Android vs Windows: Now the battle for the desktop really begins

Android vs Windows: Now the battle for the desktop really begins

Summary: ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener: Android is really beginning to challenge Windows on the desktop - but this war will be long and drawn out and the conclusion far from certain.


In an alternate universe, last week's CES was overflowing with Windows RT devices (and probably featured a keynote by a new Microsoft chief executive).

Alas, for Microsoft at least, in this universe, at CES it was the year Android desktops began to gain momentum — shaping up to be the first genuine threat to Windows' dominance of the desktop.

PC sales have been in decline for a number of years thanks to the rise of tablets and smartphones, most of which run Android.

How tech's giants lost the tablet and smartphone war, even if they don't know it yet

How tech's giants lost the tablet and smartphone war, even if they don't know it yet

How tech's giants lost the tablet and smartphone war, even if they don't know it yet

Next year (maybe even this year) more tablets will ship than PCs (325 million versus 268 million, according to Gartner) and smartphones will continue to dwarf both  — nearly two billion during 2014. And some 1.1 billion of those devices will be running Android, compared to 360 million Windows devices.

So it's no surprise that PC makers, desperately searching for new ways to generate sales (Charles Arthur at The Guardian has done some nice work on the current pressure on PC vendor revenues) are  experimenting with Android.

Microsoft, thanks to Windows Phone, Surface and the soon-to-be-completed acquisition of Nokia's hardware arm, is now a rival as much as an ally to the PC makers, a fact which has no doubt made them more willing to experiment with new operating systems than previously.

As ZDNet's Larry Dignan points out, Android could break through on the desktop as it has on mobile if the cost is right and security improves. There are plenty of hurdles in the way of Android becoming a real threat to Windows on the desktop, but it's still a headache for Microsoft. If people don't buy Windows, they probably won't buy Office either, and they're less likely to buy into the whole ecosystem from Windows Phone to Azure.

And the desktop is Windows' redoubt: that Android dares to advance upon it is reflection of how the battle of the tech ecosystems has gone so far.

Right now you might argue there is not a huge demand for Android on the desktop — but how deep is consumer loyalty to Windows anymore?

Consumers don't buy a PC because of Windows — they buy a device that can help them to do what they want to do. Most consumers aren't enthusiasts for particular operating systems: few seem to complain that their tablets don't run Windows, after all. They've historically bought Windows PCs because, until now, that was pretty much the only option. The positive experience they've had with Android tablets might make them more willing to try it out on the desktop.

If Android PCs become popular with consumers, they will start appearing in the office, too. 

Microsoft has tried to address the Android threat with Windows RT (with little succces so far) but it still has time to do better.

Even if consumers are seduced by Androids tablets and Chromebooks, Microsoft's core business customers will likely resist for a long time: most companies are too heavily invested in Microsoft throughout their infrastructure to make significant changes any time soon.

As such, the threat to Windows is one that could take as long as a decade to have a significant impact in the enterprise at least. In that time expect Windows to evolve significantly to do battle with the Android threat to its heartland.

But in the longer term which operating system is dominant on the desktop may be something of an irrelevance.

It's hard to see how PC sales will ever bounce back again; its time as the leading computer format is over. Consumers are much more comfortable with tablet-shaped devices: you can see this in the home, where the communal PC is still there to be used when needed but day-to-day people will use their own smartphones and tablets.

Is it really a huge stretch to see the same thing happening in the office? Could the PC ever become a bit like the workstation (or less charitably the photocopier, or the fax)? That is, something you need to have around the place — but not on every desk?

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Read more of ZDNet's Monday Morning Openers

Topics: Windows, Android, Consumerization, Emerging Tech, Operating Systems, Tablets, PCs

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  • Ask yourself this...

    Ask yourself this... in the next five years, which is more likely... that Android controls 20% of the desktop/laptop market, or that Microsoft controls 20% of mobile? At the moment, Microsoft has a mobile platform (though it continues to evolve). Android doesn't really have a desktop OS.

    Obviously, things can change incredibly fast in the technology space, but the enterprise (Microsoft's stronghold) is conservative and moves slowly, which gives Microsoft time to react and defend its turf. I think the big question is whether Microsoft can gain a foothold in mobile... and that still remains to be seen... though they're quickly running out of time to do that...
    • I wouldn't be surprised

      if both were true. Android is getting to the point where it's a viable desktop OS for many people, and WP (for the time being anyway) is doing a great job of killing it in the budget device category. if both trends continue I can see them both starting to eat into each other's territory.
      • Microsoft in gloom, as developers desert Windows

        Here's Microsoft's catastrophe:

        -Windows is declining
        -Windows Phone is going nowhere at sub-10%
        -Windows RT (Surface) is a disaster and soon to be axed

        Windows RT on Surface was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to Android. But Windows RT sales have bombed, and it has become the biggest tech disaster since, well, since Microsoft's Kin phones.
        • MS skyrocketing licensing costs are its Achilles heel

          With the way MS licensing costs are going up, it will make Android a real alternative in the short term.
          • Agreed

            A very good comparison is the pharmaceutical industry where they are under price pressure from generics. A lot of patent medicines that come out are only tweaks of the original molecule and are often is no better than the patent expired product.

            Pharmaceutical companies are now having to adapt by slashing costs, they used to be a license to print money, developing an overpaid, lazy workforce and a greedy Wall Street still expecting big dividends.

            The future for MS has only one outcome, windows for consumer will eventually be free.
            Alan Smithie
          • completely wrong

            you do realize that if only generics existed you would still be using herbs and shamans to cure cancer and other life-threatening. And btw, check stats and see how many lives were saved by antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering medications, cancer, etc. Overpaid lazy workforce --- I am not sure, are you talking about people who work in IT and are getting paid $100K after they completed "accelerated" IT two-months courses in one of the community colleges or about people who spent tens of years educating themselves and working long hours and weekends trying to find ways to cure cancer just to hear this from you? Seriously?
          • this is about tech go to natural news if you want to spam about that!

            this is about tech go to natural news if you want to spam about that!
          • Security comparing Ubuntu vs. Mac vs. Windows (New study in UK)

            The Communications-Electronics Security Group (CESG) is the UK National Technical Authority for information assurance and they've done a series of tests to find out what is the most secure operating system available for the governmental apparatus.

            The security assessment made by CESG included the following categories: VPN, Disk Encryption, Authentication, Secure Boot, Platform Integrity and Application Sandboxing, Application Whitelisting, Malicious Code Detection and Prevention, Security Policy Enforcement, External Interface Protection, Device Update Policy, Event Collection for Enterprise Analysis, and Incident Response.

            Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise Pangolin) is the operating system that passed most of the tests, way ahead of Windows 8 or Mac OS X.

            “All in all Ubuntu 12.04 LTS stacks up as the most secure of the current desktop and mobile operating systems. Supported by Canonical with free security updates for 5 years, and without malware problems, it’s hard to beat in official public sector applications. “



            Windows is insecure, that's sure. The main question now is which of these much more secure Linux operation systems are the best. Is it really Android or Chrome OS? I think Google has much learn from Canonical Ltd and especially Debian community how to make more secure OS.
          • UK government now says

            This same UK government who create GCHQ, NSA sister organization? And surprise surprise, Canonical is UK company. Maybe I'm little paranoid but this story for me is bul...

            Windows is secure, as much as Fedora or openSUSE. Just in wright hand.
          • Windows is not secure...

            Although Windows 7 & 8 are much more secure than previous versions, compared to Ubuntu or most Linux OS versions, there is no comparison regarding security. For starters, there are no known viruses 'in the wild' that can infect Linux systems. Even if there were, it's a hard job to infect any Linux based system. That's why banks, and government depts tend to use it in one form or another at the upper level, and sometimes MS products lower down where security may not matter so much. But even that is changing here in europe. I'm not just a network manager, I write code for and develop programs for Linux systems. I know how hardened it is against virtually any attack. Believe me when I say anyone who runs windows and thinks it's secure is badly informed. It just doesn't come close to Ubuntu for example. Ubuntu is very very much better regarding security. But no system is 100% secure and you must always keep that in mind.
            The ITguy
          • Security comparing Ubuntu vs. Mac vs. Windows (New study in UK)

            I have to agree with you MacBroderick. As a long time user of Windows and Linux Ubuntu for work and play, Windows of any flavour just doesn't cut the ice on the security front. Mac is a little better but not good enough for what I need. I've been managing networks using both MS and Linux products. Over the years Windows has been a pain in the butt, but I have to say is now much easier to manage. The only problem is the number of incursions and attempted incursions and the constant need to scan for problems that we get everyday on our Windows network. We run a very secure system but the best way to keep our data safe was to switch to Ubuntu on one of our main networks. We started with 8.04LTS and have upgraded at the appropriate times. We now use 12.04LTS and it's the best yet and way superior to anything else we have seen. Like all Linux systems, Ubuntu is hardened against attack and of course, there are no known viruses out there, that's generally accepted by everyone in the know. Hacking and general malware deposits are zero on this system. Best of all is the for licences and no need to upgrade hardware. Just a donation voluntarily made to Canonical. Full paid for backup available if you want it just like MS products so plenty of help if you need it. But after a one day training session, all staff took to it like water. Zero problems.

            I note that many Uk government depts, like governments around the world are switching to Linux based systems for cost and security reasons.

            Ubuntu in now being developed for use on Smartphones.
            The ITguy
          • Echo, echo, echo...

            You posted this already, remember?

          • Worth Repeating

            Some Posts are equal to or even exceeding on occasion the quality of the argument and info presented in the original Article responded to.
            What needed to be said is in these cases said as well as it's probably ever going to be said. In these instances why alter what can realistically have application in different forums?
            I've done the same. Either Copy/Pasted verbatim, or capitalized on an opportunity to improve/expand upon my original posted thoughts.
            This is one of those IMHO.
            It's not an 'Echo, echo, echo...'. It's a 'Reprint, reprint, reprint...'.
        • Sorry about Chrome OS

          Really do you think that compete on desktop? That's incredible, if Chrome OS can compete with something is with tables OS's.
          In the other hand I hate how the haters hate so much Windows RT, when the shitty Chrome OS is not far from what Windows RT is.
          I'm sorry, but there is nothing on a chrome book that you can't do on any table with a keyboard attached.
          Hector Y. Martinez
        • Stupid intro for RT

          There is nothing really wrong with RT except stratergy as GWB would have put it. It's a chicken and egg conundrum. Lack of software, few devices to run under it. MS should have done some serious "chumming".... HP blazed the trail to failure with their Playbook and webOS. The surface should have hit the market at 299, not 499 along with a slew of WP products, and WP and RT should have been unified at the outset. While the initial profit margin would have been low, sales and adoption of RT and WP and Win8 would have exploded. Add to that a coordinated software push with incentives for developers, and incentives for other hardware companies to produce products for WP/RT, and what has been a failure would have been a success. Long term profit and success was sacrificed for short term profit that never materialized. The attitude "We'll succeed because we're Microsoft" doesn't cut it. The long view is that WP/RT and Win8 need to be widely adopted for Microsoft's long term survival in this changing landscape. That's more important by far than the short term $$$. Adoption of the OS is fundamental to long term profit for MS.
        • Actually, I was gonna say:

          Microsoft's biggest flop since Windows Vista.
          Richard Estes
      • Don't count MS out yet

        Anyone who says people buy the OS to do what they need to get done is either a shill for some POV or being paid to present an article that suggests people might be open to just any OS. People buy an OS for just a few reasons: They already own the apps and want to just reinstall, they pick an OS because it is the dominant OS in where they work or the school they or their kids go to. Your article didn't even mention Linux which tried to become a viable desktop OS. It failed. Didn't matter WHAT the OS price was. It failed because of MS Office. Office clones are just that 1-offs.

        When people bitched about Office as expensive fat client, MS pointed out they have Works, similar feature set of similar apps - it is FREE and yet the world still buys Office. As long as major companies buy volume discounts of this tool, most folks will keep their MS OS and Office. MS lets me buy Office thru my company for $10 for 2 devices.

        I don't even have to like MS or Office to know that Office rules. Just a fact.
        • Count MS out

          dsmrtn, do you realize that the Chromebook that is so popular is running a Linux operating system. Android is also a Linux operating system. The head guy at Google talked about the possibility of combining these and he said no, they would each continue. That doesn't mean Chromebooks will never run Android applications though. I don't know what Google is going to do with their OSs, if anything, but they've got options. The main thing to consider is the business models. Microsoft depends on selling their OS where as Google gives theirs away for free....big problem for Microsoft. I think the past 2 years were critical for MS to respond to the changing market place and MS sputtered. It's too late now. Google is entrenched in the top position and growing stronger every day. MS is struggling to get Windows 9 out the door. Forget it. It's a Linux world, it's time to learn Linux. This one an excellent article.
          • PC has not been the mainstream of clients for years ...

            ... and we should not talk too much of it. 80% of new devices as Internet clients are mobiles. In future 85-90% of most popular social media (and e.g Youtube) visitors are using mobiles. Even in business the future if for mobiles though PC won't die soon. It's surely marginalized by new generation.

            Windows domination was never based on its quality (Windows is terrible bad OS). Just business talk by IBM, Microsoft, other vendors and - NSA.
        • MS is in decline on the computer for home and office

          dsmrtn, Linux didn't just try to become a viable desktop OS. It did! It is! It has been estimates that in 4 years it will have the market share of all desktop OS's. That is said by the media and many organisations of note and the pundits. Here in the Uk it is now on around 17% of all desktop computers and growing rapidly each day. Sales of MS products are declining in this region. Ubuntu for example comes fully loaded with some of the best software you can get, all for free with no advertising and full product backup. Our organisation saved thousands of pounds in license fees by switching and gained huge benefits from the extra security Ubuntu gives (our primary reason for changing). Previously we used Windows 7 and MS office. We now use LibreOffice which is very similar but better at interfaces with every known type of file system. Which Office does not. We never get stuck and no need for staff retraining on the software. It's unbeatable on many fronts. We have it on over 200 computers in our organisation. No problems in the last 6 years.
          The ITguy