The future is in front of us, not behind us. Not exactly revolutionary words as much as an obvious observation. But in these days of technology breakthroughs and change we see and hear of new dynamics taking place all the time. We have all heard by now the imminent demise of the desktop. That the Microsoft Windows Paradise is about to all come undone. If you look at industry trends and the painful release of Windows 8 you may even lean heavily in that direction. On top of that Google seems to be getting a lot of favorable press with its Chromebooks, the browser-based device. We are in an ever-increasing connected world with new software services being created and delivered all the time. Rather than fight for past glory it may be time to embrace future glory, namely for Microsoft. Microsoft would be well served by exploring the possibility of a browser-based piece of hardware running Internet Explorer and not Windows. Blasphemy? Of course it is but here are a few reasons why I think this course of action is wise and necessary.
I have come to the conclusion that I hate my home laptop hard drive. The amount of crap that gets loaded onto my machine, much in the name of security and privacy, in the end leads to a painfully slow boot process and overall slow machine. But this is the challenge of a home pc/laptop. You as an individual are responsible for its protection. But most people do not have the technical know how to even begin to contemplate how to do that. As a result we are happy to sign up for services to help us manage that desktop. This can work and even help, but often leads to pain. Not to mention there are so many services and information that we are asked to give up, we cannot remember what we have agreed to. For anybody who owns a Windows-based machine, who has not received a call from somebody in India asking, “We see you own a Windows PC?”, “You may be at risk of a virus”…usually 2-3 questions/comments before you hang up the phone. Uneasy with the fact that everything they said was true. They know what is in your hard drive and probably have access to a lot of info you do not want to provide or even be known. It seems an invasion of privacy but somewhere along the line you agreed to it.
We are always connected. We have access to the internet whenever and for whatever we need. If you think of the percentage of time spent on your laptop how much is being done locally versus up on the internet, where do you spend your time? We spend time researching vacations, booking airfare, shopping online. We spend more time in our browser than any application. It is a windows to the world and it is an increasingly fragmented market. We have Internet Explorer, Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, Safari, and Opera. If we are not connected, then we cannot use our browser and there is simply not enough interesting stuff stored on our local machine to make it a compelling experience. Why not just have a device that is a browser to connect me to and experience that world?
The Cloud is increasingly delivering more and more consumer based services. Many of the applications we used to run locally on our machine or in our corporate environment as a two tier or three-tier application service are now available in the cloud as application services. Many of the interesting start-ups are Cloud Providers, such as Box, DropBox etc..There are also established vendors like SalesForce and Amazon. Even Microsoft with apps like Office 365 and OneDrive are embracing the cloud, making the need for local storage less relevant. More importantly since all this data is housed in highly secure data centers the Amazons and Microsoft’s of the world handle data redundancy and security. End-Users need to use their device but they need to not be in the business of having to manage their device. The goal of technology has always been about improving our productivity and decreasing our pain. Unfortunately with the advent of desktops and laptops, with time complexity increased and along with it the associated pain. It is time to let go and move to the ether, that is the cloud.
We are moving beyond the desktop, this much is obvious. Microsoft at times has been guilty of trying to hang on to the past and sell the successful history of Microsoft in repackaged versions of the latest version of Windows, rather than sell people on the future of the industry. For a long time now the primary application we run on our machine has been our browser. The browser is a window to the world and now thanks to all the information and services, it is really the only place we spend on our time, and frankly need to spend our time. Microsoft has a great solution that it could offer as its new devices and services mantra. Steve Jobs once said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will” . No surer truth was ever said and that is the dilemma Microsoft now finds itself in. That being said new leadership is slowly starting to sow the seeds of change. Steve Ballmer said before he left, “We are a Windows Company”, but I would argue that resonates with Microsoft’s past not its future. New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has already made an impact on the corporate culture at Microsoft. For starters changing the name of Microsoft’s cloud offering “Windows Azure” to just “Microsoft Azure”. At first glance he seems to see the writing on the wall and Satya is starting to distance the company from Windows 95, something long overdue. It is time to discover the next big thing not reinvent the old one.
My argument, would be that the focus of OS development needs to shift and more focus should be put on the browser, specifically Internet Explorer. We are entering a period where Microsoft can slowly start de-emphasizing the need for Windows. It took twenty years for Microsoft to create and launch Windows 95, it has taken nearly twenty years since that time for Microsoft to stat evolving beyond Windows. Before Steve Ballmer left he called Microsoft a “Windows” company. Windows has been great and very profitable, but even if Satya were to take my advice and focus on Internet Explorer I would add a second piece of advice. Do not become an Internet Explorer company or even a browser company. become what you always have been; A technology company. If Microsoft does just that one simple thing the revenue will follow. Not in the browser or even the device but the services that will be offered as part of the experience. The assets exist at Microsoft such as Azure, Office 365, OneDrive, XBOX, and Bing, to name but a few. Save us the headache of a corrupted hard drive with security issues and drive the experience of the future. Reinvention is a beautiful thing and can reap rewards, the flip side is watch yourself get eaten by competition with cannibalistic tendencies .
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 29, 2014