An End to Desktop Operating Systems
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Finally, Microsoft has something to celebrate: Windows 7. More than 240 million licenses have sold since its release a year ago. It’s an amazing accomplishment considering the beleaguered Windows Vista only sold 300 million copies over its lifetime and most of those became shelfware collecting dust.
But is Windows 7 the last hurrah for Microsoft and the desktop operating system? Outgoing Microsoft chief architect Ray Ozzie seems to think so. In a farewell memo sent to Microsoft employees that somehow got leaked to the public, Ozzie warns of the perils of overreliance on massive install bases and banking on the next OS iteration – Windows 8, which is due out in the fall of 2012.
Ozzie – or anyone else for that matter – doesn’t think the desktop operating system is disappearing. However, there is mounting evidence that the desktop OS is becoming passé compared to the growing importance of mobile and lightweight platforms. Even Apple’s release of Mac OS X 10.6.5 is taking a bit of a backseat to the pending release of iOS 4.2 (due in November).
Consider the weight Microsoft is putting behind the launch of Windows Phone 7 – the successor to Windows Mobile 6.5. Microsoft rebuilt the code base from the ground up on this smartphone platform, and it was needed. WinMobile 6.5 is clunky, unstable and hardly as intuitive as competitive offerings from RIM, Apple or Google.
The true successor to Windows 7 isn’t the next iteration, but rather Windows Phone 7. The world is going mobile. By 2015, smartphones and mobile devices (i.e. tablets and microcomputers) will be the primary Internet access devices. Enterprises and users won’t need heavy, client-side operating systems for desktop and laptops, but rather lightweight, flexible and extensible mobile operating systems.
The dramatic shift is evidence in how other vendors are approaching mobility. Microsoft built WP7 as a platform for multiple smartphone devices, but not every manufacturer is racing to adopt the new OS. Hewlett-Packard is reviving Palm WebOS as the platform for its tablets and, potentially, smartphones. Apple is activating 250,000 new iPhone accounts every day and that pace could pick up with the addition of Verizon as a carrier partner. Google is seeing more than 200,000 Android activations a day. And HTC, LG and Samsung reportedly are developing mobile operating systems of their own.
Mobile operating systems are game changers. Apple proved with the iPhone that it’s more than just the device or the operating system that matters; it’s about the apps and the access to applications that enhance a smartphone’s value. The relationship of mobile apps to smartphones is far different than the relationship of software to desktops. It’s a personal experience verses necessity. It’s elegance verses resource consumption. It’s simplicity verses complexity.
While nothing is certain about the future, it’s safe to say the world is going mobile and heavy operating systems won’t be part of the equation.