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.