OS WarsThe Internet of late has been very chatty about how Microsoft screwed up and released a Windows version that no one really wanted. Not since WindowsME, has Microsoft had such an unimportant Windows release as Windows Vista. Faithful and ever persistent Apple followers have chimed in with the prophecy that Apple will once again reign supreme and take over the world with Mac OS X. As a Mac user myself, yeah I too can dream of the coming of OS X to all things, but that simply is not going to happen. The Operating System is irrelevant at this point. Yes, I said it. As much as I love Apple for their cool gradients and perfectionist design, the truth is that the operating system war no longer matters. It is the network that matters now. People don’t care what operating system they run as much as, what they want to access, works. Today for technical people like myself, this means Firefox on Windows XP, Safari on Mac OS X and my iPhone, and whatever browser works on anything else. If it is IE, so be it!

In reality there are two markets out there. The consumer market which Apple has already won and which Linux is close to figuring out and the business market where Microsoft rules with iron fists. Apple’s OS X strategy on the consumer side has worked great. Today I can message, play, and communicate on my iPhone better than I ever could on my old Windows98 machine. Most people do not even know what the operating system is on the iPhone, they just know it works. In this respect, OS X has become a consumer operating system. Consumers like choices too, and so today you can buy an Apple widget that works and live with it or you can go with Windows, Linux, and dozens of other operating systems that are out there. Apple’s consumer price is a tad higher, but as the iPod and iPhone have shown, people don’t care as long as it works. As long as Apple keeps OS X running smoothly on all these $300 devices, OS X will be successful, so successful that no one will know that is what they are actually using. The irony is that Microsoft wanted this for Windows and it never really happened. Why? Because Microsoft is obsessed with recognition that they have never figured out that you do not have to blast everything you make with “Microsoft” and version names that make no sense to consumers. What exactly does IE Version: 6.0.2900.2180.xpsp_sp2_qfe.080814-1242 mean? I am sure someone could tell you, but to the consumer it does not matter at all. Apple’s marketing is simple, one logo and one name.

Microsoft is a company that is going in multiple directions, and it is causing them to remain stagnant and sink in quicksand. The relevancy of Vista has been a wake up call, that perhaps Office and Windows no longer matter outside of the business markets that they control. Do not get me wrong, Microsoft makes very impressive products for business. Windows Server 2008 being more impressive than Windows Server 2003 which is my personal favorite version of Windows, but outside of business Microsoft has many ideas, many strategies, but one senses the ambition is gone. Google is the super power of the Internet and it is pushing hard into remaking the world in its image. Google has made products that actually matter to you and me. Google Earth, Maps, Reader, and so on have made an impact on how we live and use this thing called the Internet. Google’s strategy is to make the network work for everyone and it is succeeding in building toolsets that are cutting into Microsoft’s expensive products. This is why the operating system war no longer matters. It is the network that Google is building that is changing the world. The business market is watching this revolution and they are very interested, as they should be. The future will definitely have business going less Microsoft, just how much business abandons Redmond, depends on just how relevant Microsoft products are. Right now, Microsoft still has the podium on which to speak volumes on where they want to take us, but for how much longer can they keep control may be out of their hands entirely. Vista is boring compared to Ubuntu, OS X, RedHat, and others.

On the consumer side, Microsoft has pushed hard with little success to show for it. The XBox 360 remains uninspiring and in third place behind Nintendo Wii and the PS3. Windows Live Search is not even a real contender in search. And Microsoft wonders why Vista (an operating system that can cost upwards of $400 on cheap $300 hardware) is not enticing to consumers? The rise of the netbook laptop, something which neither Intel nor Microsoft saw coming, is now the driving force in the consumer market. Microsoft had to hack Windows XP to run on these $300 laptops, this alone speaks volumes of how stagnant Microsoft has been. If shareholders have not thought of this, they definitely should consider what would happen if business customers start buying netbooks instead of more expensive hardware and switch to Google Apps for their software needs! Microsoft’s Cloud idea has to materialize sooner than later. In essence Windows is doomed, or at least what we think of Windows is. Microsoft has to build the network in ways that matter to everyone. They do not have to follow the same path as Google, but they definitely need to change the way we live. Microsoft’s best strategy is to kill Windows before its competitors make it irrelevant. The clock is ticking away.