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.

Why .Net???

From the first day we started Docstoc people have been asking me “why .Net”? I’m being asked this by technologies, of course, but also from other, non-tech people like private investors, VCs, SEO experts, marketing guys, potential hires, partners, and any random guests that just happen to stop by and say hi to Jason (of course…). Thank God my 9 year old son hasn’t asked me that yet…

I think it became a “style question” that make people look like they know/care/understand such as “what is your business model?” or “what is your current runway?” or “what do you think about the effects of the economy on high-tech?”. But unlike these questions, that try to understand something, the “why .Net?” is a charged question. What people are really asking is “why not X” where X can be anything but a Microsoft technology. This X can be PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, or even Java. Man, sometimes I’d rather say we developed the site in Assembly and I’m sure I’d get less raised eyebrows.

Well, seriously why .Net?

After all, it’s a Microsoft product and, as we all know, Microsoft is all about world domination and the end of free and open source software as we know it. Basically Microsoft is evil and we should avoid its technology at all cost, not even touch it with a stick. Why pay money for something that suppose to be free? The whole notion of a company trying to make money from selling software makes me sick.

Ok, enough with the sarcasm. Let’s talk seriously.

Our job as technology leaders (CTOs, CIOs, and other fancy titles) is to find and implement technology solutions for world/business problems. That’s it! We are not politicians. We should not have hidden agendas. The concept of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) VS. Microsoft must change. We need to choose the right technology just as we choose the right people. Can you imagine group of CTOs that hire only white developers vs. group of CTOs that hire only black developers? It is clear to that the way we thought since the 90s must change. The walls between selecting only ONE side of the technology fence MUST end.

The reason we all choose side is very simple which it is the answer I give to the “why .Net?” question. All startups in the history were developed using the technologies that the CTO knew and liked. Very simple, nothing more. Everything else is silly rationalization. I’ve seen many examples of successful startups built in PHP, Java, ASP.Net, CGI, ROR, and many others. All scale, all run fast, all are successful. Startups rarely fail because they used one technology vs. another. They mostly fail because they run out of money.

Starting Docstoc I’ve decided to break the walls, which I was part of. I’ve decided we will use the right technology for the right solution, regardless of the source. Although we use .Net for the platform and the site, we use MySQL as the database (yeah, not SQL Server), MemCached for caching, Lucene for full text search, and other open source technologies. Most of these had a matching Microsoft technology but it was simply not as good or just as good.

Last, let’s talk money. Can someone please tell me which company is spending more on hardware, software, license, hosting, traffic, storage, and support, MySpace or Facebook? Is one more successful than the other because of the technology they use?

I rest my case.

Alon