Although Windows won't be the primary personal computing platform going forward, it's still an important and vibrant platform that can dominate the competition in the key market for productivity. Let Android and iOS wallow in "Candy Crush": Windows is where real people go to get real work done.
Related: The Death of the Windows Desktop
Last week, in "To Grow, Microsoft Must Deemphasize Windows," I argued that a more heterogeneous Microsoft was a healthier Microsoft in today's evolving personal computing landscape. This opinion was predictably controversial in some circles. But as it turns out, I was just getting started: Over this past weekend, I published "What the Heck is Happening to Windows?" after installing a near-final version of Windows 8.1 Update 1 on several of my computers. In this article, I argued that this next Windows version is a mess. And not the good kind.
I don't want to rehash that article, so please check it out if you're curious. Since writing the article, I've heard from a number of current and ex Microsofties. Although it's perhaps notable that all of them agreed wholeheartedly with my assessment, what I'm a bit more concerned with is the direction that Microsoft will take with Windows going forward. That is, while I do feel that Microsoft must stop artificially propping up Windows and get its apps and services on today's popular mobile platforms, Windows isn't going away. So what about Windows?
Of course, most normal people would respond with, exactly, what about Windows? As Mac commentator—and, seriously, don't hold that against him, he's a good guy—Andy Ihnatko accurately noted recently, Windows is a lot like electricity in that most people don't really care about it until it stops working. And then, you can't stop caring.
But the thing is, I do care. I use Windows every day, all day. I owe my career in many ways to the success of this technological hairball, and while I can hardly claim to be integral to its development, I've followed along from the outside like a reporter covering a war from the front lines. I've enjoyed it, to be honest. But I get that caring about something as nebulous as Windows puts me in a weird fringe category alongside those seeking to document UFO, ghost, or Sasquatch sightings. So I'm going to ask you all to at least cop to some basic technology enthusiasm here and move on. I'm going to assume that you care too, if only vaguely.
What does—or should—the future of Windows look like? Given the changes I've already described, Windows becomes a distant number, virtually tied with Apple iOS, to Google's Android in overall personal computing usage. (This combines all personal devices: smartphones, tablets, traditional PC, hybrid PCs, whatever.) IDC and Gartner are predicting that PC sales will hit just under 300 million units this year and will plateau (or, I guess, "reverse plateau") somewhere in that general area. This is the one market that Windows will most certainly continue to dominate going forward.
First, 300 million units per year isn't shabby. It's not the 1 billion units that smartphones hit this past year, but it's a big market. A sustainable market.
Second, when you consider the general usage patterns that will occur across these 300 million PCs, not to mention the 1.5 billion installed base, one obvious trend emerges. Although, yes, some people can get "real" work done on tablets or even smartphones, the fact remains that PCs are now, and will continue to be, where real work gets done.
This is the bit that really does get me excited about the future. And while Microsoft wrong-headedly pursues some vain and ultimately fruitless consumer strategy, it's here where I'd ask the company to step back and ask itself who its real users are. They're often individuals, of course, but they're not "consumers." They're people who are being productive, getting work done. They're the doers.
Yes, it sounds like a political slogan, or perhaps a pickup truck advertisement, and I apologize for that. But in trying to differentiate Windows from Android and iOS, I think that's the appropriate line.
To those who claim that Microsoft simply must pursue a consumer strategy, I say this: It will happen organically. That is, while Apple sells its iPhone and iPad products largely to consumers and educational customers, productivity still happens. Likewise, Microsoft should focus on productivity with Windows. Fear not, the gamers will still game. The Facebookers will still . . . Facebook.
Microsoft has an opportunity to shore up its most important market—business customers and those individuals who need to get real work done—and all it has to do is . . . wait for it . . . just stop focusing on all this consumer stuff that frankly isn't resonating with anyone. Just give it up. Walk away. Let Windows be . . . Windows.
In its desperation to repeat the successes of Apple and Google in consumer-oriented devices and services, Microsoft has subverted Windows's key strength. This is misguided, and while the Windows of the future will no longer dominate personal computing as it did in the past, the Windows of the future can most certainly dominate an important market of doers getting things done.
Microsoft just needs to start listening to our needs. So tell me: What are your needs? What is it you need and expect from Windows? And how can and should Microsoft best serve these needs as it plots new versions of this important software platform?