Can Microsoft Compete in a Post-PC World?

Microsoft says it sold 100 million licenses for Windows 8 in the six months it was on sale. Not spectacular, but not bad either. But for Windows RT, Widows 8’s tablet-friendly little brother, things haven’t been so hot. Microsoft hasn’t given out numbers, but IDC estimates sales of Microsoft’s Surface RT at a bit over a million for October through March. It seems likely that combined sales of OEM RT products–all four of them–were even lower. By contrast, Apple is selling nearly 1.5 million iPads a week.

The failure of Windows RT–and it is getting very hard to call it anything else–leaves Microsoft in a terrible bind, as least a s a seller of consumer products. The post-PC era is upon us, not in the sense that traditional PCs are going way, but that they are no longer the center of the computing world, either in most people’s usage, in mindshare, or in sales. We’ve just entered this new era and it should be possible for a company with Microsoft’s resources to recover. But the first step in recovery is recognizing that you have a problem, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to quite be there yet. Consider Board Chairman Bill Gates’ comments on CNBC:

Windows 8 really  is revolutionary in that it takes the benefits of the tablet and the benefits of the PC and it’s able to support both of those. On Surface and Surface Pro, you have the portability of the tablet but the richness in terms of the keyboard and Microsoft Office…. A lot of [iPad] users are frustrated. They can’t type, they can’t create documents, they don’t have Office there. We’re providing them something with the benefits they’ve seen that have made that a big category without giving up the benefits of the PC.

In other words, what people want is more mobile versions of traditional PCs, and that’s what Microsoft is determined to give them. The problem is that this is a serious misreading of why customers are flocking to tablets. Mobility is, of course, an important attribute of the tablet. But so–and here is where Gates and Microsoft go wrong–simplicity. The iPad has limitations which users accept in exchange for wonderful simplicity and great ease of use. Tablets, and especially, the iPad, have the shallowest learning curve in the history of computing. Their software does not break. The process of updating their software is simple automatic. They don’t run Office but, while this may come as a surprise to Gates, many people do not see that as a disadvantage. They are, as my colleague Ben Bajarin would put it, a great example of “good enough” computing.

So what can Microsoft do about this? I have always thought the company made a strategic mistake when it decided to adapt desktop Windows to tablets rather than follow Apple’s lead by using an enhanced version of Windows Phone. It ended up compromising both the desktop and the tablet experience (based on the reports we’ve been hearing lately, such as this from ZDnet’s Mary Jo Foley, the upcoming “Blue” update to Windows is designed more to address Windows 8’s shortcomings as a desktop OS than to rescue Windows RT.[pullquote]I have always thought the company made a strategic mistake when it decided to adapt desktop Windows to tablets rather than follow Apple’s lead by using an enhanced version of Windows Phone.[/pullquote]

Windows 8/RT was a radical step for Microsoft, but in the end it just didn’t go far enough to succeed on tablets while perhaps going too far to win friends on the desktop. A true tablet OS simply would not have a Desktop mode that depends on a keyboard and mouse for usability, and Windows RT regularly requires going into Desktop for critical tasks (we can only hope that Blue will fix this.) The vaunted availability of Office is no advantage at all for most users because the Desktop Office apps simply don’t work well on a tablet. True touch versions of Office applications are reportedly in the works, but they are not expected before late 2014.

OEMs disappointed with Windows RT are building Windows 8 tablets. The most PC-like of these may succeed as sort of Ultra-ultrabooks, Windows 8 is fundamentally unsuited to a pure tablet. It requires too much process, too much battery power, too much storage, and too much keyboard. The same OEMs, even those most loyal to Microsoft, are also hedging their bets with Android.

That may well be too late. iOS 7, expected this fall, is likely to be a major enhancement of the iPad and we may see iOS 8 before the Windows tablet software upgrade is complete. Android tablet software still lags; the operating system has not made nearly as much progress on tablets as on phones. But Google and its partners will get it right sooner or later, and probably before Microsoft.

None of this means that Microsoft is going away. It’s back-end software powers most enterprise computing and its clients continue to have a vital place in business. For some business users, Gates might even be right about tablets: they need Office worse than they need the elegance and simplicty of an iPad. But with the mass of consumers, for whom a conventional PC is more likely to be a place where they store stuff rather than do stuff, Microsoft is in real trouble with no easy way out.



Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

54 thoughts on “Can Microsoft Compete in a Post-PC World?”

  1. Steve, this article is chock full of goodness. I can give you no higher compliment than to say that I wish I had written it myself. 🙂

    “The problem is that (Bill Gates and Microsoft are) serious(ly) misreading …why customers are flocking to tablets. Mobility is, of course, an important attribute of the tablet. But so – and here is where Gates and Microsoft go wrong – is simplicity.”

    What you say is true but I’ll take it one step further. I don’t think that Bill Gates and Microsoft misread the importance of the new, simpler touch interface – I think they purposefully ignored it. Why? Because they had to.

    Microsoft’s entire user base was on notebooks and desktops. It took them two and a half years to prepare a tablet competitor. Microsoft felt that its best option was to transfer its notebook and desktop users to the tablet and that the best way to do this was to make a Windows tablet and a Windows desktop that worked identically.

    Unfortunately for Microsoft, this strategy conflicted with the reality that the reason why the iPad was so suddenly successful, when all previous tablet iterations had been abject failures, was because Apple realized that the tablet required a user interface that was designed for touch and that was inherently incompatible with desktop inputs like the mouse and stylus. While Windows 8 is desperately contending that there need be no difference between the user interfaces of the desktop and the tablet the truth is that the touch operating systems that operates a tablet is inherently incompatible with the pixel specific operating system that operates a notebook or a desktop.

    Microsoft billed Windows 8 as a “no compromise” operating system when, in fact, it was just the opposite. It compromised the tablet experience in order to pretend that it was the same as a desktop and it compromised the desktop experience in order to pretend that the desktop was the same a tablet.

    One can successfully combine a horse and a donkey to create a mule, but in Windows 8, Microsoft seems to have created a creature that is the back half of a horse and the back half of an ass. Not a very winning combination.

    1. Why thank you, John.

      The frustrating thing is how little Microsoft managed to learn between the introduction of the prototype Tablet PC in 2001 and the release of Windows 8/RT 12 years later. As late as 2009, I was arguing with Microsoft execs who proclaimed the superiority of resistive singe-touch and stylii on windows Mobile phones.

      1. It’s been seen countless times in the past: when people get into a way of thinking that brings them major success, they may never be able to escape it. At some point someone else comes along and introduces a new concept that captures the territory, but the previous masters cling to the old ideas and are unable to change. It’s like they used to move around freely in water, but the water turns to ice and locks them in place, while they believe until the end that their way was superior.

        1. Microsoft seems to be too outright stuck to Windows, Windows, Windows, Windows. It might have actually made more sense for them to acquire BB or someone and use their OS to restart for mobile instead of being stuck on “Windows, Windows, Windows….

    2. The new computing landscape is consumer-oriented rather than enterprise-oriented. Apple has always been a consumer-oriented company first to last, Microsoft has always been an enterprise-oriented company first and a programmer/nerd-oriented company second.

      And it’s really quite amazing, looking at Microsoft’s attempts to adapt to the new landscape, to see just how out of touch they are on so many levels. They’ve been serving the enterprise market for so long, they seem to be completely unable to shift their thinking to figure out how to serve customers who aren’t corporations or nerds.

      Even though all along, they’ve continued to *try* to create consumer-friendly products. From the current failed round of Microsoft tablets, to the failed Zune, to (going even further back) Windows XP Media Center edition, which put a lovely front end on a media player that could not play any of the most common video file formats (avi, mp4, mkv, DVDs) without 3rd party add ons.

      Really the only success story they’ve had in the consumer landscape is with Xbox… maybe the questions to ask are “what about Xbox was so different that it succeeded when Microsoft’s history is littered with the corpses of consumer items that failed,” and “why hasn’t Microsoft been able to learn lessons from the success of Xbox and apply them to their other consumer oriented ventures.”

      1. Don’t forget that MS took years of losses, and a second version, before XBox started turning a profit; it is debated whether the entire XBox project has yet recouped those early losses. And let’s not forget the Red Ring of Death debacle. Success with a consumer product? Only by throwing enormous amounts of money at the problem!

        1. Also Xbox 360 lessons of “success” depended on Sony Shooting themselves in the foot with the PS3, and on purchasing game studios for exclusives.

          With dozens of new competing smartphones/tablets launched with regularity, there is just about ZERO chance of Sony PS3 foot shooting moment, to give them a leg up.

          Similarly there is no exclusivity coup that would have nearly the effect of buying studio like Bungie for the Halo exclusive. Buying Rovio to lock up the next Angry Birds really won’t do the same thing.

          This is shaping up to be a whole lot more like Zune than Xbox.

          Edit: One more factor in Xbox Success, not available here. All the console ecosystems reset from scratch at the generation changeover, creating a much bigger opportunity for new players. With Smartphone/Tablets, the ecosystems don’t reset, they evolve, not giving that ground zero opportunity at each generation changeover.

          1. It’s definitely a Zune situation. Way to late to the party, and in a market where they have no reason to exist… What does WP8 offer that BB10, Android and iOS do not have or do well? (Or better)

    3. I basically agree with your points but would add that Metro and its app store is an acceptance that the future is simple and touch based. However, they are years behind in this area and know it.

      They seemed to assume that to cover that deficiency, at least until the Metro store bulked up, they could add the PC functionality. After all, as the little girl in the AT&T ad says, “More is better, we all want more more more. If we didn’t have more, it would be less!”

      They just could not accept that there was a massive disadvantage to “more” and that a highly compromised single device was in fact typically inferior to a 2 device solution. Let’s face it, a 10″ screen is inadequate for a laptop and a 2lb device is inadequate as a tablet. It is sub-par in its 2 intended uses. Some will take those compromises but the vast majority won’t. It is now unclear if the Metro store will take off given the vicious cycle of few apps drives low sales drives fewer apps. However, if the XBox proves anything, MS will throw money down the hole until it is full.

    4. Any time you hear those special words “No compromise”
      It’s usually irony to a great extent.

  2. I think for the most part Bill Gates is just supporting the party line, since he really isn’t involved in Microsofts day to day operations anymore. It wouldn’t be helpful to have him undercutting current management unless/until it is about to be replaced.

    But as far as current management, how could they not see Windows RT failure coming? From the first announcement this seemed obvious to me. RT is dragging along the baggage of Full Windows desktop, without the (admittedly minor for tablet) advantages, and has reportedly very high licensing costs, because of the (compromised) Office inclusion.

    I have said for a while, that RT should be the small tablet (8″ and under) solution that jettisons the desktop mode (and desktop office) and drops to a much lower license cost to be better compete in small tablets.

    Windows 8 was such a muddled confused launch overall, that I am disappointed the market still rewarded them with 100 million sales.

    1. I suspect that interview reflects Gates’ actual views. It is consistent with what he has been saying for years.

      As for smaller tablets, there’s a problem with Windows RT as it exists today. It requires the use of Desktop for many administrative chores, including most control panels. What is a bad experience on a 10″ tablet will be worse on an 8″. Microsoft has to eliminate the Desktop dependencies for this to work. Which takes me back to my argument that a scaled-up Windows Phone would have been the better OS.

      1. I give Gates credit for having enough intelligence to learn from mistakes and enough class to not undercut the current CEO. It is kind of irrelevant anyway. He isn’t the decision maker.

        I agree on the need to remove the desktop dependence before moving smaller, which is why I said “… jettisons the desktop mode…”.

        Using Windows Phone for tablets has it’s own problems. How does this fit with Microsofts convertible PC/Touch laptop strategy?

        Pretend for the moment, that there are no Microsoft tablets (not hard since that is close to reality) but we have Win8 convertibles sized as small as 10″, and the Windows phones up to 5″.

        You want to now target the popular 7″-8″ tablet space. Do you really think that it makes more sense to be compatible with 5″ phones, than the 10″ convertible (Metro not desktop) applications.

        It also isn’t as simple as thinking that is the Split Apple chose. Because in some ways that is more what Android did in tablets. Scale phone apps up, and it didn’t work so well.

        For it’s 8″ tablet, Apple scaled down it’s 10″ tablet apps, rather than scaling up Phone apps.

        I really think the 8″ space for Microsoft should have the commonality with the convertible (Metro side) rather than the phone.

        Of course that depends on a HUGE “IF”. If Microsoft management has recognition that Metro needs the ability to stand alone and his filled the necessary gaps so it can. Given the general confusion Microsoft management conveys, I wouldn’t bet on it.

        1. The ne place where Gates is a decision-maker is in deciding the future of Steve Balmer. Only the board can replace him and Gates is chairman.

          I would take some work to turn Windows Phone into a tablet OS–you don;t want to repeat the Android mistake of scaling it up and hoping for the best. But I still think tablets would be better off with aq clean, legacy-free OS.

          1. Win8-Metro after the desktop elements are purged, is essentially a new clean tablet OS at the GUI-Presentation layer.

            It has some NT-Kernel commonality with the past, but so does WinPhone 8.

        2. Replacing Ballmer isn’t an issue of “class.” It would normally be determined by whether the CEO is doing his job. Ballmer has made enough serious errors that many companies would’ve relieved him of his position by now, but at Microsoft it appears a 2-decade-old thought process combined with cronyism has been and will continue to be sufficient to allow him to continue indefinitely.

          Top management can persist in their stubborn belief that the market has made the wrong choice and that it is up to management to educate the market, even as Microsoft’s customers drift further and further away.

          1. @”Replacing Ballmer isn’t an issue of “class.”

            I didn’t say it was. You don’t publicly ridicule officers (or their decisions) from your own company. That is just classless and counter productive.

            Getting rid of him is OTOH a perfectly reasonable thing to do if you have a better candidate for the job.

          2. A better candidate would be someone who doesn’t think the market doesn’t know how to choose when it buys 140 million copies of a competitor’s tablet.

    2. “I am disappointed the market still rewarded them with 100 million sales.”

      The actual number of people going and plunking down money to get Windows 8 per se is a lot smaller. Most of those 100 million are sales to OEMs for bundling with new computers — computers that were going to be manufactured with the current version of Windows pre-installed, regardless of whether or not Microsoft had launched a new version of Windows recently. Besides, reports of the sharp decline in PC sales in the past quarter suggest that most of those machines are gathering dust in stockrooms somewhere.

    1. I have to admit I was thinking of Ian when I wrote that headline. But posing a question gave me a little bit of a hedge.

    2. Seen on a headline on Hacker News, “Is This a Confirmation of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines?”

      I LOL’d.

  3. Microsoft makes its money on Office, and Microsoft wants tablets to become “Office” machines. When a tablet replaces a notebook or a tower, Microsoft wants it to be one Office machine replacing another.

    To paraphrase a soft drink advertisement, the iPad is the “un-Office”. Strike that, iOS is the “un-Office”! IOS devices are not Office machines, and not easily convertable. Un-Office machines in the Enterprise is a Microsoft nightmare.

    The real success of Windows 8 Pro can only be measured in the Enterprise, and the measuring stick is sales of Office licenses!

    1. One of the very strange things about Microsoft is the disconnect between the often really interesting work done by Microsoft Research and any actual products. Microsoft Singularity is purely a research project with no announced commercialization plans. PixelSense actually made it briefly into a 40″ Samsung Surface Table product, then disappeared.

      Occasionally, a research project becomes a product. The SPOT watch was one.

      Apple’s lack of a formal research division doesn’t mean there was no research going on, just that the company was differently organized. The same is true for Apple’s relatively low R&D spending.

      It’s Apple that reshaped computing and Microsoft that’ scrambling to catch up.

      And if you want to see a company that knows how to tie a first-rate industrial research division to products, see IBM Research.

        1. Microsoft Research is run by a great OS programmer, Rick Rashid (who co-wrote the Mach kernel with Avie Tevanian, who also led NextStep and OS X development.)

          And the Windows 8/Windows Phone kernel is very good. Unfortunately, that’s not where the problem is. The Windows 8 issues are in the higher layers, where a combination of having a UI that tried to serve two very different purposes and all the cruft required for backwards compatibility yields a badly compromised experience.

          1. Windows Server 2012 also run tiles. Nobody seems to be complaining about that.
            The “8 issues” and the “badly compromised experience” is subjective and applies to you (and others to be sure), but it’s only an opinion stated like a fact.
            I run Steinberg Cubase on W8 which is a desktop application, but I think RT is an excellent environment that is just new to people with a hard time changing.
            I also use it at work on a laptop and it gives me the information I need regularly in one place instead of opening apps for each piece of information I want to keep track of.

          2. “The ‘8 issues’ and the ‘badly compromised experience’ is subjective and applies to you (and others to be sure), but it’s only an opinion stated like a fact.”

            But it is an opinion shared even by MS, unless you’ve missed their own statements and pr lately. In my book that gives the opinion all the weight of a “fact” it needs. They are borderline JC Penny in apologies.


          3. I think this absolutely correct.

            However, in the article you mention that you are surprised that MS opted to make its Mobile OS an offshoot of its Desktop OS, instead of following Apple’s lead and developing up from its Phone OS. I think the reality is just about the opposite.

            Jobs said the iPad was under development before the iPhone, and iOS clearly shares all of OS X’s underpinnings and cores, except for those higher layers where you note that MS has not gone far enough but has compromised. Apple replaced them wholesale from scratch precisely for Touch.

            But, the popular perception is very much what you portray in the article (wrongly in my opinion): that MS has gone an extra mile, preparing for the future, while Apple has got itself a restricted, toy OS that can do no real work.

            Rather, MS has jarred two disparate things together, because it has not gone the extra mile, and because it cannot compete in a Post-PC world. It is hanging on to the PC with every shred of its being. It will believe in “Windows everywhere” and present it as a unified product for ever, no matter what Frankensteinian monstrosities lay heaving and festering under the surface (excuse the pun). This was a expedient and a desperate attempt to have something in reply to the iPad. This is the height of “compromise”.

            But the common (mis)perception is that MS has just succeeded in doing what Apple can only dream of doing but can’t pull off — unify its desktop and mobile OS. Why? Hello, OS X split into OS X and iOS for a reason — to serve two different paradigms in computing. Apple can do it again. On any processor it feels like. Likewise, Apple can exchange technologies back and forth between the two, more so than can MS.

            The irony is that there is actually more in common between iOS and OS X than between Windows Pro and RT. The irony is that Apple has planned it that way and takes full advantage of it, on purpose, excitedly pushing itself and its developers; while MS is hindered, uncomfortable, unexcited, embarrassed and so are its developers.

            And MS has only just come to the ARM party (despite all those commenters arguing that MS is years ahead). Apple wrote the book on ARM for the last 25 years and designs its own silicon, matching it to iOS feature by feature. I’d like to see MS do that, before another five years passes.

          4. Apple and Microsoft both use a single kernel for all their OSes, Windows NT for Microsoft and Darwin (BSD) for Apple. It’s at the API and UI level where their approaches differ. Apple uses a largely common set of APIs and to Cocoa Touch UI layer for both iPhone and iPad, and a different set, though overlapping, of APIs and the Cocoa UI for OS X.

            Microsoft decided to use the full Win32 APIs plus WinRT for Windows 8 and WinRT for the now largely irrelevant Windows RT. There’s a separate set of APIs for Windows Phone 8. There are family relations all over the place, but the direction in which development flowed made a big difference.

          5. OK, thanks for that. Now I remember there can be confusion around WinRT because there was some element of Windows Phone that was similarly named.

            Well, yes, the direction in which development flows is interesting. I just thought it was curious when you said:

            “I have always thought the company made a strategic mistake when it decided to adapt desktop Windows to tablets rather than follow Apple’s lead by using an enhanced version of Windows Phone.”

            If you are putting it in the context of “direction in which development flowed” rather than specific technologies then great, fair enough. I just think of Apple’s “common set of APIs” and Cocoa, to be more desktop OS-like, and “native App” than whatever .Net/Java-esque stuff is the mainstay of RT.

            Thus Apple’s more thorough approach seems to have more potential to “compete in a Post-PC” world — because they went further in their adapting their OS to a Touch environment and because they had a better base to begin with, not because they “enhanced a phone OS”.

      1. The Surface got its name from the former name of, so there are obvious connections here.

        All research does not result in products, but software components and technologies incorporated into other hardware, e.g. Kinect (Xbox).
        MSR has also works on development of such things as HIV vaccine, and advancing education techniques in rural communities (from the About MSR page). So you should not be so fast to tone down MSR.
        Then you pump Apple as if they did something new, they made OS X, replacing Mac OS, which is a Unix variant, nothing “new”. They created a simple way to manage digital media (iTunes/AppStore) which also limits what people have access to, which is basically a Steam variant.

        So as far as Apple reshaping computing, that’s a joke. Apple didn’t reshape what was already there, opportunity and with a few consumer gadgets, iPod (MP3 player), iPad (touch screen laptop without a keyboard), etc., they did profit from that reshaping, for sure, very enterprising indeed.
        Microsoft is not scrambling to catch up. They’re doing just fine, and they are getting prepared to face the future. But we can argue all day long, but only time will tell.
        Any which way, you are obviously biased towards Apple (as I am toward Microsoft) and will push your side of the argument (as I will mine). The difference is that you write about it publicly as it being fact. I am not.

        1. The original Surface, now called PixelSense, was a totally different product fromt he current Surface. All they really shared was a name and a multi-touch interface.

          Kinect was not an MSR product at all. It came out of the Xbox/Microsoft Games Studios skunkworks (although MSR has, over the past couple of years, demonstrated some very interesting uses for it.)

          MSR is a great research organization. Its employment of researchers of the quality of Butler Lampson, CAR Hoare, Leslie Lamport, and Michael Freedman recalls the glory days of Bell Labs and IBM Research. Where Microsoft has not done very well is in internal tech transfer, converting the work of researchers into commercially successful products.

          I wish Apple spent more on basic research, since I think there is a serious deficit of research and Apple certainly has the money. But Apple has limited interest in basic computer science-y things. Its focus is on engineering a great user experience. I don’t see how you can argue that the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad did not reshape the computing experience even if none of them involved any great computer science breakthroughs.

          I have written of Microsoft’s great strengths, particularly in its enterprise back-end products, and have been very critical of Apple, particularly its fumbling cloud efforts. But neither is the current topic.

          1. Did you actually read what I wrote?

            I clearly stated that Surface “got its name from the former name of“, however, the greater reason of why I even brought it up is because it obviously has a connection to the current Surface tablet. RT is a first step in getting PixelSense (a.k.a. Surface 2.0) technology to tablet sizes.

            About the Kinect, I wrote “All research does not result in products, but software components and technologies incorporated into other hardware, e.g. Kinect (Xbox)”. I did not say MSR made a Kinect product, yet you implied I did. Interesting video on it, BTW: , and on MSR’s involvement in Kinect:

            The point is, what MSR does results in products, and since you seem to want to only assert your own view on it, I’ll let MSR speak for itself, rather than me arguing:

            Anyways, the topic was whether MS “can compete in a Post-PC world”. Digging a bit on the MSR web site and reading about past, current and future research, one can easily see that the answer is that they have all intentions of doing it.

          2. Their sales so far don’t offer much encouragement about their ability to compete in the post-PC world. If they intend to do that, it’d be in their interest to stop losing customers – not only in mobile, but in the enterprise as well.

  4. Microsoft always put business and enterprise first, and that was entirely “where the action was at” in the 1990s. Most people bought computers only after being exposed at work, and adapted them for personal purposes. As an example, very few people actually require MS Office for things they do outside of the office, but Office became the entrenched, over-serving tool and hence a de facto standard. Microsoft thus could maintain an illusion that they were serving a consumer market, when in fact the consumer market was simply responding to a monopoly, like the phone company of old – no one assumed there was any alternative, and so none came into being. From Microsoft’s perspective, change was unnecessary.

    The iOS revolution thrust before consumers a different model of use with a host of well-combined factors that has finally upset this apple cart, and Microsoft is truly caught off-guard. It turns out that their users in the consumer space were never all that loyal – they were simply trapped, and the door to the cell has swung open. The perception that the Windows/Office ecosystem provides a unique value to consumers has blown away, and the dust will not settle in that same pattern again.

    I have little doubt that Windows/Office will continue to be a force in workplaces for years to come, but see no indication that they will ever regain traction in the consumer space, because it never really existed.

  5. Apple has a narrowing window to bring it’s iWorks programs up to “industrial strength”. If it doesn’t, it risks again making users choose between the iPad they like, and the Office functionality they need for work. “Need” can often trump “like”…, and that’s a potential window for MSFT to improve its Surface Pro offerings. Microsoft has a narrow window to bring Office to the iPad before Apple renders it irrelevant. That’s the race — high stakes.

    1. Iworks isn’t the only office suite for Ipad. There are several others, with varying degrees of support for importing and exporting MS Office-readable documents. Onee I’m familiar with (Office2HD, aka Doc2HD) can open and edit doc and docx format documents perfectly well.

      1. I know that. But “industrial strength”? Can a financial professional run a serious model on it?

    2. I think Apple has always been wary of waking the sleeping giant when it comes to competing with MS Office. Until the iPad there wasn’t much need for Apple to improve iWorks. On the Mac it held a different niche than Office. Office was about enterprise compatibility. And iWorks was about consumer level office apps that maintained simplicity and low cost. Now with the lack of MS Office on the iPad, Apple has to decide if they want to thumb their nose at Microsoft and compete.

      Of course, I’m also convinced that Apple has already decided and if it is going to compete with Office, that software is imminent.

      1. It’s less Apple’s decision whether to compete with Office than Microsoft having decided to compete with Apple’s iPad leveraging Office.

  6. As much thought has been put in this piece I think you overlook how people view tablets which is as another PC in many ways as people saw Netbooks as small,cheap ones. The fact that there is a healthy market for keyboard docks for the iPad and even the Mini speaks to the fact that part of tablet users use them as laptops. I agree that a tablet OS should not heavily rely on a “desktop” but I don’t see it as a bad thing; and Windows 8.1 looks to move away from relying on the desktop.

    1. “The fact that there is a healthy market for keyboard docks for the iPad and even the Mini speaks to the fact that part of tablet users use them as laptops.” – DaMarico Fowler

      That’s true, but you have to keep things in perspective. I doubt if even 1% of the 19.2 million iPads sold last quarter will ever see an external keyboard. Microsoft is trying to make its tablet business by promoting the exception and ignoring the rule.

    2. I use a keyboard often with my iPad, but I still think of it as something completely different from a conventional PC–it’s an iPad with easier typing, not a laptop.

      By “Desktop,” I am referring specifically to the legacy Windows UI that requires pixel-precision pointing and therefore either a mouse-type device or a stylus. For Windows 8 or Windows RT to deliver a pure tablet experience, Desktop must go.

  7. A PC is by definition a General Purpose Computer.

    And will do such “interesting” things as open a Terminal Window, or let you program in Unix, C++, Perl etc. Compile programs, run and edit them. Run large number computations and other math functions.

    Interesting that is – – if you are a geek.

    Most people only need or want a Narrow Purpose computer. As long as it can run a couple of dozen App(lets), small specific-purpose consumer functions, that’s more than enough.

    That is less a personal Computer – and more a personal Assistant/Appliance/Adjunct.

    So, what do you really want or need? A PC, or a PA?


  8. I’m using Win8 on my old (non-touch laptop) and finding it a major improvement on Win 7.

    My iPad was also gathering dust, but I have recently been able to salvage some value from it as a dumb touch terminal by using Remote Desktop to my old Win8 PC.

    Even for simple tasks like email, web browsing and news reading I’m finding the Windows interface on iPad more effective than iOS, particulary since it is hooked up directly to my file system without having to synch/copy files everywhere, and also I have proper, desktop strength browsers.

    Say what you like, but for me iPad IS just an expensive toy with far too many compromises, and the icon interface is stoneage in comparison with metro. Windows is clearly not the finished article but for me already leaps and bounds ahead of iOS in most usage categories I’m interested in.

  9. One more Issue facing the old Wintel monopoly in the move to Mobile. Commodity pricing. This may be real factor, not technical screwups or “not getting it”.

    When the PC market was largely reduced to commodity pricing, two pieces retained high revenues/margins. The OS (WINdows) and the CPU (inTEL).

    In Mobile those elements are reduced to commodity type pricing with $15 SoCs and free (or integrated) Operating systems.

    This explains why Microsoft is desperately clinging to the “tablet is really a fully functional PC” argument. It isn’t that the don’t get it, but that they NEED to keep charging full PC OS license fees.

    Even if Microsoft gets the software right, how do they compete with 7-8″ tablets, when the competition is essentially giving away the OS for Free?

    How does anyone make a price competetive small tablet when there is a $50+ windows tax on it?
    Intel has similar problems. It is finally working on upgrading the Ancient Atom core to out of order processing, this is the first real architecture change since the intro of the Atom, but any real success of Atom that cuts into mainline processor sales is revenue/margin blow to Intel.

    Both companies have understandable desperation to make tablets follow the “PC” model, rather than the mobile model. Their competition has no such constraints.

    No matter the technical merits that Microsoft manages to bring to the table, they face an uphill battle trying to convince consumers that they need to keep paying the Windows tax on tablets.

    In the end this isn’t so much a technical problem with the OS, or that Microsoft doesn’t get it, it is that the mobile oriented Tablets that consumers have shown demand for, directly undercut Microsofts basic OS license business model, even if Microsoft were to deliver them perfectly.

    Mobile oriented Tablets simply disrupt the Microsoft business model. They are strategically screwed unless they can convince consumers that they want PC oriented Tablets.

    I really don’t see how they can win this one. From what I have seen, they have not convinced many, and those small number convinced on PC oriented tablets are not buying them in addition to a laptop, they are instead buying a convertible INSTEAD of a laptop. This really isn’t any better for Microsofts bottom line than if they bought a Windows Laptop and Android tablet.

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