Why it is Windows vs. Mobile OS(es) and how OEMs are killing Windows
Sometime back I read an awesome story on how Microsoft turned it’s first OS licensing deal around and owned the PC market right under from IBM’s nose! It was a history of OS/2!
Flashback! In the last 3 years I’ve bought 4-5 laptops for friends/family and on each occasion I have ensured I remove all crapware and set them up with Microsoft Security Essentials/Windows Defender before handing it over. No one has had Virus/Instability or any typical ‘Windows’ issues (couple had hardware failures, yup, the title says it all).
Cut to beginning of the year, I am a friend’s place and he’s cribbing about his Windows 8 laptop bought last year running slowly. Curious, I offer to investigate! True enough, the 8GB Core 3rd Gen i5 laptop is working worse than my 4Gb Win8.1 VM running on Core 2 Duo! I end up spending 2+ hours removing crapware installed by Acer! Couldn’t remove three pieces for crapware because something has finally broken Windows Installer. Thankfully I was able to get rid of FSecure and put Defender back which seemed to have restored most of the laptop’s lost performance.
Let me go out on a limb and say this:
Windows is an awesome operating system!
It is more user friendly and capable than any other consumer OS (and most server OSes too probably), period! Nope, I am not taking arguments, just STFU!
How come you haven’t seen Windows that way, you ask? Well, you probably don’t assemble your own desktop, cleanup a new Laptop before using it the first time, use pristine Windows VMs that don’t have an iota of crapware and are not aware that spinning disks in a laptop can get easily damaged (hard drive crash) if the cheapo OEM who assembled your laptop didn’t build in sufficient shock protection.
But you say, you are just buying a device that’s supposed you work, why should you care about all this? Correct! Very Correct! That’s exactly the point of this article.
OEMs, Decline of Laptop and Desktop sales, and how iOS/Android is the real threat to Windows
Note the heading doesn’t say ‘Decline of PCs’, because PCs mean Personal Computing devices period. The Mac Vs. PC war was a Media war (okay maybe a bit of an ego war between Jobs and Bill) more than anything else. There is no decline in Personal Computing device usage, if anything it’s skyrocketing.
Anyway, in the last decade and half, Personal Computers or Personal Computing devices have become an increasingly important part of life pretty much because of internet and how it has enabled people and made their lives easier. Internet is now a pervasive medium of communication and getting work done. For the ordinary person reason for having a device that connects to internet is to get work done, make life simpler. In the past the ‘simplest’ device has been a PC. First it was hulking desktops, then it was hulking laptops till Apple threw a spanner in the works with the iPhone. From my own experience I was spellbound by what the iPhone could do when I bought the 3GS on launch day (yes I queued up for it)!
Anyway, back to the discussion, for the person on the street, Operating System is means to an end, in fact, the ‘device’ on which the OS runs is in fact the means to an end. As long as the device can do what the person on the street wants, they couldn’t care less. In the past the lowest common denominator was the cheapest Desktop or Laptop around, that happened to run a flavor of Windows. They would use it till it stopped working and then buy another one. The problem with ‘lowest common denominator’ approach was, OEMs cobbled together devices with nary a thought about the ‘experience’. Essentially Microsoft and OEMs were running on parallel tracks and meeting only on ‘stations’ where MS would hand over a new version of it’s OS and be on its way! It was a great way to drive down costs, increase market presence and make personal computing devices affordable. But for the person on the street a desktop/laptop was something they would use when they only HAD to, not because they wanted to.
Microsoft, unfortunately due to it’s history, overlooked this. It was busy wearing “90% desktop OS ownership” blinkers to notice that the person on street didn’t care about a hulking laptop as their goto ‘personal computing’ device when 70% of what they wanted could be done on their mobile devices. So when the common man, the end users, the person on street, shifted their computing allegiances from their hulking laptops to sleek black slabs that could be carried in pockets, what did MS think?
Hey we need to make an OPERATING SYSTEM for those black slabs!!!!
All wasn’t lost at that point if MS had continued with a razor sharp focus on besting the ‘sleek black slab’ OS. But no, it wanted to boil the oceans! Pffftttt… when the world isn’t sure it wants 3 competing mobile eco systems, MS went out and built 3 F*ING OSes of their own!!! Thus Windows RT, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 Desktop were born!!! Thank you Microsoft, but you forgot the person on the street! They couldn’t give a rats ass about how many OSes you have if it doesn’t get the work done!
Along with the person on street, MS kicked a sizable chunk of the developer community in the nuts too. But again, ‘blinkers mode’ was still on so who cares if a few developers crib.
Windows OS, is it down to the last roll of the dice?
Earlier this month @JayKannan tweeted this:
Windows has already won the next generation pic.twitter.com/IE9gYd9CnP— Jay Kannan (@jaykannan) January 7, 2014
Before that @sacca tweeted the same image as follows
Prediction: This is the last generation of iMacs without a touchscreen. cc @CCEleven pic.twitter.com/WQ0JtNyMod— Chris Sacca (@sacca) January 6, 2014
I responded to Jay saying
@jaykannan yes, we can sit back and watch them squander that lead thanks to OEM f*ups!— Sumit Maitra (@sumitkm) January 7, 2014
If you read it in context of the beginning of this article you’ll get the fact that I am terribly pissed at what OEMs are dishing out and Windows taking all the blame. The latest CES is a disaster for Windows according to me. If OEM keep coming out with bullshit like Android/Windows hybrid, it’s curtains for Windows.
Anyway, we got into a good natured banter on Twitter on how MS has lost so much time in misdirected efforts like building Windows RT ground up, releasing the botch-up abomination called WinRT (APIs) and the time it’s now losing to merge that into Windows Phone OS! Whether WP will be rolled into Windows RT or RT will subset of WP is not the question, the time lost in this bickering is sickeningly familiar to the OS/2 story and how IBM lost the entire PC market and eventually sold it off to Lenovo!!!
Eitherways, a few more people joined our conversation and we argued for a bit on Windows and it’s place in the universe in the future. Twitter is an awfully hackneyed medium for presenting your complete thoughts, so I took a break from it and wrote this blog down.
To sum up, from a Developer AND person on the street perspective, the following is what I think MS can do to showcase Windows and hope it stays relevant:
Produce reference devices like Surface across the spectrum: All in ones, Laptops, Tablets and Phones. They have to showcase what Windows can do, not how OEMs can butcher the experience!
Separate Windows out into Consumer and Pro.
Consumer == Windows RT, kill the desktop there and get a Metro Office out of the door ASAP! Pull up all the Metro/Modern apps to the feature parity with their desktop counterparts like Mail/Picture/Skype/Browser. Don’t sell Windows RT laptops, instead sell it as a Tablet OS, Keyboards for tablets are an afterthought and lastly Consumer devices sell cheap! Really cheap!
Pro == Windows 8.1++ without Modern Apps getting in the way. I personally hate running Modern apps windowed as one third part enables today so that’s NOT the way I would like to see Modern apps go. But Modern Apps could adopt OSX’s approach of fullscreen where fullscreen is a separate virtual desktop. Make the Modern App Start screen into an App Launcher instead! Keep the desktop front and center for all the so called ‘power users’.
Find a way to bring in Windows App Isolation model into legacy apps.
Build for touch but don’t expect touch.
Most Important: Stop re-inventing the API Wheel! Lock down on a kernel design and API (stop F*ING around with separate WinRT/WP/.NET/C++/WinJS bullshit). I don’t care about syntactic sugar – Give developers a COMPLETE .Net API that helps them showcase your OS in the best light!!! Your OSes App Ecosystem will decide it’s relevance, if you make it difficult to build apps then you are doomed!
Why making Windows XP obsolete won’t pull up Windows numbers
Last but not least, if Microsoft thinks making Windows XP obsolete is going to automatically bump up Windows 8 numbers, that’s false. Large corporates are already considering Linux/Windows 7 and non-Windows devices for current users of XP. In other words they are using XP for a reason – They couldn’t care less about the OS! They will move to a device that is better/easier to use. If one of the incarnations of Windows doesn’t seem right, it will be discarded! Rest of the XP numbers are probably pirated copies and will vanish from the blimp once those devices die.
I have put a lot of money on Windows 8 devices/eco system and their success, so I am not writing this as a detractor or a hater. I would love for the Windows 8/Modern App ecosystem to flourish. For that to happen lots of things have to change and that makes me jittery, because change takes time and Windows has just about run out of all the time it had!!! I am afraid Windows 9 might not be in ‘good time’ and other Mobile OSes will be too far ahead by then and Windows will be delegated to Back offices, Server Rooms much like how Linux WAS till it was reborn as Android!!!