Windows Isn't Dead or Dying

Dear Bob ...

I've been reading quite a few opinions these days in the IT trade press and blogosphere about the death of Windows and irrelevance of Microsoft. That sure doesn't seem to fit the world I'm living in.

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: Bob may remain confident in Windows' future, but the same can't be said for the Microsoft-Nokia mobile alliance. | Keep up on career advice with Bob Lewis's Advice Line newsletter. ]

What do you think -- should I be putting contingency plans together to switch everything out to Android, Linux, Mac OS X, iOS, or Chrome?

--Skeptical

Dear Skeptical,

I think what you're reading is mostly based on sales figures for all end-user devices and relative numbers of page reads by different browsers and operating systems. If IT's responsibilities were based on the number of end-user devices sold and on browser page reads, this would be interesting information.

IT's responsibilities, though, have a lot more to do with applications business users rely on to get work done. When you look in this direction, you get a very different bead on things.

So let's examine the intersection of where IT lives and Microsoft plays, and we'll see where that takes us. Ultimately, that means infrastructure and the end-user computing environment.

Let's check out infrastructure first -- in particular, the server OS, DBMS, app server, Web server, development kit, email, and content/document management solution. While IT has choices for all of these, Microsoft doesn't just continue to matter here; rather, it's probably the most innovative force in the industry in this space right now -- except in its ability to explain itself. The infrastructure story for Microsoft is excellent products coupled with incoherent storytelling.

Then there's the end-user computing environment (what's usually mislabeled the "client").

What a lot of analysts miss is quite simple and basic: Microsoft Office file formats are the industry de facto standard, and no amount of de jure standards setting will change that any time soon. Thus, any business that has to exchange documents with other companies has to use Microsoft Office, because the best any competitor can say is that its product can read and write Microsoft Office files.

That isn't the same thing as rendering them properly, and the fact of the matter is, no matter which Office competitor you use, it will scramble Word documents that do any serious formatting at all. As for PowerPoint, you have no idea just how bizarre the results can be until you try running a PowerPoint animation in a competitor's piece of software.

There is a work-around that lets you provide Microsoft Office to employees using other platforms: You can run Windows on a server in the data center and use VDI to push it out to client devices. Think that makes Windows less important as a client platform? Of course it doesn't -- Windows is still the client platform, but you'll run it in a virtual machine instead of natively.

Microsoft gets a lot of dings because it just can't seem to get things right in the mobile space. It's an eminently fair criticism -- every version of Windows Mobile so far has been at least one step behind the industry, and there's no hint yet that Microsoft has the ability to leapfrog its competition. It's natural to figure Microsoft's presence in mobile computing is and will be limited to laptops, which will remain the portable devices of choice for those who plan to do serious work that requires a keyboard for quite a while.

For those who think they'll be happy with a tablet/keyboard combo, perhaps they will. If they're working with business documents, they'll do so by running a Citrix or VMWare client on their iPad or Xoom.

Here's your take-away: The increased importance of other platforms represents an expansion of what you'll be responsible for, not a substitution. Windows and Microsoft will be important for a number of years yet -- but so will other platforms and players.

--Bob

This story, "The reports of Windows' death are greatly exaggerated," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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