Microsoft reconsidered

by Les

Yesterday’s news included the largest drop in personal computer sales since 1994. That’s the largest drop since the days when most people used Windows 3.1 as an operating system, except for a few who had the wonderful new OS/2 Warp (remember that, anyone?).

In the first three months of 2013, the number of personal computers sold globally was 14% lower than for the same period in 2012. As usual, the vast majority of those sold used a Microsoft operating system. For decades, computer users have been largely forced into using computers using Microsoft operating systems and Microsoft applications.

Forced? How many computers have you seen for sale in the last twenty years not using Windows? A few Apple computers is about all you’ll see, and you probably won’t even consider them because they cost so much more than a Windows system. As for applications: haven’t you seen notices on websites saying, “Some items on this website require Internet Explorer to display properly”; and how about this from a job advertisement: “Send C.V. in Word format to . . .”?

So the drop in sales of computers is a real problem for Microsoft. I don’t think it is unrelated to Microsoft”s actions. The three months for which this drop is reported coincide with the first three months buyers have been unable to get a new (Windows) computer without the new Windows 8. The user interface on this system is designed to look like the user interface on an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. Never mind that those devices have smaller, or much smaller screens, and that their screens are touch-sensitive, while almost all PC screeens are not touch sensitive. The user interface for Windows has more or less remained consistent for twenty years. From Windows 95 in 1995 to Windows 7 in 2009 the essentials of the user interface remained the same. Now Microsoft changed everything.

I’m sure a lot of the potential computer buyers looked at the new interface and thought, “I’m too  old to relearn how to use a computer. I’ll just make do with my old one.” Or perhaps, “This is no better than my iPad. I can get an add-on keyboard and do everything with it that I need a computer for.”

Of course, once people start questioning whether they need Windows, they’re likely to question whether they need other Microsoft products. Someone deciding to use an iPad instead of a computer won’t have much choice: I don’t know of any Microsoft application that runs on an iPad.

For most of the purposes people use computers Windows is unnecessary anyway. The open source Linux operating system is in many ways better than Windows and is free. Most applications sold by Microsoft are not the best in their field anyway, and for a lot of them there is an open source equivalent which does a better job.

The real lock-in to Windows occurs when a major organization decides to use a proprietary application which will only run on Windows, and which uses a secret data format.

Still, if I had any Microsoft shares (I don’t) I’d unload them now.