Has Microsoft lost its way on desktop computing?

Has Microsoft lost its way on desktop computing?

Summary: Based on recent comments by top Redmond strategists, it appears that Microsoft has no credible vision for the future of desktop computing. Apple appears to have skirted this strategic black hole and despite the distractions of its OS X-based mobile clients keeps delivering powerful desktop hardware, a robust OS and performance-hungry applications.

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Has Microsoft lost its way on desktop computing? Based on recent comments by top Redmond strategists, it appears that Microsoft has no credible vision for the future of desktop computing. Apple appears to have skirted this strategic black hole and despite the distractions of its OS X-based mobile clients, keeps delivering powerful desktop hardware, a robust OS and a raft of applications that can take advantage of that performance.

For example, my colleague Mary Jo Foley reported in late February on a talk given by Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie to the Goldman Sachs Tech Investment Symposium. What was his version of Microsoft's vision for the future of desktop computing?

A pitch for the company's Surface input technology.

This is where future iterations of Microsoft’s Surface multi-touch technology will come into play, Mundie said. Microsoft isn’t looking at multi-touch as a technology only for tabletops, PCs and cellphones. It expects Surface-like computing systems to find their ways into desks, kitchen counters, and walls, too, over the next five to ten years. ...

Mundie said that Microsoft already knows how to make the Surface cheaper. (The first Surface devices, tabletops aimed at the hospitality and retail industries, cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit.) It was unclear from Mundie’s remarks whether Windows will be what powers the future Surface devices; Surface 1.0 units are Windows-Vista-based.

Do you see the problem? Aside from the initial problem that Surface is a techno-boondoggle, where's the discussion of applications that can use all the power from the hardware that we might throw at them as well? Where are the innovations from a Microsoft OS that will enable them? Where's the application and software technology that will drive computing forwards?

Instead, Mundie offers Surfaces, Microsoft's latest technology in search of a market. How can a replacement for the mouse be considered a desktop strategy?

Of course, there's more to the deficits in Microsoft's desktop strategy than Surface. As further evidence, take this slice of Om Malik's March interview of Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

OM MALIK: You outlined Microsoft’s software-plus-services strategy, but what I want to know about is the changing role of the desktop in this service’s future.

RAY OZZIE: I think the real question is (that) if you were going to design an OS today, what would it look like? The OS that we’re using today is kind of in the model of a ’70s or ’80s vintage workstation. It was designed for a LAN, it’s got this great display, and a mouse, and all this stuff, but it’s not inherently designed for the Internet. The Internet is this resource in the back end that you can design things to take advantage of. You can use it to synchronize stuff, and communicate stuff amongst these devices at the edge.

A student today or a web startup, they don’t actually start at the desktop. They start at the web, they start building web solutions, and immediately deploy that to a browser. So from that perspective, what programming models can I give these folks that they can extend that functionality out to the edge? In the cases where they want mobility, where they want a rich dynamic experience as a piece of their solution, how can I make it incremental for them to extend those things, as opposed to learning the desktop world from scratch?

So, Microsoft's desktop strategy appears to really be all about — drum roll here — software as a service (SaaS) technology and integration for mobility. That's a desktop computing strategy?

From Ozzie's viewpoint, desktop computing is useful but old fashioned. He wants to put the Internet first. Sure, you can get work done on the desktop but the real interest is in edge computing.

Now, let's take a look at Apple. From what I can see, while Apple has been distracted at times with its mobile device strategy, the company is mostly holding to its Digital Hub strategy initiated some 7 years ago. This idea is where Apple customers will create digital content, use connected digital peripherals and then distribute that content in various media.

Apple's strategy is based on the supposition that all users, whether business or consumer, want (or need) to create content, and not just view it. The better the client performance (in hardware and software), the better the experience. And as we know, Apple cares about that experience.

This strategy relies upon high-performance client machines for both professional and consumer markets. The more power the better. The company makes a robust OS for those machines as well as a range of software applications that take advantage of the performance.

What we can determine of the Microsoft desktop strategy is in many ways Apple's opposite. The desktop provides the base for productivity applications, and a platform for the browser. Now it will provide a platform to run SaaS apps. The computing power can move away from the client and out to the cloud.

Microsoft's desktop strategy has been and continues to be a prescription for mediocrity. No wonder that the PC market is so focused on cost, commoditization and the entry-level machine. It discounts desktop performance as only necessary for niche markets.

Now, not everyone is buying Redmond's line, even in the enterprise. The steady stream of business and enterprise switchers to the Mac platform shows that for some tech customers mediocrity isn't a value. Nor a vision.

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, CXO, Hardware, Software

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77 comments
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  • Microsoft has a desktop strategy!

    It's [b]Duke Nukem Forever[/b]

    None of the others can compete at that level.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • No, seriously

      Strategies and visions are for those who need to get somewhere. Microsoft doesn't want to go somewhere with the desktop, they are [i]there[/i], now. They own the desktop, just as they own the browser and messaging spaces.

      The only effort required is occasional weed spray to make sure that nothing annoying comes along to invade their space.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • That's bad business advice

        Even with the monopoly Microsoft has at the moment, in any industry and ESPECIALLY the computing industry resting on your laurels = certain doom. Take 90's Apple, IBM, Netscape as examples.
        theoxygenthief
        • Oh dear

          [i]Even with the monopoly Microsoft has at the moment, in any industry and ESPECIALLY the computing industry resting on your laurels = certain doom.[/i]

          I've been around long enough to see that "certain doom" play out a lot of times. The funny thing is, the DOOM! never falls on the people who milk the good times, and if the bad times ever come they're someone else's problem.

          In the present case, it comes down to the fact that the desktop is necessarily becoming a commodity. There's only so much rent to be milked from a commodity, so Microsoft is (IMHO wisely) milking it for all it's worth today but not wasting resources as though it were a growth opportunity.

          Instead, they're using it to fund their attempts to break into (or take over) other businesses that have some hope of long-term growth.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Bad examples!!

          "Take 90's Apple, IBM, Netscape as examples."

          Microsoft didn't get the advantage over any of those by prowess in the technical field! It beat them by abusive, and in some cases, illegal, practices. Bundling the browser. And we all know the OS debacle - how M$ got the MS-DOS contract with IBM to begin with. All well-known stuff that *counters* your point, bud...you better go back and look for some real and valid examples!! M$' competition did *not* lose by "resting on their laurels", but due to unfair biz practices. We *finally* have Kroes and the E.U. putting a stop to it, after the U.S. court failed to take sufficient action.
          Techboy_z
      • That's consistent with...

        Remember the marketing slogan "Where do you want to go today?" I suppose that means MS would like to tag along with wherever you do end up going, grab from you whatever you find or make along the way, and kick you out of wherever you end up so THEY can be there....

        HMM actually that kinda sounds like what China did to US manufacturing too - except their junk doesn't cost so much...
        kzm1
    • But they DO have a strategy ...

      ... wait until something good is created and jump all over it in an ISO kind of way, kill the inventor and then makes lots of noise and say "Microsoft - Your future, our creation"
      mark@...
  • Desktop has been stagnant for some time

    With the release of Windows XP and OS X the desktop stopped being interesting years ago. There has been nothing revolutionary since then (and the concepts back then weren't new...just brought to the masses). I no longer look forward to the next OS release (for any of the main operating systems). They've all reached parity with one another. They're all high quality. They're all boring.
    ye
    • Eureka!

      [i]They've all reached parity with one another. They're all high quality. They're all boring.[/i]

      Which is exactly the idea. Some things are [i]supposed[/i] to be boring. Toilets. Auto brakes. Blood tests. Power supplies. It's a long list.

      If any of them stop being boring, it's [u]not[/u] a good thing.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Yup

        Vehicles that don't use fossil fuels, anti-gravity research outside of weaponry ... far too interesting for the man on the street *sigh* ....
        mark@...
        • And what does any of that

          have to do with the state of Desktop OS's?
          Those are things of interest, where great strides that will change the world can be made.

          Apple cutting and pasting from FreeBSD because they couldn't write thier own OS is hardly in that category.
          The desktop isn't dead, but it is a dead end. It hasen't gone anywhere in a while, and shows no sign of being overly interesting.
          mdemuth
          • Welcome to a mature product space

            It has also been along while since wheels were "all that" in people's eyes.

            For me, I'd just like to see the desktop get more stable, and more efficient. I can do without trying to talk to a computer, as it might listen to someone other than me!

            Mind you, I do reckon that the quality of designers and coders is still decreasing because of the mistaken belief that coming up with code is as hard to do as putting together a Lego set. It is all a rush to market, and tossing hardware at a problem without caring much. So, I don't hold out much hope for my wish of stability/efficiency happening.
            zkiwi
          • Well.

            Considering you use OS X and it's dinosaur of an OS, it's quite natural you would feel this way. <br><br>
            If you could pull your head out of the sand and want to put your mind at ease, you would get a good solid HP, Dell or Toshiba with the same or better hardware for up to half the price, run Vista 64 bit and you'll find what you are looking for is pretty much here now. <br><br>
            I've not turned on my XP box for weeks now. i'm not trying to sell you or anyone, but my experience with Vista 64 bit and 64 bit IE and the speeds at which it can attain on broadband connections are amazing. Of course you would dis speec recognition since Vista has extremely good software for speech recognition, and luckily they didn't do it for you, but those that need it. <br><br>
            Then read what you can find on Windows 7 and the coming of the ultra modern, ultra secure, managed code, fully component to component dependency free, configurable at each component level w/o a central registry, Microkernel building capable OS that marries the desktop and the power of the web in perfect harmony.
            xuniL_z
          • RE: Well

            "Considering you use OS X and it's dinosaur of an OS, it's quite natural you would feel this way."

            The only dinosaur OS on the market today is Windows, that is why Apple is coding circles around Microsoft. Unix may be almost 20 years older than any NT code, but ask any top 100 corporation what they use for the backbone of their companies database and I'll guarantee it's not Windows, it's called UNIX. (IBM's AIX/Sun's Solaris based on BSD just as OS X is) Would you consider these OS's as dinosaurs? Too bad you think UNIX is a dinosaur because only 494 of the top supercomputers in the would use some sort of UNIX based OS, maybe you better call them and let them know that they are using and old outdated OS. What were they thinking!? They would have been better off using that ultramodern Windows OS! <extreme sarcasm>

            "but my experience with Vista 64 bit and 64 bit IE and the speeds at which it can attain on broadband connections are amazing."

            And when you browse the internet with your 64 bit Windows, just remember that it's 64 bit OS's like AIX, Solaris and BSD that make it possible and they have been since the very early 90's, a decade before Win64.

            "Then read what you can find on Windows 7 and the coming of the ultra modern, ultra secure, managed code, fully component to component dependency free, configurable at each component level w/o a central registry, Microkernel building capable OS that marries the desktop and the power of the web in perfect harmony."

            Uh, that sounds like the promise we got from Microsoft for Longhorn/Vista and look what happened. Vista is not an ultramodern OS, it's just rehashed XP/2003 code. Microsoft's promises are hollow.
            Axsimulate
          • Hmm..wonder if they will throw WinFS into

            that honeypot of wishes.

            HA, I can't wait till Windows Se7en comes out to
            get another good laugh from ole "faithful."

            Heheheh...
            Kid Icarus-21097050858087920245213802267493
          • I notice both responders are very

            easily amused. I find it great humor myself when an "IT" person can laugh, year after year, as Microsoft continues to retain, through a long anti-trust civil penalty phase which included a judge not fit for the bench and the wacky notion Apple was not a viable competitor (how do you like your Apple now?), a massive marketshare advantage and they are continuing to grow. Some think Apple is growing very fast, but the market as a whole is growing and Microsoft is recording record profits. What a hoot. Ole "faithful". Yeah, there is a lot to laugh about when you leave the door wide open for 8 years and every other company trying to gain desktop share is just too bumbling to make much of it. <br><br>
            As for Apple coding circles around Microsoft, that is what you call that half baked thing called Leopard? With it's cute little ability to lose All of your data w/o a hint. yeah, that's OS perfection. Memory randomization that doesn't work, a "time machine" that is slow and ready to be scrapped. Then the kernel on this thing. That 32 bit monster from the 1970s. Yeah, tell me how it's possible to advertise your OS as FULL 64 bit, when it's simply not full 64 bit?? that's Apple for you, their website has more lies than the average zealot posts on zdnet per day. <br><br>
            Apple Leopard is slow. I mean s....l.....o......w. As confirmed by many, many people. I know more than one person with Leopard, and my Vista machine runs circles around it. <br><br>
            Leopard and Tiger have been patched more times in a week than Vista has since it's debut. When i got my Vista machine at the 1+ year mark, there were around 20 Vista specific updates. It took all of 15 to 20 minutes to download and install them. <br><br>
            You buy an Apple box from bestbuy or Amazon, and you may have over TWO HUNDRED patches waiting for you, less than 6 months after the OSes release. Nice going Apple, that's programming circles around everyone. AS long as you patch as quick as your programmers can churn out swiss cheese code. Another 11 patches for QT recently. QT has the worlds record for most patched media player and it's still completely unsafe to use. <br><br>
            Vista is brand new code, new kernel the works. As windows 7 is developed, Vista gets the benefits. I love all the Vista ABM stories on here about boot times etc. Mine boots, w/o exaggeration and with complete truth, in under 20 seconds. All the way up, all services running, sidebar running, everything. It's usually around 12 to 15 seconds but most people find that too unbelievable, even though it's true. It shuts down even faster. About 10 seonds and it's completely down, lights out. <br><br>
            I never said MS invented 64 bit, anymore than I would say Apple invented ANYTHING, which they stiull hold the record for selling the most rebranded products. Steve Jobs has never written any code or engineered anything in his life. He believes looks need to come before functionality. <br>
            Windows has made great headway, btw, into those server rooms long dominated by the government created UNIX. I guess if you love Unix so much you can think Uncle Sam for pouring in Billions to build a secure Unix with TCP/IP integrated. ONce that was taken care of by another government researcher, v. cerf. Stanford, Berkeley, all financed with taxpayer dollars so the U.S. would not slip behind in technology. Companies of that era were given monopoly exemption to take the government projects and work on them further. SUN was created when the Feds told McNeally at Stanford to privitize a UNIX company, gave him the RISC technology from PARC and Berkeley, aand every bit of the new more secure (open source flakes like to claim Linux was build on security. It was modeled after Unix which was only secure because Uncle Same demanded and paid for it to be secure. McNeally was given amnesty from monopoly issues and allthat technology to start SUN, Stanford University Network. and they paid his way and got him all setup. And you have the nerve to tell me stories about what SUN created? HA!! <br><br>
            UNIX = Federal Government/taxpayer funded technology. <br>
            That's why seeing Windows server grow year after year in the tradional Unix and Linux spaces is so enjoyable. It grew to 57% of the server market in 2007. <br><br>
            Ars technia said Apples old kernel is past it's useful life and needs replaced. Perhaps that's why it's still 32 bit and Leopard is dog slow.
            xuniL_z
        • Oh, *those* could be interesting

          [i]Vehicles that don't use fossil fuels, anti-gravity research outside of weaponry ... far too interesting for the man on the street *sigh* ....[/i]

          However, have you ever considered what an "interesting parachute" means to the person using it?

          I'm an emergency medic. Trust me, we [u]mean it[/u] when we say, "boring is good."
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Boring is good...

            Well, good for the patient. But where have most medical advances came from? Combat. Far from boring.

            I'm an EMS provider too, and as unfortunate as it is, I need the difficult patients to advance my skills.
            Real World
          • Boring is good...

            Good point. --kody

            ---
            kody390@tradeyourpics.com
            kody390
          • great strategy

            let's shoot or blowup a couple million people so we can learn to improve our medical procedures and save maybe 10% of them.
            bluescreen_z