a leading position, Windows 8 will have to catch up in touch optimized apps with iOS and Android, which both have hundreds of thousands of applications in their ecosystems.
Plus, it’s going to be almost 2 years before we even see Windows 8 ARM-based machines according to Digitimes, who say Windows ARM notebooks aren’t coming until mid 2013. We’re already seeing Android ARM “notebooks” (think Transformer) today, so Microsoft will be 2 years behind the competition again.
Losing Domination in PC’s
Some people seem to think that because Windows 7 has sold 400 million licenses so far, it means Windows 8 will automatically sell just as many or maybe even more. I disagree with that. Windows 8 is in a way a big disruption to the Windows ecosystem (as are Android and iOS), and like all disruptions, it means its most loyal customers will not like it at first. This is why Steve Ballmer said a year ago that Windows 8 is the riskiest thing they’ve done, because it actually is very risky, and it could kill their entire domination.
I’ve heard many people already saying how they just want to turn off the tile interface when they use it on a PC, because it gets in the way of them getting things done the way they are used to, and it slows them down in many cases. For example, you won’t even be able to use Youtube with its main Flash player when you use the tile interface, which is the default one. Sure, some people will switch to the HTML5 version of Youtube, which doesn’t look as good or work as well right now. But most people will use that default interface and realize that Youtube is not working. Should they just go back to the “old interface” every time they want to watch a Youtube video? This is just one example of how the new interface will annoy a lot if not most current Windows PC users.
Even the enterprise market is reluctant to switch to Windows 8, because they think it would interfere too much with their work flow and how they do things. Also a lot of enterprise developers supports .NET and they are still angry about Microsoft choosing to focus so much on HTML5 for Windows 8. This is what happens when a product is disruptive. It just chases away most of your current user base who are used to doing things a certain way.
The part that Windows 8 is disruptive is not bad by itself. The bad part is that it’s disruptive AND late. Meego was a disruptive modern OS, too, just like Android and iOS. If Nokia used it in 2009, it would’ve had a fighting chance, and maybe Nokia would be in a different position right now. But using it in 2011? Forget about it. It’s way too late. And Windows 8 (and WP7) have been late in exactly the same way.
A Moment of Joy
Should we feel sorry for Windows losing its monopoly status? No. We finally got what we wanted – true OS competition between Android, iOS and now Windows 8. I don’t think Windows 8 will share WP7’s fate of reaching only 1% market share. Far from it. But I also don’t think they’ll ever again have that 90% market share, whether we’re talking PC’s, tablets or other kind of devices. And I think about an equal market share between Windows, Android and iOS is exactly what we should be wishing for.
We can look forward to both Android and iOS becoming more work-oriented tools in the coming years. We’re already starting to see a glimpse of that with the upcoming Asus Transformer Prime, and I’m willing to bet Apple will release something similar either next year or in 2013.