By Max Brenn
14:14, April 11th 2008
In a conference held in Las Vegas, two Gartner analysts presented a report titled "Windows Is Collapsing: How What Comes Next Will Improve", Computer World reported.
Citing reasons such as Microsoft’s failure to innovate and introduce new features in its operating system, the complexity of Windows and the increasing migration of users to the OS-independent applications, Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald concluded that, "for Microsoft, its ecosystem and its customers, the situation is untenable."
Rest assured though that Windows will not collapse overnight. According to the two analysts, it will take at least three years until Microsoft’s OS will be outrun by the Web applications created by its rivals.
"Sometime in the middle of the next decade, Windows will be playing a much less important role on the desktop," MacDonald said, quoted by PC World.
But as Silver and MacDonald pointed out, there is a big IF. Microsoft will have to deal with this apocalyptic scenario, only IF they won’t be able to prove they are able to innovate and create “a thinner, smaller and modular” version of Windows. Windows Vista failed to meet these criteria, therefore its lack of success.
Another reason why Microsoft should change the concept behind its operating system is related to the emerging markets. The PC hardware market will continue to slowly increase based mainly on the sales in those markets, as the analysts noted, and they need an operating system that doesn’t require an expensive hardware to run, as is the case with Windows Vista. "Windows as we know it must be replaced," Silver and MacDonald concluded.
However, while it is hard to contradict their arguments, Microsoft’s situation is not as desperate as it seems.
Indeed, Windows Vista has failed to be a real success, despite its 100 million copies sold, but it also represented the end of an era. Microsoft created its latest operating system based on the same paradigm as its predecessors: the PC is the center of the computing world. However, since 2000 things have evolved in a direction that Microsoft was not prepared for. Now the network and the Web-based applications are in the center and notions such as “mobile” and “web” are the new names of the game.
We should still not underestimate Microsoft’s capacity to react to the new challenges. We are still talking about a company that holds 90 percent of the PC market; there are millions of applications that require Windows to run and Windows XP (which in the light of recent evolutions seems to be the best OS Microsoft has created so far) is still alive and kicking.
In fact, Gartner’s report might just set the stage for a new era. Last week, Bill Gates spoke publicly for the first time about the next version of Windows, Windows 7. Even if Microsoft said it has nothing to announce, it seems like it will be something different from we have seen so far.
Let’s not forget that in October last year, Microsoft's Distinguished Engineer Eric Traut, the guy behind the development of core virtual machine technologies and products, including Virtual PC and Virtual Server, showcased a next-generation Windows version which takes up only 25MB of disk space. The internal version code-named "MinWin" was shown off during a recent presentation at the University of Illinois.
"A lot of people think of Windows as this large, bloated operating system, and that's maybe a fair characterization, I have to admit," Traut said. "But at its core, the kernel, and the components that make up the very core of the operating system, is actually pretty streamlined."
Eric Traut joined Microsoft in 2003 to form the Core Virtual Machine Team, part of Microsoft’s Core OS Division. According to Microsoft, he and his team have developed a new virtual machine architecture (codenamed “Viridian”) that will become part of the Windows (7?) platform.
During the hour-long presentation, Traut pointed out that Vista uses 5,000 files for its 4GB installation while MinWin has just 100 files and 25MB. However, the text-only kernel cannot be used in any real-life application. Traut said MinWin can run on under 40 Mbytes of RAM.
"We'll be using [MinWin] to build all the products based on Windows," said Traut at the time. "It's not just the OS that's running on many laptops in this room, it's also the OS used for media centers, for servers, for small embedded devices." So it seems like Microsoft is aware of its limitations and has taken some measures. However, it’s too early to tell if they are heading in the right direction, but there are signs that Microsoft is ready to fight back.
Overall, the Gartner analysts were right: it’s the end of world as we know it. And Microsoft should understand that the next Windows should really be something different - or nothing at all…
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