Fascinating times ahead

October 23, 2009 at 9:00 am
filed under Technology
Tagged , ,

It’s an absolutely fascinating time in the PC industry right now.

First of all, a little known company released a little known operating system. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s kind of a big deal! Vista was a black eye, for a variety of reasons, and Windows 7 is very much an attempt to recover from the loss of reputation and generate interest in their operating systems once again.

In light of Windows 7’s release, you can find a whole heck of a lot of analysis about Vista, Windows 7, and (of course) Apple.

Vista?! Damn near killed ‘im!

Bruce Schneier and mordaxus, a fellow Bruce Schneier links to in the same post, discuss Vista’s lack of uptake from a security (or not) perspective. John Gruber wrote up a piece about it, too, to which Marco Arment responds.

That’s a lot to read, but I recommend all of it, if you have the time. It’s all thought provoking, whether or not you agree with the premises or lines of argument.

Despite all the speculation and pontificating, nobody can really summarize, with facts and figures and studies, why Vista bombed so hard, exactly. And I think people will still be talking about what the heck went on with Vista for kind of a long time— it still amazes me, frankly, because I’m used to a world where people buy what Microsoft puts out and that’s that.

As a side note, what really drove it home for me was seeing Dell offering machines that came with Vista but were “pre-downgraded” to XP. Pre-downgraded! It sounds like a joke, but that’s real. That actually happened! People complained so bad that they couldn’t give it away.

XP versus Win7: FIGHT!

Let’s be honest, though. Whether you love or hate Microsoft, despite all this, they’re not going anywhere. Windows XP has an enormous installed base. Netbooks are selling like hotcakes and evidence suggests that Linux is a non-starter. Some people would argue that it won’t last, but that remains to be seen.

So what we have here, perhaps, is simultaneously a race to the bottom with PCs and netbooks. It blows my mind that you can go to dell.com and get a reasonably powerful PC with everything you’d need— yes, a monitor, even— for less than $600. But you can! Or perhaps you’d like a quad core machine with 6gb RAM for ~$475? They’re really cheap and I think we’re well past the point where people expect not to pay all that much for a Windows machine.

The stratospheric growth behind netbooks is another extremely convincing data point. As Joe Wilcox puts it, netbooks are a plague. They’re poisoning notebook growth even as their own growth outpaces same. People want cheap PCs!

Now, of course, it could be that people are just buying netbooks on top of whatever PCs they own. They retain their PCs with XP because It Already Works and a netbook is an extremely cheap alternative to a notebook. And that netbook is almost certainly running XP, by the way!

I think it’s up in the air as to what people do with their main machine, if anything, since a machine you’ve bought within the last four years or so can do what most people need: YouTube, Facebook, photos, and e-mail. Upgrading is most likely a quantitative difference than a qualitative difference. Throwing $500 down for a faster machine doesn’t really make your internet experience $500 better, in other words.

A new challenger? Um. Maybe.

Now let’s talk about Apple. Apple made a whole lot of money. They made a lot more money than many analysts expected. As I mentioned, there’s this and also this. And there’s also Apple’s sales figures. Where does this leave us?

In my opinion, it’s a very, very interesting time. Vista set a precedent that Microsoft’s operating systems do, in fact, have legitimate competitors. It’s just that it happens to be Windows XP. Vista couldn’t beat it, and although there’s lots of analysis up, no one’s completely sure why. The consensus seems to be that it was annoying, slow, not as-advertised, and generally didn’t offer any perceived value.

So far, Windows 7 is getting good reviews. (Hang on a second! What kind of reviews did Vista get? As it turns out, most reviews were quite favorable, esp. relative to how poorly it did.)

More than that, though, I’ve actually had a chance to use it on a relatively new machine that used to run Windows XP. I like it as much as I’ve ever liked any Windows OS, and it seems like a solid operating system. I went for the cheap upgrade through Microsoft, and I’ll install it when I get my installation keys.

Furthermore, Amazon is saying that Windows 7 is the biggest preorder product of all time. Yes, that’s even with the Harry Potter books. Now that Win7 is officially out, I imagine OEMs will start shipping it with their netbooks, and this time Microsoft has had a chance to prepare an operating system better suited than Vista or XP.

Nevertheless, folks upgrading from XP to Win7 face what can only imagine is an enormous hassle. All of those people— those people that vastly outnumber Vista users— will have to wipe their XP drive. Maybe it won’t be so bad and maybe I’m unimaginative, but I really can’t see how this could end well. Millions of people reformatting their computers and installing a new operating system? Really?

Quit stalling! Where does that leave us, god dammit?

Oh right. I didn’t answer that question. I don’t know.

I don’t expect Apple to gain a whole bunch of market share from this. But dang did they make a lot of money! And their announcements this week weren’t so much to upstage Microsoft— regardless of what Apple does, an OS release entails much more sustained press. Rather, they’re reminding everybody that they’re around, they’re doing really well, and check out all this shiny new hardware! Given this and the above, Apple’s trash talk about Windows 7 driving more people to Macs begins to look a more convincing.

Anyway, Apple’s kind of a serious contender now, in terms of profit. Like Joe Wilcox says, Apple makes money off of all of their machines while OEMs and Microsoft make dwindling amounts of money off of netbooks. The point that’s easy to forget is that Apple doesn’t have to win everybody, or even a really large percentage of people— they make a substantial amount with each sale, enough that they can afford to whittle away at the rest of the industry.

What does this mean in practical terms? I don’t know. If Windows 7 doesn’t do all that well, Microsoft is in kind of a bind, and understandably so. Supporting three different OSs has got to suck. And XP is coming up on a decade old by this point. And people sticking with their current machines and/or XP means Microsoft makes a lot less money, and OEMs, too, perhaps.

As far as Apple is concerned? I don’t know what the hell Apple is going to do with all that money. Maybe they’ll just sleep on piles of it. Whatever they do, it’ll be interesting.


Well, that’s a really long post. I didn’t intend for it to run this long. Dang.

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