Did we all just witness Windows start to die?

Did we all just witness Windows start to die?

Summary: Surface RT's failure calls the whole "Windows 8 Project" into question. As a result, the "death of the PC" may end up taking Windows with it...

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TOPICS: Windows 8
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Windows RIP
Hey, I added a question mark at least...

The idea of "the death of the PC" is just that -- it's an idea. It's a hook that, if you believe in it (and I do), it can be quite informative about what seems to be happening to the PC industry, and the wider computer industry in which it sits.

I don't think the PC is dying in a literal sense. The PC is stonkingly good at the things that it does well. But I'm a technologist -- I've been using PCs since I was twelve years old and I like the power and flexibility. Like most technologists, the PC bends to my will like I have a superpower.

But most people do not like the complexity that comes with power and flexibility. Some people just want to give their parents a box that lets them have a video call with the grandkids from time-to-time, and don't want to have to futz around configuring anti-virus software.

The reason why people buy smartphones and tablets isn't because they are necessary better or more worthy than PCs. People buy them because they now have the option to -- i.e. they can.

Go back five years and there was no choice. That last example of grandparents Skyping the grandkids -- that would have needed a PC. Now it can be done with a free-on-contract smartphone. Or an iPad, a Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, etc.

However, people on aggregate buy a lot of smartphones and tablets because over that addressable market, for many non-technologist people who want stuff to "just work" -- a simpler, post-PC device is a better choice. Hence why the PC is "dying".

Windows

The issue for Microsoft is whether the PC can be disconnected from the idea of Windows, and by extension whether the death of one leads to the death of the other.

Microsoft's challenge is obvious -- divorce the connection between the PC and Windows such that Windows can survive as the PC wanes.

That's what the "Windows 8 Project" was all about. Reimagine Windows in such a way that the PC is just one place where it runs. If the PC dies off -- so be it, Windows still exists on other devices. If it doesn't, great, Microsoft now has Windows on anything.

The Windows 8 Project encompassed a refined desktop environment, the Metro-style/Modern, (what I call "New Windows") UI paradigm, and new form factors including the lead-from-the-front Surface devices. To a lesser degree, the project also bleeds into Windows Phone and Xbox.

Microsoft's objective is to position this greater Windows 8 Project against smartphones and tablets that run iOS and Android. These latter operating systems are true post-PC operating systems. The are optimized towards the "grandparents Skyping the grandkids" end of the usage continuum, rather than the "commercial efficiency/proper work" end.

Surface RT was, by design, a good enough post-PC device implementation to compete with iPad and Android in that post-PC market. It ticked enough boxes to make a good showing -- certainly more boxes than Old Windows did.

But we know that Surface RT, and Windows RT has failed in terms of numbers.

More importantly, Surface RT also failed in terms of philosophy, taking the whole of the Windows 8 Project with it. The principle of the project -- namely that the post-PC was getting it wrong and that people were desperately after a "PC Plus" -- has now been shown to be flawed.

Vacuum

You may think that Surface RT and Windows RT are just a tiny sliver of the Windows 8 Project.

To an extent that's correct if you look at the numbers, but what it has done is allow the market nine months to test whether the "bait" that Microsoft had been showing them was tasty and delicious enough to be worth jumping out of the water to get. And the market said that it was not.

What this means -- which is highly serious and highly worrying -- is that Microsoft does not have a product to compete with iPad or Android Jelly Bean tablets in the market at this point in time.

Let me say that again: "Microsoft does not have a product to compete with iPad or Android Jelly Bean tablets in the market at this point in time."

The market wants a 7"-8" device, with battery life measured in days, with absolutely zero complexity and no requirement of the user to undertake any cognitive loading at all. They also want a rich ecosystem of apps, and they want developers to be targeting their device as either the first or second most relevant. They want great support. They want a polished experience where they're not always waiting for the "version 3.0 to be the good one".

None of that described Windows in how we see it today in Windows 8 and devices that run them, which regardless of how clever the hinge and how touchable the screen remain PCs. And we should all eschew "jam tomorrow" on this. We're nearly a year in -- how long is it going to take Microsoft to get this right.

Consumerland doesn't care about jam tomorrow. Consumers don't make tactical, rational decisions based on deep industry understanding. They fancy a device and they go out and buy it. That process necessitates them having something to buy.

What now?

There's only really one way out of this -- Microsoft needs to abandon Windows on Consumerland tablets and get Nokia to build a 8" Windows Phone based tablet running on Windows Phone 8.

This lines up with how Apple and Google build their post-PC operating systems. It would also technically be ridiculously easy to do. Good prototypes of such things I am willing to guarantee exist in a lab somewhere.

But for Microsoft to make this happen, they'll have to admit one thing. 

Namely that Windows as a post-PC operating system is dead. 

Of course, Windows Phone and Windows operate on a converged "Windows NT core", and to an extent there is no difference between the two operating systems. What I'm talking about here is a philosophical difference.

The technology can be based on whatever Microsoft wants it to be based on, but the actual implementation/functionality alongside the marketing and messaging has to be different.

Microsoft has to stop selling Windows as a competitor to the iPad, and start selling Windows Phone as a competition to iPhone and iPad, and also as competition to Android smartphones and tablets.

Or to put it another way, if you're looking to compete in a market of oranges, maybe go out there with oranges, rather than try and convince people that they actually want lemons.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Windows 8

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  • Close

    Windows Phone is no good on a tablet, doesn't scale well. The applications are not made for larger sizes. Sinofsky screwed up when he decided (or at least accepted) that Windows Phone apps can't run on Metro and vice versa.

    With Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, and Windows RT they pretty much discontinued several APIs and pulled off what nobody expected: They replaced them with a random set of incompatible APIs accross different systems, which everyone knows will replaced sooner rather than later by something that's probably unified across different platforms.

    Combine that with a completely clueless marketing team and you got a 900 million write off.

    If the same applications would run on RT and WP8, then yes, Nokia would have the best shot at claiming that space. They managed to replace the Windows Phone brand with the Lumia brand, so they might be able to replace the ridiculous "Windows RT" brand with something people don't expect to run x86 applications, i.e. Lumia tablets.

    But until these platforms are merged, building a windows based tablet is too expensive for Nokia.
    Sacr
    • Re: random set of incompatible APIs accross different systems

      Don't shy away from the F-word:

      FRAGMENTATION.
      ldo17
      • No

        Android has already been there done that.
        BruinB88
        • Not to the degree Windows does that.

          Not even close. The android kernel can even run most linux distributions user space tools.
          jessepollard
          • You obviously

            Have never developed an Android app in your life. The platform is fragmented beyond comprehension. Windows would have to separate everything on each and every form factor for this to occur in the Windows ecosystem. This of course isn't the case and in fact is now moving to meld the form factor api's. Don't try to re-write history. The Android environment is horribly fragmented. Just ask Google!. The "Android kernel" as you put it has about 16 different variants. That is what we call "super fragmentation".
            BruinB88
          • Right

            All android smartphone manufacturers have their own Android Kernel variant which have created a huge fragmentation on Andoid Kernel... The biggest OS fragmentation on the market...

            This is really bad...
            EricDeBerg
          • What

            The kernel is what is the same in all the phones. It is the overlays that are different. I mean - Google has come up with tons of variants of the basic Android OS - which is problematic, but you can develop to whatever level you want - depending on how backwards compatible you want to be.

            And if you purchase apps you are only presented with ones available for your phone, so I don't see the problem.
            marque2
          • Should also point out

            Developers have choices. Make a generic app, or code to custom overlays - also you have a choice what level of backward compatibility you want to support. Since most devices are only 2 or so years old. You don't have to go back and code to gingerbread any more, unless you are daft.

            I think the fragmentation issue is only in the imagination of the pundits.
            marque2
          • Bingo

            Its only the anti-Android trolls that bring up fragmentation. The repeat it like a mantra, hoping it will actually have an impact. Then they shift to Android malware. Rinse and repeat.
            Non-Euclidean
          • Meanwhile, iOS apps are available for all iPhones and iPads...

            UNLESS they are iPad-only.
            Vulpinemac
          • @marque2

            Meanwhile, the Fantastically Random Guy pops in with a completely random unrelated post about iOS apps.
            Wolfe26
          • mistake

            my mistake that was supposed to be @Vulpinemac
            Wolfe26
          • Not true. Vulpinemac

            I have an iPad 1 and there are many apps in the app store that won't run on it - they require a newer iPad than what I have. So... to say that iOS apps are available for ALL iPads is simply not true, much to my chagrin.

            I don't want to buy a new iPad, so there are many apps that I will just not be able to run. Just like there are in the Android market.
            TucsonGuy
          • Exactly - his comment needed clarification

            Definitely NOT true that all apps run on all iOS platforms and so forth. iPad 1 was left completely in the dark. Not even upgradeable beyond ... 5.x?? Can't recall, but definitely not equally runnable every app on all versions, etc.
            bitdoctor
          • @marque2

            "The kernel is what is the same in all the phones."

            No. It is some what same. If the OEMs scrapped only the top layer of Android, don't you think they can roll back updates from Google easily? OEMs definitely modified the kernel to suit their purposes. So if you write an application depending on an API call to kernel, either it might be modified or worse removed.

            And, when you put your app in marketplace, you have to give which OS/kernel/whatever is supported by your app. Based on this, Play store checks whether your mobile is eligible or not. Fine idea. But you cannot add platforms without testing your app completely there. If one platform is not totally compatible and you added it to the requirements list, all the users will definitely rate your app with lowest rating with the comments.
            spicycheeks
          • Highly Unlikely that OEMs Modify Kernel

            It's highly unlikely that OEMs do much modification of the kernel. What little they may do is almost certainly related to hardware support. Why this is the case is because Android apps don't run on the kernel. They run on the Dalvik virtual machine (which runs on the kernel).

            If you want to talk about what a nightmare it is to develop for Android, then go ahead and say specifically how that's true (the complaints I've heard in the past relate mostly to screen resolution or optimizing code). If you start to drag the kernel into it with no explanation, then I'll know you're full of hot air.
            CFWhitman
          • "OEMs definitely modified the kernel". Why yes they do.

            To support the hardware in their devices, just like every PC manufacturer does.

            Tell me: Does adding a Marvel SATA driver to Windows constitute "Modifying the Windows kernel"?
            If your answer is "no", then neither does Samsung adding their GPS driver to Android.
            anothercanuck
          • And the phone companies...

            Have added to the compatibility problems by each installing their own set of extensions and applications.
            donw1234
          • That is exactly what it does.

            It even does it between versions in the same line...
            jessepollard
          • development

            Its funny you talk about developing apps. If you did develop apps on android then you would know that the java layer takes you away from the kernel. Why do you see Motorola, Samsung, Asus, and Acer offer Intel hardware that runs Android and its apps. Using the same play store, that offers the same apps for both arm and intel.. Windows whatever version is suppose to bring it all together, but Google and Android already have this Now.
            sgodsell