Android PCs and other Windows-alternative desktops are for real

The rise of Android PCs and Chromebooks show that Microsoft could be losing its iron-grip on the desktop.

For years, decades, you could put all of alternative desktops — Linux, Mac, whatever — together and Windows would still beat them by ten to one. That was then. This is now.

Today, Windows 8.x's is still stalled out in the marketplace, Chromebooks sales have come out of nowhere to take a bite out of the low-end laptop market, and then there's Android.

Acer Android PC
Acer was the first major company to show an Android PC. They'll be far from the last.

You know Android as the number one smartphone and tablet operating system. Four big-name companies think Android has what it takes to be a top desktop operating system as well. Those companies include Lenovo and HP , the world's number one and number two PC manufacturers. Two other companies you may have heard of, AMD and Intel, also see Android on the PC. And, lest we forget, there's this little business named Google backing up Android.

Think about that: Five of the world's top tech companies think people want Android on their desktops. Four of them used to be counted among Microsoft's staunchest allies. Do you really think they'd be pushing Android on PCs if they didn't think there was a market there? I don't.

Why? Well, besides Windows 8.x's failure to gain market-share, Android has lots and lots of applications. Even Mac OS X, the one real thorn in Windows' side over the years, has only a fraction of the apps that Android brings to the table.

In addition, the rise of software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps has made the actual operating system running on a desktop less relevant. If a desktop can run a Web browser, it can run many top business programs such as Microsoft's own Office 365, Salesforce.com's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs, SAP's Enterprise Resource Planning, etc., etc. This is exactly why Chromebooks, the Chrome Web browser on top of a thin-layer of Linux, have gained in popularity.

Specifically, I see home users and SMBs adopting Android PCs relatively quickly. Enterprises will move more slowly. On the other hand, XP's end of support is coming soon. Even at this late date many businesses haven't decided where they'll go. The majority will, I'm sure, go with Windows 7, but I think a substantial minority, say 10 percent, will chose in 2014 to go with Android PCs, Chromebooks, or tablets.

So where do we go from here? By 2016, I think Windows will still be the top dog. That installed base isn't going away anytime soon.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the number two operating system, with a double-digit market share, is going to be Android/Chrome OS. By then I think Google will have merged them. Even if Google hasn't, between the two platforms, they'll still have surpassed Mac OS as the second place desktop operating system by a wide margin.

If Google keeps them split, I see Chrome OS as number two. Anyone can use it and as more and more line-of-business software becomes Web-based SaaS, businesses will find Chromebook's low price and cost of maintenance irresistible.

In the meantime, Android is going to become popular with home and SOHO users. It's going to enable all those users who love Android on their tablets and smartphones to enjoy the same apps on their desktops.

So it is that by 2016, it will become clear that Windows really is on the way out. It's not gone yet. It will still be important in 2020, but the days when Microsoft could call the shots in the PC industry will be done.

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