Well, not exactly dead, but possibly approaching her twilight years. That’s the duopoly of Microsoft’s Windows plus Intel’s processors, the partnership that had the personal-computer industry in a stranglehold through most of the past two decades. See Windows 8 review.
Personal computing has evolved from beige boxes on the desk to phones, laptops and tablets we carry everywhere. For the incumbent technology companies, though, adapting to that shift has been glacial - especially so for Microsoft. Both built empires around a predictable cycle of business- and home users refreshing their PCs, most of whom had little idea that better user-focused options were emerging. See Windows 8 Advisor.
Even side-stepping the fact that computing is now a mobile experience, the entrenched desktop/keyboard/mouse computer has little need to be improved upon. There was a time when the PC was begging to be upgraded every two years, to keep it snappy as increasingly weighty software conspired to slow it down. Nothing illustrates that better than the introduction of Vista, a treacly OS that demanded powerful hardware to run with a semblance of ease.
Vista truly marked the height of Microsoft’s hubris, and offered little of benefit over the XP it was replacing. When Vista effectively flopped, Microsoft tried to steer its lumbering carrier back on course with a leaner service pack better known as Windows 7. But in the innovating world of mobile, it offered nothing.
Windows 7 was less important to businesses that needed a functioning desktop, particularly those that were already satisfied with XP. Microsoft looked deeper and finally realised its failure was in serving the needs of its customers. Of course, Microsoft’s customers are not its users, but the PC manufacturers that bulk-buy Windows to preinstall on new machines.
The 21st century has seen the rise of people power. Consumers are less happy sticking with clumsy, insecure systems when attractive, powerful and portable products with clean interfaces are available.
In this real consumer-focused market, Microsoft had to fork its strategy - to somehow keep selling Windows and Office to businesses trapped in a Microsoft monoculture, and to start actually pitching its wares at end users.
Windows 8 sees the move to push on every PC user a new touch-centric interface. Only, in my opinion at least, there’s an elephant in the room: it’s pretty rubbish. Designed by committee, it has the power to trip up Windows veterans who don’t want huge tiles across their screen; and getting daily tasks done on the desktop is confused after switching between interfaces. Meanwhile, touch-based Office apps on tablets still suffer from fat-fingered awkwardness.
The Microsoft ecosystem, hardware and software is unprepared for touchy Windows. Proper touch displays aren’t available, software drivers aren’t finished. It’s telling when even old hands struggle to make sense of a schizoid interface. As we stumble through the century’s second decade, it’s becoming clear that it’s not so much a post-PC era, as maybe just a post-Windows one.