The Social Computer

I just read a pretty good summary and data recap of the Windows 8 adoption (or lack thereof): CNet – Asus & Win 8 Adoption.

It’s well written and not surprising given general trends in the tech industry. It doesn’t boat well for the Windows franchise. As an ex-tech guy but still geek at heart I should be a prime target audience for the Windows 8 marketing machine. Yet, other than some non-descript decals on NYC subways the message has more or less entirely missed me. If you asked me why I should be upgrading to Windows 8 and what it would get me, I would draw a total blank. Yes, I could repeat the thing the sales person at B&H told me yesterday when I asked him about the difference between a Mamiya AFD1 and Mamiya AFD2 – his take: “It’s newer, so it must be better”. Yeah, that really convinces me to spend more money.

But the CNet article has one fascinating number in it: 95% of Asus’s tablets are running Android. That is the one device category to most benefit from Windows 8 and it’s new touch interface. It should be the one device category doing strongest. Of course with statistics and Windows not really having a horse in that race before, we would have to know the baselines to validate the conclusions. But there isn’t enough time to organically grow share, it’s do or die.

I think there are two fundamental shifts going on that undermine the future of the PC market and Windows:

First there is the maturity of the PC. PCs we all have sitting on our desk can do everything we need them for and then some, unless you are a gamer or a video editor or some other niche power user. So unless our old PC dies (and with the onset of SSD hard drives there are fewer mechanical components that have built-in expirations), there really is no reason to upgrade anytime soon. The cost and disruption of an upgrade isn’t justified by the minimal gains from going from a Win 7 computer to a Win 8 computer. Or at least none of the marketing machines that should convince me otherwise have done their job, because I haven’t heard anything.

But the other more important shift is the move towards the mobile and device space. Really what the majority of the people outside of a corporate office do, is browse the internet, access web based services, shop online, and check facebook. As a person sitting next to me on the train told his friend yesterday – he had a ‘Facebook Machine’, meaning a PC that was used for nothing else other than accessing Facebook. Yes, today between your iPhone, iPad, Kindle (or Android counterparts), you really have 95% of all use models of modern computing covered. There is the update of the resume every 5-10 years. The same person on the train said, that the only time he had to boot up his ancient Windows computer was when he had to update his resume, since he never got a copy of Office for his current computing environment, and thus his old PC was the only way to update his resume. Go figure. Well, if LinkedIn has its way, the resume may be a thing of the past, and your LinkedIn profile will become the resume. So one less reason to keep that old Windows PC around or updated. And with the increasing trend towards people leaving corporate careers voluntarily to go independent (see HBR blog post¬†on that trend), fewer people may need any kind of resume before too long.

So where does that leave us? In the 60s we started the computing revolution, and the state of the art device back then was the Mainframe in the back office. Then the 80s and 90s were defined by the Personal Computer. Everyone had one, then everyone in the family had one. Then came the iPhone, and the smart phone, and then the tablet. Now everything revolves around social media and mobile. So as the age of the Personal Computer draws to a close, the decade of the ‘Social Computer‘ starts. And the only big computing power running traditional operating systems are the server farms that power the cloud, which is what all our social computers connect to all the time to offer us the latest in information and services. And most of those servers run Linux, not Windows.

So Windows 8 may be remembered more or less like Windows Vista. As an unremarkable entry in the history of operating systems, best to be skipped over. Will Windows 9 be different? Well, that may depend whether people will still talk about Windows in a few years when that release should be ready based on typical Microsoft OS cycles.

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