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  • Apple and Six Years to Operating System Parity

    February 3rd, 2009

    In yesterday’s column, I discussed the slow erosion of Windows, compared to the Mac OS and Linux. Clearly the former has the most to lose, and it goes to show that Apple’s ongoing Mac versus PC campaign is bearing fruit.

    Despite slowing sales at Apple Stores in the last quarter, 50% of the people who buy new Macs there supposedly are new to the platform and likely Windows switchers. While I’m not about to get involved in an argument over statistics, it appears that the financial community is buying these figures, so I’ll accept them too.

    Now there’s a story in TG Daily covering the ground you’ve already read about, but producing some truly fascinating projections as to where the Mac versus Windows operating system war is heading.

    I’m sure many of you have already read the article and, since it opens in a separate browser window by design, you can see where I get that six year figure from. If the still-formidable Windows market share continues to decline at the existing accelerated pace, according the article’s author, Rick C. Hodgin, “Microsoft’s OS would fall off the charts completely sometime around 2022. At this rate of accelerating increase for Mac’s OS, the point of parity with Windows (equal market share) should be reached in or near 2015 — just over 6 years out.”

    Now maybe Hodgin’s being a little optimistic here, although I bet some of you would hope that Windows 7 will become a greater failure than Vista and only hasten Microsoft’s fall from the top of the world.

    Whether that’s the case or not, I can’t help but recall when the satellite-generated visage of Bill Gates appeared to jeers at a Macworld Expo keynote in 1997. At the time, Steve Jobs admonished Mac users that the operating system wars were over, Microsoft was victorious, and it’s time to move on.

    Perhaps he was right, then, at least in his own mind. I mean, with Microsoft holding a market share of over 95%, what hope did a relatively small niche computer maker, such as Apple, have against such dominance?

    Indeed, as you read in the TG Daily article, Windows didn’t get below 95% until 2006, and then just barely. Indeed, the change was so subtle that few members of the media bothered to notice. However, when the figures dropped to less than 90% in January, you had to see a trend, one that actually began when Firefox took a healthy portion of the browser market.

    Now before we look at what Apple has accomplished, consider Mozilla. This is the company spun off by AOL when Netscape crashed and burned. How could Firefox appeal to anyone except for power users? After all, it’s not as if you got a copy preloaded on your PC, unless the manufacturer made a licensing deal. Regardless, your default selection was and remains Internet Explorer.

    Despite this, more and more Windows users are taking the time to actually download something else. With nearly a third of the market now in the hands of Firefox, Safari and some lesser players, this trend is no longer the province of an “elite” class. People from all walks of life are ditching Internet Explorer in their homes and offices.

    When it comes to personal computers, don’t forget that, despite falling sales for desktops, Apple managed to keep Mac sales in the holiday quarter pretty close to the previous quarter and ahead of 2007. In contrast, PC sales flattened or fell, and Microsoft is giving the ax to 5,000 of its employees and an unknown number of contractors.

    Now it’s fair to suggest that Microsoft’s leadership may have begun to realize that they are overstaffed, and have been for some time, and they need to make the company slim and trim and ready to fight Apple to reassert Window’s prominence.

    Understand, though, that the emerging trend TG Daily sees is not a done deal. It’s very possible that Steve Ballmer and his crew will begin to understand there are problems with the way they’re doing business, and they’ll come back more powerful than ever.

    However, they no longer have the clear field that existed in the mid-1990s. They are being watched closely by President Obama’s reorganized Department of Justice and there are still issues to be resolved with the European Union. Microsoft can’t just streamroll the competition anymore without consequences.

    Indeed, PC manufacturers have said no to Microsoft’s entreaties to stop selling Windows XP. The public has said no to the Zune and, while Microsoft protests that they are going to continue to develop and improve their failed digital media player, that’s clearly a gigantic waste of money.

    When it comes to the Windows Mobile platform, the iPhone, BlackBerry and Google’s Android are combining to keep Microsoft at bay. It’s not as if they can suddenly release a new version of anything and have the media and the public eagerly accepting their products as the next great things.

    Yes, Apple could make some serious missteps and descend into the doldrums of irrelevance. If Steve Jobs doesn’t return as CEO this summer, some feel that Apple will soon lose its momentum. But there are 35,000 Apple employees who have absorbed the Jobs’ DNA and vision. Even if he’s gone, that state of affairs is not apt to change now or in the foreseeable future.

    As I’ve said before, Microsoft is in big trouble.

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