News Flash: Bill Gates’ Successor Quits Microsoft!
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s really happening. Microsoft’s domination of software is ending and the new hardware era is about to begin. Microsoft has failed to do anything new over the past few years, and no, Windows 7 is not anything new. I laugh when I hear people say that Windows Vista or Windows 7 is a new operating system: it’s the same operating system with a new version.
Soon hardware makers and OEMs will be packaging whatever software they want with their computers, and people either won’t tell the difference or they’ll be glad to see Microsoft go. I say “New Hardware Era” because the computer business used to be all about hardware. From the beginning of commercial computing — with Univac in the 1950s — up until about 1991, selling computers meant selling hardware. Software, although not incidental, was what companies needed to put on their computers so that they would do something after the customer turned them on. The best example is the proliferation of Unix variants that occurred in the 1980s in response to the workstation market: Sun created a market for networked desktop computers that was quickly emulated by DEC, NeXT, HP, Apple, Dell and many others. Companies designed their own Unix variants to run on these machines, while at the same time promoting their products saying basically “That program you wrote on your old machine will run on this new one because it stil runs Unix.” This was the original meaning of “open” in the computing world.
However, the only company that still does business this way is Apple. IBM and HP will still do this with AIX and HP-UX respectively, but those workstations are not their biggest sellers. Apple, however, still sells desktop Unix workstations — complete with the Unix trademark — the same way it did twenty years ago. Things changed in the computing world from hardware focus to software focus mainly because Microsoft pushed companies into making hardware incidental, instead of software. This was a good thing for Microsoft to do — yes, even Microsoft was capable of good.
However, as I’ve written before, Android, Meego and the iPad are quickly showing people that “Hey, you don’t need Windows to run a computer!” Knowledgeable people have always known that, but those aren’t the people who buy most computers. The people buying the most computers could best be called “electronics customers.” Notice that people still buy hardware, but they buy software bundled with it. This is how Microsoft built its monopoly. That and bullying hardware companies.
Not anymore. Microsoft’s chief software strategist has quit, Microsoft has completely failed in the mobile phone realm, and has missed the boat in tablets. Here are my predictions for the comming year:
- Meego and Android devices will increase the visibility of Free Software in the public
- Schools will start distributing netbooks and tablets pre-loaded with GNU/Linux (this is already happening)
- Hardware companies (Dell, HP, etc) will start shifting their products to support whatever free operating system they decide to use for a particular model
- People will stop relying on specific proprietary programs to get work done, most of all Microsoft Office
- Microsoft’s mental monopoly will break down: people will know that when they buy a piece of hardware, it will run with whatever the manufacturer put on it
- Microsoft will be reduced to the world’s largest patent troll
As to my point about hardware, this will be very much like when hardware companies created their own Unix variants, except that you would also be able to download it off the internet and use it on someone else’s hardware (for free). People will stop saying “there are no device drivers for Linux[sic].” Almost all hardware problems as of now are caused by subtle hardware problems that are not an issue for machines built with GNU/Linux in mind. As for office programs, what I mean is that once people realize that they don’t need Windows, they are going to see that they also don’t need Microsoft Word. I’m not saying every old person is going to start using Emacs, but quite a few of them might see the light and at least use gEdit. You will stop hearing arguments like “Software package X isn’t supported on Linx[sic].” People won’t care because when they buy a computer, it will have preloaded some program that allows them to get their job done.
The main thing Microsoft realized, and how they created their monopoly, is what Neal Stephenson called the “blinking 12:00 problem”: people take what they get. If what they are getting is GNU/Linux, then they’ll take it. It won’t matter that it doesn’t have M$ Office.
Microsoft will be reduced to a much smaller company that mainly tries to make money by suing people — most likely the companies that used to bundle their software and will soon be bundling GNU/Linux. Microsoft will basically be SCO with a name that people recognize.
The new hardware era is coming: tablets and laptops preloaded with Android and Meego are about to become very popular. This doesn’t mean that desktops are going away. They will again become high-end tools used by scientists and engineers, and they will come preloaded with software that is actually usable. Let’s see how my predictions fare.