Brislen on Tech: Microsoft rolls the dice
An interesting moment in history passed largely unrecognized in October last year. There was a lot going on, what with one thing and another, so it's quite understandable, but in October Microsoft lost the number one spot on the operating system charts.
For the first time in more than a quarter century, a Windows OS was not the number one operating system. That prize went to Google's Android OS.
Pretty much continuously since Windows 95 launched, Microsoft has held the top spot (and quite often the second and third spot as well) in terms of market share. Even as the PC market climbed (in 1995 there were 48 million PC sales worldwide (yes, worldwide). Last year, that figure reached 275 million), Microsoft's share held fast.
Yet by 2005, even as PC sales continued to increase, Microsoft's share of the total OS market began to plummet. The reason: the rise of the smartphone and later the tablet, which drove sales of Apple's iOS operating system which, in turn, drove sales of Android, all the way to the top spot.
Today's computing environment is vastly different to 1995's. Instead of a computer on every desk, we literally have a computer in every pocket. Desktops have largely blundered into the tar pits of history to be replaced by smaller, sleeker, more portable devices that now dominate the market place. Even as Apple's twin OS strategy reaps rewards, propelling the MacOS to the heady heights of 16% market share (of PC operating systems), it is the Android OS that now dominates.
The battle between Android and Apple has surprising echoes of the Microsoft and Apple wars of the late 90s. Apple has a gated community model, where it controls what software will be made available to its user base. You buy an Apple machine, and it runs Apple-approved software and be happy about it.
Microsoft took a different approach to software, allowing any man, woman and their dog to build applications (back then they were amusingly called 'programs') often competing with Microsoft's own apps and even occasionally beating it hands down.
Android has followed Microsoft's lead and simply sets the standards by which apps will be developed and then gets out of the way. Consequently, apps developed for Android may or may not do what they're supposed to, or what they claim to, while Apple offers fewer apps in each category but at least you know they won't be stealing your credit card details. In theory at least.
All of which is a very long way of getting to the point of today's column (sorry about that) which is that Microsoft's decision to enable its new operating system (Windows 11) to download and use Android apps is a very interesting move indeed.
Wiser brains than mine have explained how Microsoft and Intel have made this possible, so I won't go into detail here, but strategically it clearly says Microsoft has learned its lesson from its disastrous foray into cellphones, the Windows Phone. This is a good thing because the Windows Phone concept was so awful it trumps even Windows ME into the annals of "most ghastly experience I've ever had using a computer", second only to watching my in-laws try to use Windows 8 for the first time.
Microsoft was late to the mobile party, having stuck it out with its Palm Pilot killer, Windows CE for far too long. While the company did manage to kill off Palm (our motto: we're a software company, we're a hardware company, we're an app company, hey where's our market share gone?) it was totally unprepared for the iPhone or the Android OS and blundered about like a dinosaur with its head cut off for far too long. The OS was awful, the decision to buy (and then sell) Nokia was ill-thought through and the company's inability to simply jump on the Android bandwagon was a missed opportunity that let Apple pull further and further ahead.
Today, Microsoft has come back with better hardware, a consolidated grip on the corporate collaboration world (its Teams model is delivering revenue from businesses unable or unwilling to embrace the trendier tools like Monday, Slack, Trello, Gather and their ilk) and hopes to consolidate that lead with a new OS.
But I suspect home users and the all-important youth market probably won't care a jot, and will remain happy with their iOS and Android devices, while Microsoft's heartland - the corporate user - will go for the upgrade but won't care that much about the Android interoperability.
Only time will tell if Windows 11 moves the dial on those all-important share of market numbers.
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