Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Windows Devices Musings, for Late October 2012

With all of the flamage surrounding Windows 8, tablets and phones, I've been resisting making any comments. (I have so many negative comments to make about the Windows 8 UI that I sound like a crazed Unabomber, and there is little to be gained from venting at this point.)  For posterity's sake, I'm going to put down some random musings that might be fun to check back on in 2014.

I believe that the end game for tablets will be Microsoft selling tablets directly and without apology. Microsoft's formerly joined-at-the-hip hardware partners will be left trying to sell 'traditional' PCs (laptops and desktops) with an increasingly tablet-ified Windows. Some vendors may take stabs at shipping Linux distros (again), but that has it's own set of problems. There just isn't enough pricing room when the market wants to buy a tablet for $300 and Microsoft wants $150 or more for their software.

People seem to feel that the Surface tablets are too expensive to compete with iPads. With Balmer's "everything is a PC" mantra, why wouldn't a Windows Surface "tablet" be priced similarly to a laptop, especially when you add a keyboard?

I expect Windows RT tablets to be considered as a failure one or two years in, much like UltraBooks. Windows RT is not the Windows that people are familiar with. The Windows RT tablets have only been out a week and I've seen at least two people who claim to be able to out-type Word's ability to put characters on the screen. That might have been sort-of OK in 1992. Today, it is unacceptable. My guess is that Windows RT tablets sell OK up to and into the holiday buying season, but people sour on them by the end of Q1 in 2013 after they have had some time to see the flaws and Windows 8 Pro tablets are released. Windows RT needs improvements in processor power (or Word's code needs to be tightened up enormously) and screen resolution. At best, Windows RT will be seen as another flawed "1.0" Microsoft product and people will start to wait for the "3.0" release before buying in. I suspect that the third release will not happen.

If the existing hardware manufacturers are very unlucky, Microsoft will decide that they should make traditional laptops (with permanently attached keyboards) and desktops as well as tablets. Since keyboard feature so heavily in Microsoft's marketing for Surface 'tablets', Microsoft is arguably already making laptops. This could push companies like Dell, Asus and HP out of the market. Since Dell and HP use contract manufacturers, it is just a question of Microsoft engaging those same manufacturers. Since MS doesn't have to pay a license fee for Windows, they could be able to bid more than a Dell and still make more money. In short, the way has been shown by Apple and vertical integration is the new "in" thing.

If fewer and fewer companies are making desktops, at what point do the economies of scale that parts for desktops have enjoyed start to dwindle and pricing for desktops starts to go up, rather than down?

Microsoft's reputation for pushing a new technology hard and then unceremoniously dumping it is becoming widespread, unquestioned lore among developers. Silverlight is the stand-out example. I just rebuilt two of my systems and the only reason I have to install Silverlight is Netflix. The strategists at Netflix must feel like chumps.

One of the advantages that Windows has over other operating systems is it's ability to run on lots of different hardware: graphics adapters, network cards, RAID adapters, fiber channel HBAs, etc. Basically, you buy the gadget, stick it into the computer, install the drivers and off you go. Tablets aren't like that. (Arguably, computers aren't like that anymore either. I remember when there were dozens of graphics chip manufacturers. There are now three significant players in that space.) Apple tightly controls the hardware that goes into it's iDevices. (MacOS has always had a more limited range of hardware that could be used. Since most Mac users aren't using expandable machines like Mac Pros, this isn't as obvious as it used to be.)

Android is more fractured, but vendors choose the hardware that goes into a tablet or phone and then custom-build the software for it. It's not like an owner is going to replace the graphics card in their tablet. It isn't physically possible. My point being that the market that Microsoft is pushing Windows into erases one of the strengths of Windows.

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