Premature Defenestration: Lagging PC Sales Don’t Mean Windows is Doomed
As CES 2014 draws to a close, there seems to be a growing feeling among tech sites that Windows is in some trouble. The most direct discussion of Windows’ impending demise can be found over on the Verge, with the smartly titled “Closing Windows” piece, which points to the lack of the Windows platform and the big showing of iOS and Android-optimized gadgets at CES. On top of that, a post on Neowin today reports a 10 percent decline in PC sales in 2013 compared to the year previous—certainly bad news for Windows there, too. In short, it does seem to paint a dire picture for Microsoft’s flagship operating system.
Even still, I’m honestly having trouble accepting that reality. Yes, Chromebook sales exploded in 2013 just as PC sales fell. But even with all that evidence, I can’t help but think back to a post from a few weeks ago regarding the slow gains of Windows 8.1 in terms of overall market share. Here’s the accompanying image again to illustrate the point I’m about to make:
Even with slow adoption rates for Windows 8.1, Microsoft platforms completely dominate operating systems. It’s not even up for debate. All told, Microsoft platforms make up a whopping 90.6 percent of OS market share. That’s really all the evidence I need to know that, at least for the next several years, Microsoft doesn’t really have that much to worry about in terms of Windows’ user-impact.
That’s because Windows’ competition—attractive or intuitive as it may all be—is still too fractured to represent a real threat to the future of the OS. The next biggest rival to Windows is, of course, Apple and its homegrown operating system. But for all of the praise that’s heaped on OS X and the Mac as a machine, you still have to pay a premium to get a Mac, pure and simple. When faced with the choice of paying a grand for the most basic Mac experience, or getting a solid Windows computer at 60 to 75 percent of the cost, chances are good that the average consumer will opt for the Windows machine.
This is why the aforementioned Chromebooks news is worth acknowledging: as an inexpensive and cloud-based alternative, Google’s cheapo laptops could conceivably start to undercut Windows in stores. But even if that starts to happen, it’d be a long while before that pie chart loses its Windows-flavored majority. And given that long time, I can easily see Microsoft continuing to tweak its Windows 8 strategies and find a way to make the OS work better for longtime adherents and continue to fight off upstarts like Chrome OS.
And personally, while I understand Chromebooks’ benefits over those of the much maligned netbook, I still see largely the same effect in the end: I think this surge (and that of PCs running Android) is a fad and will likely fade when consumers realize their computers can’t really do everything they’ve gotten used to with traditional Windows PCs.
Let’s also be sure to point out that while PC sales are declining, sales of PC games are on on a massive upswing. That means that for the most part, people who own PCs are using the hell out of them. The fact that most games are developed for Windows machines–despite the relatively recent announcement of the Linux-based Steam OS, it doesn’t seem as though developers will be abandoning their growing audience in favor of other platforms any time soon.
In the end, Microsoft’s OS is enormous and it’ll be a long, long time before that isn’t true. From where I’m sitting, the Windows are still pretty darned open.