Is Microsoft Windows "Collapsing"?

A leading research firm suggests that Windows is on track to lose relevancy in the years ahead if it doesn’t make a major course correction.


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As Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald spoke with a roomful of IT managers about the future of Windows, he asked two key questions. To learn how these tech professionals view Windows, he requested a show of hands:

First, he asked how many in the room felt that the current Windows course and speed is sustainable: Is it tenable, is it something we can actually live with?

No one raised their hand,” MacDonald tells me.

Then, given that response, he asked: is radical change is necessary?

“And half the room raised their hand.”

MacDonald, who along with Gartner analyst Michael Silver authored “Windows is Collapsing: How What Comes Next Will Improve,” wasn’t surprised by the robust skepticism.

As he tells it, dissatisfaction with the industry-dominant Windows OS is deep and pervasive. “We hear this from clients every day. Same types of problems: too hard to secure, too hard to manage. Struggling with the upgrades to Windows Vista – it’s painful.”

The core problem, MacDonald says, is that Windows’ gargantuan, monolithic code base makes it unwieldy, less able to adapt to current demands. The baggage of its long legacy makes it far from quick and nimble in today’s world.

When Windows was first designed, being connected was the exception; now being disconnected is the exception. When Windows was developed, malware was largely unknown and the anti-virus industry hardly existed. “Now we realize that there’s a lot of bad guys trying to get our stuff. And security should be baked in from the very beginning, not bolted on as an afterthought,” he says.

To remain a top player in the years ahead, Microsoft needs to change – considerably. “What we’re saying is, it’s time for Microsoft to do something radical, to go back to the drawing board, to reinvent the operating system in an era when network computing is nearly ubiquitous.”

The Ideal Windows OS

An ideal Windows OS would be modular, targeted for the specific environment it lives in. Not one sprawling code base, but different versions that are fully optimized for different machines.

MacDonald points to the example of Apple, whose OS X system fits perfectly in the limited world of mobile devices. Consequently, the iPhone grabbed hold of the mobile market in a remarkably short period.

“That’s the benefit of having an adaptable operating system. You can thin it down as needed – which is not something you can do today with Windows.”

But Apple, of course, has a completely different business model. Its software and hardware are fully married, as opposed to Windows, which sits on top of commoditized machines. Is MacDonald actually saying that Microsoft do the unthinkable – offer a hardware-software combination in the PC world?

He’s not ruling it out. “Has Apple, with its innovation, shown that you can produce a better experience for users if you do the hardware and software yourself?” he asks.

Microsoft insists that this isn’t the business model its wants, yet the company’s Xbox 360 benefits from it. “There they’ve shown: when Microsoft does hardware and software, they do something cool.” Microsoft’s Zune also offers a software-hardware synthesis, though with less success than the competing iPod.

Next page: Will Microsoft Change Before the Tipping Point?

windows complexity

Source: Gartner

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Tags: Windows, Microsoft, iPhone, Vista, OS X

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