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Microsoft Windows 8. Is it A Game Changer?

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.

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  1. Unlike most people in tech – I have been a MS fan, largely because of the huge admiration I have had for their leadership. With leaders like Ballmer in place who have guided the ship right from start, its rather surprising that situation even got to where it did. They have always been fast followers, but have done that in the past before someone establishes an unsurmountable lead, this time they are clearly late and its an uphill battle. The google and apple ecosystems are hard to unset, even if MS comes out with a very compelling offering. This would be a BIG war in tech history and there would be great lessons just from watching it.

  2. Alon,

    Great post! As you know, I too am a very big Microsoft fan, but I have to admit that in the last couple of years, I have ventured away from Windows PCs and went the Apple route in both personal and business capacities. Out of all the reasons that lead me to do so, I think the biggest reason and the one that Microsoft will have to battle the most is going to be price. Apple computers used to be very expensive and out of the reach of most people. Today, this is changing. The cheapest Apple computer is around $599.00 and provides an amazing value for most people looking to upgrade who already have a screen, mouse, and keyboard. The OS is very inviting, all the apps are generally integrated, and with the App Store, most application prices have also come down and the entire application discovery process has become extremely simple.

    The argument on the other side is that you can get a PC for that price and my argument to them would be that you simply can not. You can walk into any Best Buy, Staples, or any of the myriad of consumer electronics stores selling computers from HP, Dell, etc and buy a $599.00 computer. Is it the same? Plain and simple, NO. What you get is a computer that is perhaps technically comparable, but software wise, it is a nightmare. It is bloated with 3rd party software that attack the user the first time they boot up the computer. It take several minutes, if not hours to just get going. And then you open internet explorer and are hit with more offers and requests. The entire experience is just not very user friendly. All of this and you still did not connect your printer to the computer which requires another download and install for drivers.

    What Apple was able to do with their OS is what they did with their iPod. When MP3 players were first introduced to the public, every manufacturer used the hard drive size (4GB, 2GB) to advertise their device. Apple, when introducing the iPod, simply said “Holds 4000 songs”. As simple as it sounds, the average consumer understood that better than 4GB. They did the same with their OS. It is rigid and prohibited, but it works well for a consumer which is their main user.

    Granted, Windows 8 changes a lot of this. I have been playing with it as well and believe that they can change a lot of this but they will have to do one thing that is really hard. They will need to reign in their hardware partners and control what goes on these computers that are running their software. I installed Windows 8 on a Samsung Slate and it was a great experience. But it was the consumer preview released by Microsoft. The question is going to be what else the hardware vendors install as well. My Samsung Slate came with Windows 7 and was also bloated with lots of software. I, being a techie, can easily rebuild any computer. But 99.99% of consumers of Windows out there, will not be able to nor should they ever have to.

    Apple, to this date, with their “I am a Mac/I am a PC” advertising campaign, was able to point out the differences between Macs and PCs very effectively. It is up to Microsoft to make sure that the same campaign can’t be used against Windows 8.

    P.s. I already own Microsoft Stock and would love to see it at the same price point of Apple’s stock… 🙂

  3. Great post. But i think microsoft will have to greatly evolve to bite its way into the tablet age. Windows 8 tablets still not matching to Android in terms of cost and Ipads in terms of usability.