Like all of us, I’ve been using Microsoft Windows forever. Thank to Bill Gates, Windows became a fact of life. We know that a computer is built from parts like a CPU, memory and a hard disk, hardware you must have in order for the computer to work. Microsoft made sure that you must use its Windows operating system for it to function. It did more than that, it made sure that no matter where you buy your computer: Dell, HP, or even build it yourself, you must use their Windows operating system. Now, that is a nice market to have.
It wasn’t an easy ride for Microsoft, and there were many competitors along the way: IBM with OS2, different Linux operating systems, and of course Mac OS. But Microsoft kept the status quo, partially because of competitors’ mistakes, good products they created (sometimes, not always), and people’s tendency to stay with what they know. But the main reason that everyone wanted Windows was software. Everyone needed software because everything was implemented as software. Every game, productivity tool, utility, chat, email, etc. (and there were millions to chose from) had software you needed to install, and they all run on Windows. Other OSs had only a tiny fraction of the software built for them, which is why everyone flocked to Windows. The masses would not think about buying a Linux OS because it could not run their favorite game and Word. It was a market Check Mate.
But in the past few years things have changed. The Internet evolved, became faster, reached more people, and new types of sites were created. Not just for consuming content but for sharing content (aka, web 2.0) and lately for productivity and collaboration. You can now do everything online, you can chat, check your email, create documents or spreadsheets, work on your photos, play tons of games and everything in between. If you think about it, what software did you install on your computer lately? There are only three categories that still require installation: Anti Virus/Security, Office, and sophisticated games (i.e. Call of Duty). Everything else you can do online. There are other niches like Photoshop and movie editing but for 99% of consumers, that short list is pretty much it.
So, if everything is online do you really need Windows or just a browser? This exact question is what Google wants everyone to ask and Microsoft dreads. With less than 45% browser market share and dropping Microsoft is not even situated to control the browser market. Google was smart and fast to promote their Chrome browser, which is biting at Microsoft’s IE market share like nothing we’ve seen in the past. I guess when billions of people come to your website each day you can promote your product pretty effectively.
Microsoft was late for the smartphone market and is now in a long and expensive uphill battle. Even though Windows 7 phones are very good and not just another icon based smartphone, it’s a hard sell for the iPhone addicts market. Google is coming fast from behind with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, conquering the Microsoft Office market share and not just on the consumer space, but also in Microsoft’s backyard, the Enterprise space. Microsoft was also late for the tablet/slate market and is working extra hard to catch up with the iPad. While Apple just released version 3 of the iPad (read my though on it here), Microsoft’s slate is still in the works. To top it all off, Mac sales are at an all time high and, if it was once, too expensive and all around strange to buy a Mac, more and more are flocking to Apple stores and buying one. It feels like Microsoft is under attack on all fronts and is losing ground. Not an easy situation to be in.
The question we need to ask is the following: is Microsoft the type of company that, when major challenges arise, will make tough choices and come out on top?
I believe so. I’ve been paying close attention to what they are doing and I strongly believe they are making a comeback, and it’s called Windows 8. It’s not just another OS with nicer icons and cooler drop shadow effects. Microsoft is making some brave decisions here that, no offense, we’ve seen coming more from Apple than Microsoft. Windows 8 is significantly different from anything else currently in the market with its Metro style, navigation and user interaction. They are basically betting the house on this one and they know they can’t lose. Playing with my Windows 8 tablet (slate) I was fairly impressed. It’s very different from anything else out there and its something we haven’t say about a Microsoft product in a while: IT’S COOL! It’s designed in a way that tech babies as well as dinosaurs can understand, which is very important to Microsoft. They have about 500 million Windows 7 users that they hope to convert to Windows 8. They integrated a store into the OS and are working hard on getting as many apps as possible ready for launch. Windows 8 will work on all computers from tablets/slate to heavy servers, which is a huge advantage to developers and consumers alike. Since Apple brought the importance of installing applications back from the grave, I believe Microsoft will take that approach with a thunder. This time, Apple simply followed Microsoft’s gameplay not the other way around. Apple only called them “Apps” instead of Applications or software, but Microsoft invented the concept.
Doing a pivot in a startup is easy, turning a ship the size of Microsoft is hard, slow, and risky but it looks to me like they are doing it right and with a lot of though. I would not bury Microsoft just yet; more likely start buying Microsoft stock while the price is low, before Windows 8 hits the shelves.