It’s no secret that the Windows desktop environment is on a slow path to irrelevancy. In October of 2012 Windows 8 was launched, and it was designed to change the old computing mentality and push Windows into this app-modeled world. In addition, scaling Windows across devices with various form-factors and starting a new computing revolution by designing it to be a fully functional touchscreen operating system. Microsoft’s vehicle for achieving this goal, is its own and first ever computing device called “Surface”. The Surface runs on Windows RT, a version of Windows designed to run on mobile processors, and one which doesn’t allow the installation of additional desktop applications. Windows RT is where Microsoft wants the user to be, and is intended to bring people into this vision at a much faster pace than the traditional Windows 8 experience.
This new OS is designed to be able to scale down from the PC to every device type, including tablets, phones and TV (through Xbox). This is quite an ambitious goal, and in order to achieve this goal, desktop applications may have to be deployed from the cloud. We are not there yet, it is still years away from being a reality, but as Windows RT evolves, this reality will eventually come to light and it is the only way to save the Windows brand.
As the battle of ecosystems intensifies, being a platform maker and providing integrated consistent experience across device types becomes a significant importance to succeed in the market. Microsoft’s hand is forced by Google and Apple which are attempting to lock users into their ecosystem of devices and services. Microsoft is late to this mobile world of computing but in order to become a major player, they have to stick to their strengths. There are over 1.5 billion active PC users, and scaling from the PC down to the tablet, phone and Xbox is the way to bring this population into their mobile ecosystem.
The Desktop is a wasteland
The desktop is considered to be the “wild west” of computing environments, and no one is developing new applications for the it anymore. It is holding Microsoft back in achieving this goal, due to many major applications only running in this environment, and having a massive PC user base to convert into running Windows RT.
It also doesn’t help that the two most downloaded desktop applications are: #1.Google Chrome and #2. iTunes, and both of these applications are designed to take the user away from the Microsoft world. This is a battle Microsoft doesn’t intend to fight on the desktop, but rather create better experiences of their own on the new Modern Windows environment and kill the desktop altogether.
How to overcome the need for desktop apps
That’s an easy one – bypassing the desktop via Cloud of course. Well, eventually this will be a reality as we are seeing more and more major applications being deployed from the cloud. Office Online is a great example because the application works and looks identical to the desktop versions. This is the vision that could be applied to a fully functional Adobe Photoshop application, Visual Studio and every traditional desktop app that cannot be duplicated in functionality with touch in mind. This, or as processing power evolves on mobile chipsets, we may see some of these traditional desktop apps in the Windows store. They would be of course running in the modern(metro) environment as desktop is set to disappear on Windows RT in Windows 9.
The Chrombook threat and Apple’s recent price reduction
Google’s Chromebook may have a market share of less than 1% at the moment, but with Intel’s recent announcement to back the Chromebook, giving it much improved internals, this is absolutely a threat to Windows. The Chromebook is gaining popularity in schools due to its simplicity and security. Recent stats from 2013 show that 21% of schools have purchased Chromebooks for their students. People who are looking to spend $250-300 on a PC may consider Chromebook as it could be a viable option for them, especially if they are just browsing the internet and checking Facebook (which is what most of us do). Google is on a rapid release schedule, constantly improving its Chrome OS and bringing native app capabilities, allowing offline use for certain apps.
Apple has just dropped the price on the MacBook air to $899 making it the cheapest MacBook ever made. Although, the Mac represents a small overall market share of traditional computing at around 7%. However, when looking at PC sales at the $1,000 range and up, Apple’s Mac takes a much more significant share of sales. Windows suddenly has a much stronger competition in these realms of sub $300 and $900 and up.
How does Windows fight back to keep its lead and succeed in mobile
Microsoft’s way to success is to fully develop Windows RT, duplicating all of the desktop’s functionality, and completely ridding Windows of the desktop environment. It will be completely locked down, updates will occur without user intervention through the store. In addition, the back-end will be the same one that runs on Windows Phone and Xbox, completely merging the app store and unifying the operating systems completely. This new version of Windows will be able to battle the Chromebook much more effectively by enabling lower price points with Windows RT being free to OEMs, while bringing in more users into the Microsoft Ecosystem. This will help tremendously with the development of apps across the entire Windows Store benefiting Windows Phone and Xbox.
Windows RT is already rumored to be achieving this with Windows 9, which is set to be released in April of 2015. The desktop will go away on RT and modern touch friendly versions of Office will replace the traditional desktop versions.
The meaning of Windows RT’s success
Windows RT succeeding is critical for Microsoft mobile vision, people and businesses want seamless experience across devices, and Windows RT is the key to bringing this vision into reality and purifying the OS. This will completely rid it of the ability to get malware and viruses, allow Microsoft to control the user experience. Apps will be written with strict guidelines and will have to go through rigorous approval testing by Microsoft, creating a Windows world where the operating system is identical across devices, along with apps, and core services. The Windows desktop will always exist and have its uses for a niche audience, but the vehicle that will carry Windows into the next generation of computing for the majority and save the overall brand, is Windows RT.