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Microsoft: Digging out of the XP hole.

Recently, Microsoft has been faced with several major problems:  We’ll take a look at each of those problems, how Microsoft appears to be overcoming them, and how that’s going to affect the very nature of your relationship with Microsoft.

Along the way we’ll look at how this all shapes up from a business perspective from the point of view of an IT professional like myself and the folks who use Windows at home and at work.

Lastly, we’ll take a look at what the future holds and what doors have been open with Microsoft’s repeated failure to release an effective Operating System.

First, let’s outline the problems Microsoft faces:

1.       How to get 30% of the computer using market off of the most successful Operating system they’ve ever built (Windows XP) and on to something more recent else that they have to pay for.

This appears fairly simple and straight-forward.  Publish a better Operating system and end support for Windows XP.  We hit a snag right off, didn’t we?   Historically, Microsoft has extended and then re-extended the life of its operating systems after threatening to stop supporting them so many times that when they made a similar announcement about Windows XP, many people didn’t take them seriously until Microsoft made it absolutely clear that there would be no extension of support this time.

But there be trouble ahead!  Beneath this announcement is the troubling fact that you can’t just go out and by the next best Operating system because Microsoft has already cut the knees out from under Windows 7 and stopped selling it.  The only choice for consumers is to buy Windows 8 and “Downgrade” it to Windows 7 because the vast majority of computer users can’t stand the touch-centric layout of Windows 8. 

OK, sounds easy enough, your computer was getting kind of old anyways, so let’s upgrade the hardware and move on from there, right?   So you go down to the store and they have downgrade cards for your to use and… 

Wait, those are gone! 

Best Buy and everyone else on the block has pulled the downgrade cards upon direction from Microsoft. (I was told this several times at retail outlets)  So what do you do?  The friendly and apologetic sales people will send you to Microsoft’s downgrade website to petition Microsoft to be able to avoid installing their “flagship” Windows 8 Operating system.   Once you get there though, this website is amazingly enough; devoid of most of the user friendly features and ease of navigation you will find everywhere else within…

Queue dramatic music…  You can’t get there from here. 

Microsoft does not offer downgrade kits/capability for any of the home versions of Microsoft Windows, so not only do you have to buy the failed Windows 8 in order to get the more stable and user friendly Windows 7, but you have to actually pay more in order to get there.  On top of that, retail stores don’t sell those versions of Windows 8 with their new computers, so where do you go? 

How can you avoid being stuck with what the vast majority of the computer using public considers (voting with their pocketbooks) the worst Microsoft Operating System since Millennium?  Let’s not forget that you’re now stuck with a new computer that you need to get Windows 7 installed on in order to return your computing world to some semblance of normalcy.  

You have two choices: 

·         Buy an empty computer system without an Operating System, go buy the more expensive version of Windows 8 that Microsoft allows you to downgrade and install it on the new computer (Businesses do this, but most people just don’t have the ability or time to go through the significant hassle).

·         Find an off-brand computer company who custom builds computers and they will sell you a new computer loaded the way you want it.  This will most likely be a local computer company or a company.  I’ve used a few of these in the past with decent results as long as you do a little research and pay attention to the reviews and ratings, but I do this for a living so a few things to expect:  This isn’t going to be Dell, HP or any of the companies with a dedicated tech support staff, so when you call you’ll most likely get one of the people who built your system themselves (A good thing) and if your problem can’t be resolved over the phone or remotely, you will have to bring the computer in to the store in order to be repaired (A potential hassle, especially if you bought online).

2.       How to rejuvenate their sinking bottom line which has suffered significantly with the failed releases of their Vista and most recently Windows 8 platforms.

This one is simple:  Everyone who isn’t dropping off the face of the planet or heading to live out in the wilds with Mick Dodge is going to have to buy something to replace Windows XP.  In order to speed things along Microsoft has repeatedly beaten the drums of doom in every virtual town square available, and Microsoft is not above searching it’s licensing sales records for every business on the planet who bought Windows XP to give them a friendly and ever-so-helpful sales call explaining just how they will help you with your XP migration plans…   They’ll help you plan, show you how many licenses you have for which systems and exactly how many of them have not yet been upgraded from Windows XP… 

Will that be Check, Credit or Purchase Order?

3.       How to convince the general public at large that Microsoft is not an evil soul-sucking monopoly after pushing 30% of their customers over a cliff.

This is the billion dollar question isn’t it?  Microsoft has been the only game in town for so very long that even if they completely alienate up to 50% of their customers, their customer still have nowhere else to go:

Linux is so amorphous that businesses can’t truly depend upon them in large numbers.

Unix is there…   But that’s the problem it’s been relatively unchanged for far too many years.

Chrome isn’t business-ready and your hardware choices are slim at best.

Apple OS-X?  Well, it “Could” be…  But mobile devices have Apple riding so high above the clouds that there’s really no motivation to go there.  Yet…

So in reality, All Microsoft has to do is learn the lessons from their failures,  (again) and move on to the next version.  As long as they make a good Operating system every 3rd try or so, everyone will stick with Microsoft, right?  It’s good to be the king…

The Future: 

OK, so we’ve looked at each of the major hurdles and How Microsoft appears to be navigating each of them, but where do we all go from here?  Do we all learn command line and hop on the Linux/Unix train?  Well,  that train has a critical problem; namely, there’s no single driver at the helm.

Linux:  There’s so many “flavors” of Linux and all of them are being developed by volunteers.  Yup, I said volunteers.  Linux systems are almost exclusives “Crowd sourced” a techie term for the fact that a bunch of programmers get together and make their own changes and additions and upgrades to more than a dozen different styles of Linux and they share the code between them, making the progression of this Type of Operating system a tad bit undependable, especially for general business use beyond specific tasks.

Unix:  Unix has been around for quite some time, and you’ll find a lot of big players like IBM, Oracle etc. and it has made a decent home within mainframe systems, but when you get to the workstations and general use servers, there just hasn’t been enough improvement in the usability for anyone other than the corporate database guru or specialty technology uses.  Perhaps one day you’ll see Unix computers on the shelf next to Windows, but there hasn’t been so much as a squeak of movement in that direction since Reagan was President.

Apple OS-X:  That brings us to the only multi-billion pound gorilla in the room:  Apple.  Its operating system is definitely a contender; it’s stable, popular and effective.  Some would argue (successfully) that it’s far more stable and effective than Windows.  The running joke used to be “Windows 98 was Macintosh ’89.”  There has been a decades-long suspicion/allegation that Microsoft simply re-engineered (techie for stole) Apple’s Operating System in the late 80’s in order to kick start itself into the mainstream way back when, but let’s get beyond the Gates history lesson, shall we?

Aside from the fact that Microsoft’s Windows operating system holds more than 90% of the computer and server market share, Apple stands as the only company on the planet that has an viable answer combined with the shear capacity to pull it off.  Apple in sheer size and scope has many times over the capability of Microsoft and could, if it so desired, step into the operating system arena an instant competitor to rival Windows on day one.  So why don’t they, or why haven’t they until now?

Why mess with a good thing?  Apple is the mega success story it is today because it focuses all of it’s energy, corporate might and unmatched technological resources towards one goal:  Mobile devices.  Apple has only stayed in the Computer market as long as it controlled every aspect of the system from hardware to software, the same way it controls it’s mobile devices.  If it isn’t broke…

So who can blame Apple for not stepping into the arena to mix it up with Microsoft?  Well, I can for one because I love the concept of competition in the marketplace on general principle, and I can’t wait to see what innovations that would bring.  But enough day dreaming for now because it looks like the near future holds more of the same for all of us, no matter how many flavors of Millennium, Vista or Windows 8 are in our future the rainbow ahead looks eerily like a Microsoft logo from here…

One last parting thought (or shot, depending upon your perspective):  Ma Bell was shredded to teensy-tiny little pieces in the late 80’s (My father worked there for 30 years) all because it had become too powerful, too big and too much of a “Monopoly.” 

A large number of those pieces did not survive due to the half-hazard hack-job that was done there, but the point I am getting at here is this:  At that time there existed many of the same conditions that exist within the Operating System market today.  Some would argue quite convincingly that there exists now even more of the justifications for breaking up Microsoft than existed with Ma Bell back then.  Just something to ponder while the mobilizing army of Microsoft Lawyers seeks to invade my front lawn…

As always, just my view from the cheap seats…

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