The Decline of Windows

Over the next couple of years the importance of Windows will decline rapidly as more users and more products switch over to become browser based. The browser will play the dominant role and the OS will go behind the scenes. We’re clearly seeing this change now with more people wanting to use Netbooks and handheld devices. They simply need to connect to the "cloud"; it makes little difference in how they get there.

Right now we’re already seeing a huge increase in browser functionality. You upload pictures to sites like Webshots, Flickr and Facebook through the browser, create blog entries with plugins like Scribefire, transfer files with FireFTP, check email at Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and others, watch movies at Hulu and Netflix and if Flash and HTML 5 continue their development even games like Quake and dozens of titles from Popcap can be played inside a browser.

An extensible browser will have more value than an OS that takes 13GB of space just to get running. Currently, Firefox supports the best model with the proliferation of extensions that can be loaded. And, those same plugins will work regardless of whether you’re on Windows or Linux. The number of plugins available for Firefox dwarfs what’s available for IE. Even Chrome has more plugins available. As we move to a more web centric mentality there will be little need for a preposterously large base operating system. Do you really want to wait for a minute or two while you machine boots up or comes out of sleep mode and reloads everything into memory?

I fully expect that within the next year or so we’ll see full applications running inside of the browser using Flash, Silverlight, HTML 5 and plugins. Developers are making utilities right now that extend the power of Firefox and that will continue as the browser exposes more features. And as Flash and Silverlight develop we won’t be limited to simple games, but more full fledged applications.

Windows will also continue to lose dominance and importance and more games switch over to console platforms. Case in point, even Microsoft is no longer a game publisher for PC games and has even shuttered some of the biggest titles they had – Flight Simulator, Age of Empires and Rise of Nations just to name a few.

DirectX 10 didn’t do much to keep games on the PC either. There’s only a handful of games that are written specifically for it and most game developers have stated they plan to keep writing for DirectX 9.

Microsoft itself is pulling users away from Windows with Xbox 360. They are betting the ranch on Project Natal, which if successful will move even more users off Windows. Further, with the addition of streaming media, Twitter updates and other social media integration the need for a PC and thus Windows will continue to erode.

The other cash cow for Microsoft has been Office which I believe peaked in feature set in 2003 and now offers little reason for continual upgrades. Blog tools, social network apps, and online editors have all chipped away at the need for Office, certainly for Word which is the major reason people buy Office. Even those online comment forms highlight your spelling mistakes.

Word contains thousands of features no one will ever see, let alone use. Excel probably still has features to offer to niche groups, but overall it has exceeded the capacity of most users. In the grand scheme of things, why upgrade? What do these new versions of Office offer? And if they don’t offer new features, the need and want to upgrade to a new OS to support them diminishes quickly. Remember the launch of Windows 95 with Office 95 and again with Windows 2000 and Office 2000? WinXP and Office XP? Funny, it didn’t happen with the ill-fated Vista or the follow up cousin, Win 7.

Sure there is a surge in lemmings upgrading to Windows 7, but considering just how bad Vista was and the low expectations people have it’s really not that surprising. Plus, how many people actually went out and bought it off the shelves versus buying a new machine? Yes, they had a lot of pre-orders and the sales have been steady, but will most users be so quick to upgrade to Windows 8? I don’t believe they will. The hype and excitement over the Apple tablet more than proves people are looking for smaller, faster devices that get them on the web. It also says the functionality is the most important factor, not the OS.

The timing of Windows 7 was probably right, but with so many alternatives coming out and the push to do more on the web, the next version of Windows will probably have a hard time gaining acceptance. I’ve been using Windows 7 for a couple of months now and dislike it immensely. It’s not the upgrade I was hoping for and I have no intention of spending money for the same old crap next time around.

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