By Greg Mills
I found an interesting illustration on an Australian news web site that says a lot. While the story was about Chrome, the unreleased beta of the new web-based Google OS, it foreshadows a three-way platform race that Microsoft has baldly bungled. Apple has eaten away at the numbers and Chrome threatens to do more of the the same, as Microsoft repeatedly strikes out when trying to expand beyond the Windows PC OS monopoly.
When you have absolute monopoly numbers -- north of 90% in computers worldwide -- that run your OS by default, it is hard work to screw up so badly competitors beat you at every turn. Steve Ballmer has been able to do it. Ballmer, as the face of Microsoft, has certainly been a distraction at a minimum -- and has overseen a disaster, financially. Microsoft has lost half its market cap since January 2000 when Bill Gates retired to spend his money. Had Ballmer also hung up his "gone fishing" sign in 2000, would things have gone better for Microsoft?
One can only speculate that circumstances might have been different under someone else's control. Linux came up and is still sort of limping along. Apple has positively surged in its Mac OS. Most of the computers in the world today still run Windows as the default OS but that may be further reduced soon. The Google Chrome OS is sleek and minimalistic, running with little RAM and referring to the cloud for memory. Add the trend for slate computers, which will probably take away market share from the PC of today, and the trend for Microsoft appears to be nothing but downhill.
If lightning strikes and Apple were to suddenly do an about face and sell the Mac OS for any Intel computer, Redmond might as well roll up the sidewalks, Microsoft would be doomed by all the pent-up anger harbored by most PC users. I am not holding my breath over that idea, as Steve Jobs had a liver transplant instead of a cranial transplant. Expect Apple to do the unexpected, however.
In addition to the decline of the PC as we know it, the mobile computing platforms of the Apple iOS and the Google Android are taking away Microsoft's last chance to remain relevant in the face of advancing technology. Bill Gates himself is quoted as saying, "companies that fail to obsolete their own products are doomed to see the competition do it." Wise words that Steve Ballmer either didn't catch or didn't understand. The flaky Windows Mobile OS wasn't obsoleted by anything better from Microsoft for so long that it no longer matters. The horse is out of the barn; closing the door now won't matter.
Timing is everything and being two or three years late in offering a mobile OS that is designed to run on a plurality of smart phones made by a number of partners is not a good idea. Google did it with Android, and Microsoft was out to lunch. Now they expect to use all the money they can throw at it to make the new Windows Mobile Vista 7 a success. My question is, "Who is going to give up market share to allow room for Vista 7?"
Android seems to have reached a plateau as iPhone is expected to launch on Verizon soon. Apple may be able to dramatically increase sales by allowing a second -- or even more -- cell phone provider to sell the hot iPhone.
To add insult to injury, the Apple iPad stealing the spotlight in the tablet market has really made the lack of a Microsoft Tablet OS abundantly clear. The "partners" Microsoft sells its PC software to and through have been left adrift in launching tablet software so far. Google is stepping up to the plate and will share that market with Apple as they have with the smartphone market. We'll see RIM launching a tablet computer and seeking to remain in the market for smart phones. The Nokia OS is also out there with a market number that is in decline.
Look for Apple's iPad to continue to surge, Google's Android or Chrome OS to take and hold a large market share, RIM and Nokia to decline further, Palm to fad to black entirely and Microsoft's Mobile Vista to be quietly "no longer supported." All of this within a year or two at the most.
The big sleeper in all this the effect of Apple's patent infringement suits against Motorola and the rest of the cell phone manufacturers who build Android phones. Expect Apple to actually sue Google as well for software patents that are surely infringed regarding the touch OS features that make the iPad magical.
That's Greg's bite for today.
(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, www.CottageIndustrySolar.com using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at www.gregmills.info ; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org )