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Why the era of Windows in the home is coming to an end

21st Feb 2011

Microsoft Windows has been the dominant OS on home PCs ever since there was such a thing as a home PC. Looking back now it’s very clear to me that for the last 20 years we have all been the victim of mis-selling. It isn’t that Windows is bad, I love it, and Windows 7, the latest incarnation, is a pleasure to use. But…I’m not normal, I’m a tech guy, I have a science background and 13 years experience working in R&D. Windows PCs were the tools I used every day to do my job, and it was inevitable that this would spill over into my home life. I now have three Window 7 PCs, and a Windows Home Server, all of which I built myself, they were not so much consumer products to me, they were more like mini projects. I can’t imagine not having a Windows PC, but as I said, I’m not normal.

Normal people don’t build PCs, they don’t have a server in their home, and they don’t run AutoCAD, Photoshop and MS Office. Normal people shop on eBay and Amazon, they keep up with their friends on Facebook, they Tweet, they send emails, they read movie reviews and search for videos of Justin Bieber. Normal people don’t know the difference between Firewire and USB, or PATA and SATA, and why should they? you don’t need to know the difference between a Hard Drive and RAM to run Facebook, or shop on eBay. Why then, when we go to PC World to buy a PC, are we given all this data? 500GB this and 2GB that. We’re even told about the CPU, the make and model, and even its clock speed.

A typical Windows PC is a technical marvel, it’s capable of a vast array of functions, the majority of which normal people have absolutely no interest in, and this is why we’re being mis-sold. We’re basically buying a Humvee, when all we need is a Mini. It’s not the fault of the retailer, we’ve only been mis-sold because there was no other option.

It’s clear to see how we ended up where we are. When PCs first started to become commonplace, it was in the workplace, back then the workplace was full of all the best tech, from fax machines and photocopiers to the latest PCs. Eventually the PC found its way into our homes (in an unaltered state). For better or for worse, a tool designed for work had infiltrated our homes, over the years it has been updated and refined, but it is still a business machine at heart.

Like many tools used in the workplace, it took skill to master, and you had to master it as your job depended on it. Maybe this is one of the reasons why it took so long for a change to occur. Maybe if the PC started its life in the home it would have evolved faster, become simpler and more accessible to normal people, rather than just the tech savvy. But, it has taken over 20 years for things to change, and as far as I’m concerned that change started on Jan 9th 2007 when Apple introduced the first iPhone.

The most important thing to understand about the iPhone, and all the smartphones that followed it, is that they are all computers, yes, you can use them to make calls, you can also use them to take photos, and as Navigation devices etc, but the Smartphone is not a new breed of phone, it’s a new breed of computer. When you design a computer that has to fit in your pocket, you have to make some serious changes from the traditional concept of a computer.

The introduction of Smartphone introduced (or accelerated the development of) many hardware and software innovations:

  • Solid Stage Drives (SSD)
  • improved connectivity
  • Touch User Interface
  • Application store
  • low power CPUs

Smartphones aren’t going replace Windows PCs in people’s homes, they’re simply too small*. But in April 2010 Apple introduced a new category of device, based on the iPhone, but larger, this was of course the iPad. This simple device could meet the requirements of the majority of normal people. There’s no such thing as an Advanced User or a Power User when it comes to the iPad, my 2yr old can use it, and so can my parents, and I can’t say that about a traditional PC. I believe the iPad is the first ever consumer computer designed for the home (I believe the Smartphone is the 1st consumer computer, but that’s designed for the pocket).

I believe that the threat from this new category of device is the largest thread that MS Windows has ever faced. Microsoft is currently not competitive in the tablet space. Rather than build on their excellent new Smartphone OS (used on Windows Phone 7), they are continuing to push their desktop OS (currently Windows 7) as an OS for tablets, it isn’t working, and it didn’t work back in 2002 when they started with this strategy. It looks as if Microsoft are going to address this issue with the introduction of Windows 8, but by then it may be too late.

*Apparently I’m wrong. I was at a small local business yesterday doing some IT work when the owner’s wife asked if I could configure her Android Smartphone to work with her Google Apps account. While doing this she mentioned that she was looking to replace her old laptop with a Netbook, but, after buying the Smartphone she had decided she didn’t need the Netbook, for her at least, the Smarthpone had replaced her Windows PC.

From → iPad, Tablets, Windows

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