Windows 7 and future predictions
Ars Technica has a nice piece that separates the wheat from the chaff on Windows 7, which is the successor to Windows Vista. As much as I dislike Microsoft’s Windows Vista, Windows 7 is a product I am deeply interested in since the man who is heading the effort is Steven Sinofsky, who was responsible for bringing out the revolutionary changes that was seen in Microsoft Office 2007.
Another reason why Windows 7 would be an interesting one to watch is because it will be the first major operating system release that will have the full weight of the new architect in town — Ray Ozzie — bearing down on it. Both Sinofsky and Ozzie represent a change in style and direction for the company, but what is more interesting is that the expected street date for Windows 7 — either late 2009 or 2010 — would represent a technological landscape that would be drastically different from what we see today.
Some of the points to ponder:
Google: The company has eaten Microsoft’s breakfast, lunch, dinner and the entire banquet. They are also making minor inroads into areas that Microsoft defends with all its might like the enterprise. Admittedly, a couple of thousand tiny firms defecting over to Google Apps is not even enough to make even the tiniest scratch on Microsoft’s bottom line, but what it does for sure is to create yet another distraction for the company when it could really do with none.
But to take these distractions as low-impact would be amazingly silly. Not every firm is born as a member of the Fortune 500 club. Some of them grow over years to become behemoths, others end up being medium size ones, while the rest stay on where they are. All of them represent sales of differing volumes and as Microsoft already knows, it is hard to get the enterprise segment to switch once they have made a choice. Most of these also upgrade their degree of involvement with Microsoft through time, adding more license seats and upgrades. In short, Microsoft is fibbing when they tell you that such players who move over to Google don’t worry them.
That said, Microsoft too is working on the “cloud” in terms of storage and processing to add that facet to their enterprise suite. But it is a hard one to pull off when you are playing both sides, saying Google’s strategy of being cloud-bound is flawed and also trying to up sell their own cloudiness at the same time.
Mobility: I will refrain here from writing on Google’s Android since it really has to be seen how it will play out eventually. Meddling in consumer-owned hardware is not Google’s strength and even if the platform is good, it will have to contend with operators and other variables (like Google’s bid for spectrum) in making it a success. Microsoft here has limited success, but the stars of the show here are Nokia (Symbian, Mameo) and Research in Motion (Blackberry). Between those two, the entire spectrum of individual users and enterprise has been covered, leaving Redmond not much wriggle space.
The possibility of disruption here is incredibly huge because it unbundles the data and processing from the desktop, which is what keeps the kitchen going at Microsoft, and puts it in an environment that is not dominated by Microsoft. Even at this stage, someone like me who used to open up the laptop every night at home, no longer does that because of my Blackberry that helps me access practically every service I need either directly or through Opera Mini. Two years down the line all of these services would be better by at least twofold.
Decreasing cost of technology: With the overwhelming influence of opensource, outsourcing and the commoditization of technology it has become easier and cheaper to start up almost anything these days. Almost every successful recent web venture has taken advantage of this and we have new players like Amazon (combination of S3, EC2 and SimpleDB) who now allow you to focus more on creating products than understanding how the individual parts work. In two years time, it would not be hard to imagine browser-based desktops and computing environments that function pretty close to how a regular desktop environment would function.
What this would mean eventually is that the base level of quality for newer products would increase with time, while the cost to create them would decrease dramatically. Compared to that, Microsoft would be spending more to release every new product and operating system and fighting more products that would be increasingly cheaper to build and better to use.
The next generation: My generation, the one that came before mine and the one that is to follow won’t be the same as the coming ones. We were not born in a world where computing surrounds us in various forms. Most of us who design the digital experience, do not natively think in such a world. While it would be wrong to think that people who think natively in those terms would be a vast majority by the time Windows 7 is pushed out of the door, a fair number of them would have the OS as a gateway to their digital experience and not designing the OS to meet their expectations would in all likelihood alienate them, while designing the OS with them in mind would alienate the current crop of users. It is a space that is not much fun to be in.
To conclude, it would be totally over-the-top to assume that by the time Windows 7 comes up the world would have walked away from Microsoft. They will be challenged very hard over many aspects of their business and there will be considerable erosion in their customer base. But to take even 2010 as a benchmark year would be foolish to see the impact new technologies would have on Microsoft. The enterprise is a slow moving creature and takes time to change and even Google can’t do much to change that.