World Is Moving Away From Windows and Microsoft Is Only Helping
Let me start with a disclosure, I have used Windows 8 Consumer Preview for about 5 minutes, yet I am writing about it. I had used the developer preview a lot, 5 minutes were enough to show that MS hadn’t resolved any of the issues that I had been complaining about. So there was no use testing it further. Plus I’m not a professional blogger; hence time is a bit scarce.
OK, now let’s get to the topic. The topic here is not exactly Windows 8 Consumer Preview’s ugly UI or unusable Start Screen or the confusing desktop; it’s how Windows 8 will contribute to the shift that the world is seeing. The world is moving to smaller devices (phones and tablets) and web based applications. And Windows 8 promises to help this shift. Let us see how.
Smartphones and Tablets
Let me rewind back to 2009 and take an example from my own experience. I was in college. All my friends were eagerly awaiting exam results which were to be published on a website. When the exam results came out, I was the only one who could open it on my phone. Not because I owned the fanciest phone available, but because I had Opera Mini installed. Smartphones were not a rage back then, everyone owned a feature phone. Browsers on those phones weren’t capable of handling the result website. Most people weren’t aware of existence of a certain third party browser called Opera Mini. As a result, half the class lined up beside me to see their results.
The situation is different now. Most people I meet own a smartphone, even if it is a very basic Symbian device. Most of them have Opera Mini or even Opera Mobile on their phones and have an active data pack. Internet access is not a novelty any more.
In more developed Nations, almost everyone owns a smartphone. Most households now also own a tablet device. All these devices are Internet enabled and have very capable browsers. They can handle almost all kinds of content on the web.
Earlier I used to look for software for everything. For instance, to convert doc to PDF or PDF to doc & things like that. Now I simply use some online converter, I don’t need to go through the hassle of installing software anymore. When someone asks for software that does that, I simply give them the URL to the website. Same goes for many other applications that I used earlier.
I no longer need to be on a particular platform to perform these basic functions. Since the conversion is done on the server, I can even use my phone to upload and download the converted file. All browsers can do that much these days.
The shift can be traced to the launch of iPhone and iPad. Apple took the world by storm. Google quickly mounted the competition with its Android OS. Samsung and HTC took the charge with their unbeatable Android based devices. ARM stocks soared as it struggled to meet production targets. RIM was caught off-guard and had to play catch up, yet the Blackberry Playbook couldn’t do much for the company. It is still struggling to reach the non-business smartphone market.
Now the shift is almost complete. Almost all phones sold in developed markets are smartphones. These smartphones are infinitely more capable than the smartphones of the pre-android-and-iOS era. Not to mention the fact that devices are now available in screen sizes ranging from 3″ to 10″.
So when 4 years ago we talked about market share of Operating Systems we said something like this:
Windows has 90% share of the PC market, Mac OS has 8% share and Linux with its various distros has the remaining 2%.
We can still talk about operating systems used on personal computers and the stats would be more or less similar. But that would be presenting a distorted view of the market. We now need to talk in terms of computing devices which would include not only Windows, Mac OS and Linux but also Android, iOS and some others like Symbian, blackberry etc. And we would clearly see that the market share of Windows has been falling at a fast pace. While I cannot present you with any concrete stats on this as of now, I can easily tell you that PCs today are not as indispensable as they used to be.
Alternatives to the Personal Computer
Let me again take an example from my own life. Earlier when I needed to lookup a business address or locate something on a map, I had to turn to my PC and fire up Google or Maps. But now I simply use my phone for these small things as I have Google Maps on it. Earlier I had to sit in front of the PC to chat with my friends on Google Talk or Facebook, now I can lie down on my couch and chat using Nimbuzz or any such app. I receive a PDF file as an attachment, I can now view it on my phone itself.
The shift is visible in other areas as well. I no longer need to use my PC for watching movies, I can connect my portable hard disk directly to my TV. I can buy and download music directly on my phone. I can stream YouTube videos directly to my Television. I can connect my digicam or handycam directly to my television and play a slideshow of the pictures or videos. And I haven’t even gone to the advanced gadgets like Apple TV and routers with USB ports and streaming capabilities.
So all of a sudden the desktop computer starts to look so last decade, isn’t it? No wonder I find Microsoft’s stance difficult to comprehend. How Microsoft thinks that it is still in a position to dictate how people will use a computer is beyond me.
Linux and Mac OS
Let us now shift our focus entirely to computers and forget the tablets and smartphones for a while. There are essentially 3 operating systems available in the market, Windows, Linux and Mac OS. Windows still has almost 90% market share. But I ask, why? Is it the easiest to use operating system? No. Is it the cheapest? No. Then what is the reason?
The answer is, unlike Mac OS, Windows is available in the open market and can be used with a wide range of hardware. And unlike Linux, it doesn’t need a geek to operate the computer. But the statement about Linux is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Linux now is pretty easy to use. So am I still wary of switching to Linux? Yes, a bit, but nowhere as much as I was 3 years back. Now I spend most of my time using Opera, Google Chrome, Firefox and Thunderbird. In short, I spend most of my computer time online, so what does it matter to me what platform I am on, the browser is exactly the same.
Switching to Windows 8
So when sometime in the near future Windows 8 is thrust upon me, I might evaluate whether it will be easier for me to switch to Linux. At the moment, I am inclined to think that it will be. Windows 8 has a completely new and unfamiliar interface, so why stick to it? It’s not like I won’t be able to watch movies or play music or browse the internet in Linux, so I might as well switch to it.
As far as software is concerned, what applications do I use? Office applications, I might use Office Live or Google Docs or LibreOffice, I hardly use the advanced features of MS Office anyways. Image editor, there are hundreds of choices online. Antivirus, I won’t need one. Alternatives are easily available for all other utilities like DVD burning, File archiving etc. All that I would miss are my games, but I do not play games much anyways. Those who do can buy a console or might already have one (or might use WINE)
To summarize it all, the position of Windows OS is no longer as secure as it used to be 3-4 years back. It needs to tread with a lot more caution now. I have read quite a few articles about Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Hardly anyone seems to be happy with it. Users are complaining, and complaining a lot. No one is ready to accept the new interface and for good reasons, it is not just resistance to change. The Metro interface and the Tiles simply don’t work on a computer. The quicker Microsoft realises this, the better it would be for them. The consumer is today spoilt for choice. MS shouldn’t expect people to stay with Windows out of loyalty. They will simply move on.