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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11 Responses to “Apple and Six Years to Operating System Parity”

  1. Al says:

    Windows 7 might yet rescue Microsoft. But that’s a very tall order. Bill Gates diagnosed the problem (no industry-leading company has survived a technology shift with their leadership position unscathed), but he was never able to get Microsoft to avoid the problem’s root cause (industry leader failing to abandon the aging technology quickly enough). In the case of Microsoft the fading technology is the Windows code-base. The main indicator that it is fast becoming obsolete is the massive bloat and resource-hogging complexity that it has been exhibiting of late in an effort to a.) match OS-X feature for feature while b.) keeping customers with legacy software and hardware happy. So now, after years of clinging to the past with an unwieldy jerry-built, multi-patched OS, Windows has acquired the image of a buggy, low-quality, shabbily built product. It has become GM to Apple’s Toyota. Once you acquire that rep, it takes at least two generations (human, not product) of near-flawless product to shake it off. Just ask GM.

    The ironic thing is if Microsoft had just accepted Penfield Jackson’s remedy of breaking up Microsoft, they probably would be faring much better today.

  2. Andrew says:

    I actually hope that Windows 7 emerges as a great OS and that Microsoft stabilizes with it at somewhere between 80 and 90% market share. No, not because I want to use cheaper PC hardware, but rather because Apple does its best work when it is the underdog, and parity would likely do more to change Apple into the very thing it tries not to be, rather than push further improvement and innovation.

    Good luck Microsoft, at least this Mac user wishes you all the best with Windows 7.

  3. Joe S says:

    Microsoft’s business strategy has emphasized market goals at the expense of technology. This has had the predictable consequence of short term gain and long term problems. Compare the 64 bit strategy of UNIX (Mac OS X included) with that of Microsoft. You can not run 64 bit apps under 32 bit Windows. This has made the transition much more difficult for Microsoft. A similar situation is evident in EFI versus BIOS. They have also made some horrible fundamental design decisions, for example the registry. This single point of failure has caused untold grief for Windows users.

  4. alan smith says:

    May Microsoft go the way of the late 1980’s and 90’s IBM. It is a dinosaur worth retiring. Balmer is clueless. Look at his comments regarding the iPhone. And when did MS wake up to the iPod sucess? And what did they do in response? It is obvious that MS is way behind the times and not a trend setter. Their Windows 7 is a copy of the successful Mac OSX. And, MS Office is just terrible being buggy, with a new convoluted interface, and slow. No excuse me, sllllooooooooooooowwww! Why is it that people are using OpenOffice, iWork, and others?

    Like the Bob Dylan song, “The times are changing.”

  5. Bill Burkholder says:

    We need competition in the industry. Oligopoly — two to five players — ensures that there is a spirit of innovation, and that there is money for it. Pure competition leads to crappy quality because the price is too low to support innovation. Pure or near-monopoly, what IBM had once, and Microsoft had for a time, kills innovation and leads to price inflation.

    I hope there is *never* an answer to the “Mac or PC?” question, because users (and journalists) will benefit from the ongoing discourse, discussion, and debate that fires the innovation engine.

    Media standards (VHS over Beta, etc.) make some sense. OS standards really do not, at least not yet.

  6. John Fallon says:

    Microsoft is getting rid of people in areas that aren’t their focus anymore; and they’re hiring in other areas. I believe the net loss over the next 18 months is supposed to be 3600 people.

    Microsoft and Apple really aren’t direct competitors. Apple makes most of its profit off hardware, and individuals, Microsoft off software and businesses. SQL Server 2005 / 2008 and Sharepoint are making boatloads of money for them.

    Vista is very much improved these days from its first release, and Windows 7 looks considerably better than Vista.

  7. alan smith says:

    John Fallon wrote:

    Vista is very much improved these days from its first release, and Windows 7 looks considerably better than Vista.

    Yes, but that is like saying Vista was really bad and Windows 7 is better. Better than bad does not mean that Windows 7 will be better than the competition (Mac OSX, Linux). Apple and MS are competitors. The bottom line is that the reason I like and buy Macs is in the OS. I get to run XP too natively on my MacBook Pro.

  8. tom b says:

    Let us set the bar higher: OS X vs LINUX. Not that I have anything against LINUX; it’s just that legacy stuff like Windows is LONG past its “best used by” date, technologically.

  9. Richard says:

    Yes, M$ has big problems, but that does not mean that Apple will benefit from their problems. Sadly, Apple have repeatedly failed to take advantage of opportunities to grow their market share in a meaningful way. Sure, they have made slow growth, but have totally failed to answer the door when opportunity has repeatedly knocked.

    Most people, especially businesses simply do not have their needs met by Apple hardware and no matter how much they might like the operating system, Apple simply is not in the running. It is a nonstarter.

    Apple likes it that way. You take it their way and you better like it is their attitude. Gee, that kind of makes some of the PC makers sound like good guys, doesn’t it? Too bad Apple.

  10. Apple is highly profitable. Don’t expect that to change. Way to go, Apple.

  11. Andrew says:

    Vista is more than just improved, it has actually become quite good. No, it isn’t a Unix-based OS, but it is reliable, fast and compatible now. Where Microsoft goofed with Vista was releasing it without first lending considerable assistance to the many device vendors in the form of Vista-compatible drivers.

    The fact that a 4-year-old printer didn’t work with Vista does not make Vista a bad OS, but the fact that MOST 4-year-old printers didn’t work (and now do) suggests that Microsoft needed to invest a lot more resources into either helping or actually writing more drivers.

    Now on SP1, my Vista machine (unibody MacBook Pro) connects quickly and reliably to everything that my OS X machine (one and the same) does. I like the look and feel of OS X better, but I could be equally productive with either.

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