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Is the End Of the Windows Era At Hand?

Sometime during the summer of 2006, the main computer at the shop where I worked suffered a motherboard meltdown. Since I’m not much of a hardware person, I took the box to my friends at Dragonware Computers. After diagnosing the problem, owner Michelle looked around the back room, came up with a used motherboard that would get the job done and installed it while I waited. Michelle always took care of me.

In those days the folks at Dragonware were very Windows centric folks. They hosted their own website on a white box running Windows, and they knew every trick in the book about configuring Microsoft products. It wasn’t surprising then that Michelle’s husband, Phillip, had a pre-release install of Windows Vista loaded on a box in the back room. It also was no surprise that he was in love with the soon to be released OS. Microsoft wrote the book on computing as far as he was concerned.


He figured I would be interested too, since he knew I claim to be a tech type, and offered me the opportunity to take Microsoft’s latest and greatest for a test drive. I pretended to be interested, clicked around for a minute or two then walked away. It’s impossible for me to get enthused about any product that comes out of Redmond, and I definitely don’t think Microsoft wrote the book on anything I care to read.

But Phillip, he couldn’t wait for the official release of Vista; he already had all of his facts memorized. He knew the system requirements by heart, and could tell you in minute detail all of the ways Vista was an “improvement” on XP. He was hankering to be installing Vista on the white boxes Dragonware custom produces for their gaming customers, convinced that Vista was going to be absolutely the best Windows OS ever.

I thought about this the other day while reading an article somewhere online about Windows 8. The author wrote something about how at this stage of the game, Windows 8 with its Metro interface was facing the same uncertainty that Vista faced right before it was released. I almost found myself in agreement, until I remembered my friend Phillip in those last days before the release of Vista.

There was a big difference between the pre-release days then and the current situation as we wait for Windows 8′s big official debut. Back then, all the Windows fans were actually looking forward to Vista. XP had been a big hit, and the Redmond fan boys thought Vista would be even a couple of notches better. After all, they’d been working on it for ages; all that work was bound to turn into the most super duper operating system ever.

The rest, of course, is history. Vista turned out to be an even bigger embarrassment to Microsoft than ME had been six years earlier. It wouldn’t run properly on anything but the latest NASCAR rated processors. It needed gazillabytes of RAM. Worse, a massive number of peripherals, from printers to scanners, were turned into toast because they couldn’t be installed due to a lack of drivers. Very quickly the Windows fanboys came to see that the new best-of-breed was basically a lame horse.

Now, Microsoft is only a few months away from the official release of Windows 8. This time, all we hear from the Windows fans is that they don’t like it. They’re unsure of the Metro interface on the desktop and worry about the wisdom of offering the exact same OS to do duty on the desktop and on tablets. They’re wary, with many convinced they won’t like the new, improved and better than ever operating system. I don’t hear anybody at all anticipating this will be the Windows to beat all Windows, a trophy that still goes to XP. At this point, all I hear is some hopes from Ballmer and his friends that the new OS will keep them from entirely loosing in portable devices and whatever comes next in the new computing zeitgeist.

With this realization, I began to seriously consider that Microsoft might be finally losing the iron grip they’ve held on the PC since they yanked it out of IBM’s hands. I’ve always believed this day would come. Maybe it’s here.

Sunday PCWorld posted an article by Gregg Keizer that would seem to confirm my suspicions and back them up with some numbers. It seems that Net Applications has compared pre-release usage of Windows 8 and compared that with old figures from Windows 7. The results don’t look too promising for Microsoft:

“Just 0.18 percent of all the computers that went online during June ran one of the previews of Windows 8, statistics Net Applications showed last week. Of those PCs running Windows, 0.2 percent — or 20 out of 10,000 — were powered by Windows 8.

“As in April, when Computerworld last used Net Applications’ data to analyze Windows 8 uptake, the new OS’ June numbers were dramatically lower than Windows 7′s at the same point in its development.

“In June 2009, four months before its launch, Windows 7 accounted for 0.75 percent of all computers and 0.80 percent of all Windows machines. In other words, Windows 7′s share was four times that of Windows 8.”

Does this mean that the Windows franchise is finally out of steam? It’s much too soon to tell. For the short term I expect we can see a dip in Windows numbers on traditional PCs. But with an installed base of over 90%, Redmond has some room to maneuver.

But there’s another cloud on the horizon that Microsoft might need to ponder. A few days back, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols reported on ZDNet about a new Linux computer that just might be introducing a new approach in the marketing of consumer PCs, if it catches on.

The WOW computer for seniors is a Linux box with a custom GUI designed specifically for the older crowd. It’s got a touch screen, larger fonts for easier reading, and a one click zoom. All in all, it looks like a pretty good package. Also, the folks behind it are doing some pretty aggressive marketing, buying an ad in Parade magazine, which is distributed inside nearly every Sunday paper sold in the United States:

“The ad loudly proclaims that it’s “A Computer Designed for YOU, Not Your Grandchildren!” And, that’s it “Easy to read! Easy to set up! Easy to use!” And, if you look closely you’ll find that it runs Linux.”

If they’re successful and this catches on among the Medicare set, this could potentially open up other new markets as well – markets that currently default to Microsoft. A Linux box specifically designed for the elementary school set comes to mind immediately. I’m sure you can think of others. Will these types of niche marketed desktops cause problems for Redmond? Again, too soon to tell.

Microsoft is betting the farm in their bid for Windows 8 to give them traction in Apple’s and Android’s space. Mainly, they’re betting on the loyality of their installed base on the desktop. We’ll have some idea of where this is going in a few months, when we see the reception the new OS receives from the market place. We won’t know for sure where this is going until long afterwards.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

21 comments to Is the End Of the Windows Era At Hand?

  • “with an installed base of over 90%”

    That’s begging the question. M$ has been down to 75% attachment rate on shipping PCs for several years now. Their current share is more like 80% than 90% on x86/amd64 PCs. When you look at ARMed PCs as part of all PCs, their shipping share is way less than 50%. WARM is an attempt to claw back share and if acceptance of “8″ is any indication then, indeed, the monopoly has died. Good riddance.

    Besides seriously losing the game on small cheap mobile computers, 2012 may be the year in which ARM takes a huge bite out of the desktop/notebook space and */Linux has huge retail shelf-space. Monopoly pricing on small cheap computers doesn’t work. M$’s only hope of maintaining share is to seriously cut prices, and I don’t mean a few percent. I mean 50% and more. At the moment, M$ is actually raising prices as share shrinks but that will not work on ARM. Pricing rumours are for decreases for “8″. It won’t be enough.

  • Marcus

    Only about 55-60% of new non-mobile devices (some 360-365 million) will be installed with Windows. Nobody knows how many pirate Windows will be installed of these rest 40-45%.

    55-60% of ~660 million smartphone devices will be installed with Android Linux and only 3-4% with Windows.

    Some 35% of 110-117 million new tablets will be installed with Linux and 2-3% with Windows.

    Even with pirate Windows the market share leader of 2012 is actually Linux, not Windows.

  • golodh

    What will happen on tablets and smart phones and suchlike I don’t know, but unfortunately there *still* seems to be no viable Linux alternative to MS Windows on the desktop.

    There are working Linux desktops, true. KDE and Gnome. However, both Gnome and KDE are works in progress in that there are lots of features and packaged tools that are experimental, break randomly, or work awkwardly. Worst of all: they don’t offer the familiarity and polish that MS Windows brings to end-users. And that’s the market. End-users.

    So I’m afraid that Microsoft will get away with it at least one more time. Simply because the Linux desktop hasn’t been able to get its act together.

  • @golodh You make valid points, but I wouldn’t give up yet. I was going to reply in full detail, until I realized there’s an article here. I’ll work on it and get it up shortly.

  • L.S

    Ubuntu 12.04 does have the polish to compete somewhat with Windows.

    Depends on how you view computing

    For the independent thinkers/sick of Windows/cloud users- Ubuntu 12.04 can be just perfect. More and more basic Win users are switching to Ubuntu I’m hearing from.

    The desktop paradigm itself is under challenge though.
    Tablet use will skyrocket. Android is getting polished by 4.1
    Tablets are more health promoting, power efficient, mobile, with unique applications.

    People are starting to move away from expensive software.

    My ASUS Transformer with Android 4 gets lots of cloud work done- featuring 16 hours battery life, and no laptop heat factor.

    Windows tablet will likely suffer from same security issues as any other MS product. That means you gotta run anti-virus, firewall slowing down your Win 8 tablet. Who needs that?

  • E.T

    Best alternative is Linux Mint. I’ve installed Mint to tens of computers and no complaints.

    Here in Finland i can see change. People want to try something different. They are surprised when they get computer that has no antivir software, most of peripheral devices are just working, and you don’t have to install OS every year because your machine is getting slower..

    Main supporter for window$ are computer departments at work. They dont want to learn anything new. Or they dont learn..
    But now change is coming. Because of economy situation, you have to find alternatives. That because you dont get money to new devices. If you work in computer department, you have to find savings. You cant tell to bosses anymore that window$ is changing to newer version and we have to upgrade machines and window$. Bosses know companies that have saved money keeping their old computers. If computer department cant save money, bosses are going to find guys that can save money.

    I can also see this change in schools. Few schools have changed to LTSP systems. And when they calculate savings compared to m$ products, more schools are going to make same change. If small town can save big moneys it will spread word and lot of towns are making same change. And in town hall people are asking WHY this isn’t done earlier.. Bad thing is, if that “i-dont-want-learn-anything-new-microsoft-guy” is trying to maintain LTSP system like he was trying to maintain windows, it is “GAME OVER” for that guy..

    One of LTSP pioneers and builders here in Finland:
    http://www.opinsys.fi/en/finland-school-system-ict

  • Barbarella

    Linux on the desktop is dead. #1. Developers want to eat and pay the rent. Mac and Windows let them do that. Coding for Linux is being a slave. Paid less than workers at McDonalds. Plus Linux people want everything for free. Plan on being poor for the rest of your life. #2. Developers want to program in modern languages like C# and Objective-C, nobody wants C++. Good luck getting those developers to ditch C# and ObjC for C++. It ain’t going to happen! #3. Users want software. LibreOffice is okay but compared to Apple’s iWork ($79 cheap!!) suite there is no contest. A lot of the linux software is abandonware since Linux coders are just to be used as slaves, broke and waiting until someone else comes along with a duplicate project so their existing code can be thrown away and forgotten. #4 Developers are not attracted to futile efforts: it seems every project in Linux will be duplicated ten times over, instead of one good project it will have 50 that suck and waste precious resources. #5 There’s no money in Linux. Linux is a giant ponzi scheme pyramid where the elite few at the top, Linus Torvalds, Red Hat, and others profit enormously by the slave labor at the bottom while the slaves get nothing in return. #6 Linux desktop has no great software and can’t compete with real software like Final Cut Pro or ProTools, Logic, QuickBooks, etc anything any real people are using in the real world to get things done. Linux users can’t come up with these masterpieces of software because they are using 1990s technology and think its “good enough” just to run a world processor and a command line and mplayer. Meanwhile everyone else on Mac and Windows are using high-end software packages.

    I used Linux since 1993 and even spoke at a linux conference and met linus. I have nothing to do with Linux other than some server stuff anymore I went over to the darkside evil empire of Apple. I run Mac now and i’m an iOS developer. Abandon linux on the desktop. Its never going to happen. Give up C++ while you are at it too.

  • Barbarella

    Even more embarrassing to Linux is the fact that today right now, I can ship a windows binary or mac binary that runs on its respective platform. Linux can’t even do that. Lets see, its a *deb package, lets make one for Debian, and oh wait Ubuntu deb too… then RPMs for Fedora, CentOS, etc. You can’t even ship a single binary than runs on all Linux and you want Linux desktop to rule the world.

  • @barbarella. You speak nonsense! I’ve been using Linux on my desktop for years with no problems. I can do easily all of my day to day computing – web browsing, complicated spreadsheets, word processing, photo & video editing,& audio recording. Ther only thing that I don’t do is gaming. But then, I’ve got a real life. At 84, real life’s too full & exciting to waste on `virtual thrills’ and drugs. As far as the ‘dark side’ is concerned, I consider both Apple & Microsoft totally unethical entities because they both have a history using dirty marketing tricks, and poaching the works of others.

  • Hellraiser

    Since when is the Objective C modern language? In my life I’ve been programming in:
    C/C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Visual Basic, pascal &, PL/SQL. I did take a look at Objective C and it’s syntax and I can say it is by far the shittiest programming language I have ever seen.

  • Colin McAlister

    Linux IS getting more and more of the pie. More and more state apparatus (French military, Munich city etc), when the time has come to upgrade their windows machines, have decided to go free and open source – basically sticking Ubuntu on all their desktops. I’m sure this will have a knock on effect to all the people who work on these systems. They will see how good it is, tell their friends and so it goes. In times of economy – who the hell wants to have to pay top dollar for an OS (and paying again just to have an office suite so you can write something)?
    And it’s slowly getting out there, even to the tech unsavy, that it’s a linux kernel powering the Android their phones.
    It’s just a matter of time. Vista brought a load of refugees over to Linux and I’m sure W8 will do the same.

  • Barbarella

    To Quote Linus Torvalds:

    C++ is a horrible language. It’s made more horrible by the fact that a lot
    of substandard programmers use it, to the point where it’s much much
    easier to generate total and utter crap with it. Quite frankly, even if
    the choice of C were to do *nothing* but keep the C++ programmers out,
    that in itself would be a huge reason to use C.

    In other words: the choice of C is the only sane choice. I know Miles
    Bader jokingly said “to piss you off”, but it’s actually true. I’ve come
    to the conclusion that any programmer that would prefer the project to be
    in C++ over C is likely a programmer that I really *would* prefer to piss
    off, so that he doesn’t come and screw up any project I’m involved with.

    C++ leads to really really bad design choices. You invariably start using
    the “nice” library features of the language like STL and Boost and other
    total and utter crap, that may “help” you program, but causes:

    – infinite amounts of pain when they don’t work (and anybody who tells me
    that STL and especially Boost are stable and portable is just so full
    of BS that it’s not even funny)

    – inefficient abstracted programming models where two years down the road
    you notice that some abstraction wasn’t very efficient, but now all
    your code depends on all the nice object models around it, and you
    cannot fix it without rewriting your app.

  • Barbarella

    @petrus

    Linux is no where near on par with Final Cut Pro or even iMovie. See, this is exactly why Linux is never going anywhere because the users are completely deluded into thinking THEIR system is exactly like everyone else’s. It may work for you, but to do REAL THINGS requires higher powered software. I’m glad Linux works for you all. Its not on par with Windows or Mac. Your editing software isn’t even on par with Sony Vegas.

  • Barbarella

    “poaching the works of others.” Linux is the king of that. They even poached one of their own kernel contributers Con Kolivas and it forced him to quit linux. “In 2007, Kolivas announced in an email that he would cease developing for the Linux kernel. ” Ingo Molnar stole his ideas and forced him to quit. Perfect example of poaching. Linux eats its own all the time. But you probably never heard of Kolivas.

  • @Barbarella You make interesting points. However, I don’t understand one thing. If you’re so smitten by Windows and OS X, why aren’t you contributing your useful insight on a Windows or Mac site instead of wasting your time over here with us FOSS losers? Just asking.

  • Crow

    “The report of my death was an exaggeration”. Mark Twain.

    If I had a dollar for every time someone says “Linux in the desktop is dead” I will gladly donated for free software development and it will be a success. To this day my computer and those from my two sons runs Linux for every serious task, Windows is used only for games, which is not surprising since is a toy OS. For the record nor my kids (15 and 11 years of age), nor me are programmers or computer experts, I’m a psychologist and never had a problem in 6 years using Linux (PCLinuxOS for those that wanted to know).

    BTW @Barbarella you only tell half of the story and that is misleading, Con Kolivas retired due to politics (maybe) and HIS OWN HEALTH also. Furthermore he is actively contributing to the Linux world through BFS patches which are very good.

  • @Crow Great point. I’ve long maintained that using KDE or Gnome is no more difficult for the average user than using the Windows interface. Sure, you might have to figure out where a few things are, but it’s still point and click. Otherwise, all of the GUI based OSes like Windows, OX X and Linux, are pretty much the same. If you get in a car you’ve never driven before, you have no trouble finding the clutch and brake, but you might have to look around a bit to figure out how to roll the window up and down or how to operate the air conditioner. It’s the same when someone switches from Windows to Linux.

  • [...] downward trend” based on Microsoft’s friends at IDC and Gartner. Christine Hall goes further by invoking the “end of the Windows era” (without Windows, Office too can fade away). [...]

  • istok

    @golodh
    i suppose you’re trolling. so let me indulge your trolling needs and urges for a moment to tell you what you already know, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t bother trolling, eh?
    you see linux desktops are perfectly polished and usable. they’re more advanced that anything windows has to offer, KDE being a case in point. they work better and faster on a huge variety of hardware, and have underneath them a technical architecture that is vastly superior to anything microsoft has offered to date. when you look at the scale of successful deployment of linux – from android phones and much tinier devices, to super computers, and every device in between, it becomes clear what’s sinking microsoft’s ship. not any type of user interface, “metro” is just the skin-deep problem, the tip of the iceberg. what’s killing microsoft is the fact the thing it peddles is technologically inferior and cannot be successfully deployed on the new devices where money in made nowadays. microsoft is stuck in the 1990s, and it ain’t recovering from the blows it took in these past few years. it will slowly fade away as the “computing paradigm” which it and its OEM mates created also slowly fades away.
    but i’ll concede, linux has its shortcomings. here’s one thing that linux doesn’t have: collusion with OEMs and several-decades long abuse of anti-trust regulations. nine times out of ten for microsfot that went with impunity. so that’s the whole story about “why windows is successful”. or shall we say, “was”.

  • Andre

    One of the linux distros for schools:
    http://wiki.debian.org/DebianEdu/
    http://www.slx.no/

    Regards.

  • Golodh

    @istok

    Sorry but I’m not trolling. It would be nice if I were but I’m not. I know I’m posting a strongly negative opinion, but I really mean it. It’s the perspective of an end-user. Someone who’s impatient, doesn’t read manuals and who expects things to work as he’s used to.

    I have been making use of the KDE desktop since KDE 3.2 under SuSE Linux through the infamous version 4.0 to the current version 4.7, but mostly as a test. For real work I have always returned to one or another incarnation of MS Windows. Simply because of convenience.

    When I use a desktop, I use that solely as a consumer (an end-user if you like), and I judge it for how well it serves my needs right now (not three years hence), and hence I’m unwilling to cut FOSS any slack when I compare it to MS Windows.

    As an end-user I also award zero points for underlying technical architecture or technical superiority. I don’t do GUI programming for MS Windows: it’s the surface I interact with. Nothing else. Where Microsoft is stuck is a matter of complete indifference to me.

    I also have zero interest in learning how the Gnome team or the KDE team feel I should be using my desktop. I want it to work the way I’m used to and do that *flawlessly*. Anything beyond that is fine for when I have the inclination to experiment, *provided* it’s optional, isn’t in the way, and doesn’t detract from the main functionality.

    I’m used to that kind of desktop and can use it to get my work done. That’s all I ask, and a couple of million MS-Windows users with me. Give us that, and we’ll use your desktop. Especially if it’s FOSS.

    I also care nothing about how ‘advanced’ the desktop is. I want it to work the way I’m used to, serve as a gateway to my applications (that’s where I spend my time), and otherwise stay the hick out of my way. That means e.g. that Nepomuk is always the first thing I disable (just like that darned MS indexer).

    Also I care nothing for what hardware the stuff works on except my vanilla PC. And speaking about hardware: that’s where Linux has almost caught up with Windows. Almost, because every darned gizmo on sale comes with a *Windows* driver, but not always with a Linux driver.

    In short, as an end-user I want a ready-made product that works as I expect and gives me no hassle. And I’ll have it, even if I need to part with money for it.