Paul Thurrott — a long-time Microsoft booster — has written a devastating analysis of Windows for WindowsITPro. After reviewing Windows’ recent history, he concludes:
Windows is in trouble because people simply don’t care about it anymore. It’s ambivalence.
[pullquote](T)he opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn. ~ Leo Buscaglia[/pullquote]
The definition of ambivalence is: “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something.”
Actually, the word that came to my mind was “apathy.”
The definition of apathy is: “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.”
Whether it’s ambivalence or apathy, you can be certain that it has to be concerning to Microsoft:
And make no mistake, this is a serious issue. With businesses keeping Windows on life support and users spacing out their PC purchases for so long that there might never in fact be another PC purchase, Windows is in trouble. This ambivalence is worse for the platform than outright defeat. In its current state, Windows can limp along for years to come. And that’s just long enough for the platform to wither and effectively disappear.
Windows and its applications were comfortable, familiar, and popular
Windows represented the volume market for personal computing. The resulting applications would be purchased, downloaded, and used by real users((Author’s Note: What exactly is Paul trying to imply here by using the word “real users?)), and the programming standards that developed over time—toolbar and button types, property sheets, and other ways of doing things—permeated across popular applications, creating a standard look and feel.
Windows and its applications were comfortable, familiar, and popular. And then they weren’t.
Agreed and agreed.
Desktops have stagnated
Thurrott contends that Desktop apps have stagnated and that the primary cause was the long-delayed Longhorn operating system. I’ve included his argument in an extensive footnote, here ((It didn’t start with tablets, sorry. And it didn’t start with Mac OS X. It started with Longhorn, the project that outgoing Microsoft CEO has (correctly) pinpointed as the biggest mistake of his tenure. Longhorn was the point at which Microsoft’s ambitions exceeded its abilities. And it derailed Windows, and the company, for the better part of a decade.
Longhorn addressed the wrong problem for the era, and it did so with the backing of a set of all-new, .NET-based APIs that morphed throughout the years-long development of the platform. By the time Microsoft spat out Windows Vista, it was as top-heavy and unwieldy as the organization that created it. Worse, it fulfilled precious little of the original promise of the platform.
While this was happening, web apps, phones, and then tablets were becoming first viable and then truly powerful. While this was happening, developers stayed away from Microsoft’s new APIs in droves and created absolutely zero major new applications with that technology. While this was happening, desktop applications such as Office, Photoshop, and iTunes lumbered along, more out of inertia than anything else.)).
I would contend that it was the desktop computers themselves — not the desktop apps — that stagnated. The desktop computer over-served the vast majority of its users, making it difficult for software makers to introduce new, exciting software. As Thurrott, himself, points out:
(Of) the top 10 most frequently installed Windows desktop applications, two—iTunes and Chrome—are essentially rival platforms of their own that aim to steal away Windows users, while the rest are silly little utilities that fix problems with Windows 8.
Having 8 of one’s top 10 apps be utilities sounds like over-serving to me. In any case, even if Thurrott and I took different roads, we both reached the same destination — that Windows is suffering from ambivalence or apathy.
Windows is on the back burner
I…spoke to a friend who works for a major technology company that has a big presence in the Windows world….After rising to fame and fortune on the back of…Windows applications…this firm has seen its user base splinter, with many on Macs and many more on iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.
(A)ccording to my friend, there is absolutely zero call for creating (Windows) apps. And their flagship Windows products are hard to maintain and update because of the lack of interest and excitement around Win32.
This song is being sung in companies around the world, where users are moving to Android and iOS mobile apps and to web apps. Apps tailored to these experiences are now at the forefront, and Windows, when it’s considered at all, is on the back burner.
The End Of The Windows Monopoly
At this point in his analysis, Thurrott neglects to mention that Windows is marooned on notebook and desktop machines, while smartphones and tablets have passed PCs by. Charles Arthur, of the Guardian, sums it up thus (emphasis added):
This moment, where tablets outsell PCs, also marks another watershed: the end of the Windows monopoly on computing. It used to be that if you wanted to get something done, you would end up using Windows to do it. But as smartphone sales have exploded (they passed those of PCs three years ago), followed by tablets, the need to press the “Start” button has stopped. Ask yourself – what was the last consumer app whose popularity depended on being available for Windows?
Thurrott is hardly the first analyst to reach the conclusion that Windows has become irrelevant.
The risk to MSFT from Chromebooks and tablets is not sales numbers, it’s that many will see how little they need Windows now. And Office. ~ James Kendrick (@jkendrick)
[pullquote]Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. ~ J. K. Rowling[/pullquote]
In fact, he may be one of the very last analysts to have reached this conclusion. But it does not make that conclusion any less correct. For all their riches, Microsoft is in trouble. Their competitors know it, Microsoft knows if, and now, even their most die-hard supporters know it. But I don’t think that the general public has come around yet.
Ironically, Bill Gates, may have summed up Microsoft’s current dilemma best:
In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself.