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  • Does Microsoft Have Any More Luster to Lose?

    May 24th, 2012

    More and more people no longer take Microsoft seriously nowadays, even though Windows maintains a substantial majority of the traditional personal computer operating system market. Indeed, recent surveys show that Windows users are continuing to dump the Internet Explorer browser, even though it has gotten far better in recent years.

    This anecdotal tidbit comes to mind. I got a letter the other day from a friend, who sent me a link to a recent survey of browser market share. She wrote, “I can hardly believe this headline! IE the number one browser??? I don’t know a soul that uses it.”

    All right, she’s a Mac user, but many of her friends rely on Windows and they aren’t power users. You’d think they’d stick with the browser that came preloaded on their computers. Yes, I know you get a menu with browser choices if you live in Europe.

    So a recent survey of Web traffic from StatCounter actually showed Google’s Chrome browser, which is also available on the Mac and Linux platforms, as number one ahead of Internet Explorer. The figures are being disputed, because Chrome’s pre-rendering feature, designed to make sites load faster, allegedly skewed the numbers in Google’s favor. Regardless, it seems clear that Internet Explorer 9 hasn’t been a magic bullet for Microsoft, though it may have stopped the market share freefall.

    Certainly, Microsoft is doing their best to boost IE’s popularity, witness those dreadful and misleading TV ads that proclaim a browser as somehow providing a prettier Internet. Well, I suppose if you’re still using Internet Explorer 6, with its awful rendering and questionable adherence to Web standards, maybe. But a site should look much the same with any standards-compliant browser, so I wonder where Microsoft’s ad agency came up with those silly claims. Maybe they just didn’t know better, but the same can be said for the Microsoft executives who approved the campaign.

    But it’s not as if the FTC will go after Microsoft because IE doesn’t make sites more beautiful. Such tall tales won’t impact your bottom line or health and welfare. Browsers are free, and you can install as many as you want and use the ones you like.

    What is most intriguing is that tens of millions of Windows users have made the choice to avoid IE, even though that requires downloading and installing something else. Instead of running meaningless ads, maybe Microsoft needs to start considering the consequences, which is that more and more PC users don’t feel wedded to Microsoft, or even take them seriously. Having the Microsoft brand on a product these days doesn’t guarantee success, except for the Xbox, and that gadget is getting real old.

    Meanwhile, Microsoft has bet the farm on Windows 8. They are even, according to recent reports, removing the Aero interface that debuted with Windows Vista, and continued with Windows 7. Aero is Microsoft’s answer to the fancy shaded and realistic graphics that first appeared on the Mac with OS X beginning in 2001.

    This all-or-nothing approach may force Windows users to get with the program, but if they don’t take to Windows 8 and Metro, what then? Where’s Microsoft’s Plan B? If it was easy to quit Metro and return to the previous Windows look and feel, at least skeptical customers would realize they had an alternative.

    In one area, though, having a choice may not be a good thing. There will be both Windows 8 tablets running on Intel processors and Windows 8 RT tablets running on ARM. The major PC makers will no doubt want to sell both, hoping one or the other will yield good sales and profits. While the Intel version will be basically just another PC in terms of the hardware layout, and will thus run traditional Windows apps, the same won’t be true for the ARM version. The user interface will be essentially the same, at least on the surface, but apps will have to be modified to work for a different processor, and to run efficiently under severely constrained system resources. Power users will grok this distinction, but regular people who just want a cheap tablet may end up being confused, disappointed, and thoroughly disgusted with what Microsoft has done.

    Microsoft would have done better to restrict tablets to the ARM platform. Make it clear through advertising and sales literature that tablets aren’t just small PCs, but altogether different devices using different apps. When it comes to Metro, removing legacy interfaces is also going to confuse and anger customers. But the same can be said for the decision to remove DVD playback support from the Windows Media Center, or whatever Microsoft wants to call it these days.

    As far as businesses are concerned, they will continue to buy Microsoft products, though the upgrade path to Windows 8 seems questionable. It’s not that system admins want to be forced to retrain employees to adapt to a new interface. That’s so unnecessary. Some even suggest that Microsoft might have another Windows Vista in the making.

    But Vista was basically bloated and buggy, and critical peripheral drivers weren’t ready at the outset. Aero may have looked different, but a Windows user could adapt quickly since the basic functionality was the same or close enough to Windows XP. By throwing out a perfectly serviceable interface in the belief that desktop and mobile platforms must become one and the same, a disaster may be looming.

    So it’s no wonder that people are dropping Internet Explorer in droves. Sure Windows will continue to dominate personal computing desktops for years to come, but who cares anymore?



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