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Microsoft Windows software must change, experts warn

A radical change of Windows is in order, but Microsoft is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't, experts say.

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft's Windows is in danger of collapsing under its own weight and must change radically or risk becoming obsolete. But the kingpin of software is darned if it does change and darned if it doesn't, said Gartner Inc. analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald.

Silver and MacDonald laid out the doomsday scenario, in almost lawyerly fashion, at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo taking place here this week.

Speaking at an session yesterday to a rapt audience, Silver and MacDonald said Windows needs to be redesigned from scratch to support the modern way of doing business. A mobile and global workplace can no longer do business with a one-size-fits-all operating system tethered to a piece of hardware, the experts say. That's like traveling to Vegas for three days and bringing your entire wardrobe with you, including your winter clothes, just in case, Silver said. Crazy.

Crazy like a fox, once upon a time

Microsoft Windows obviously is in no danger of going extinct. Consider this calculation: Silver divides the number of users in a workplace by 10 to get a rough estimate of how many applications that workplace uses. So, for example, a company with 10,000 users typically supports about 1,000 applications. Of those 1,000 applications, 70% to 80% require Windows, according to research by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. For Microsoft that has been a stunning competitive advantage.

But in today's computing environment, this sort of compatibility is now "a losing battle," Silver said. "It actually prevents [organizations] from moving to new Microsoft versions quickly," he said. Migrating that much stuff is long and painful. Look at the slow boat to Vista that most companies are taking. "Many clients say they just want to skip Vista entirely," Silver said.

Growing pains

Indeed, Microsoft has problems on the software and hardware side in this new world order. The growth in PCs in mature markets is about 2% to 8% per year, according to Gartner research.

In emerging markets the growth is more like 16% a year, but such markets are price-sensitive, and that means shipping PCs with less memory, MacDonald said. But even the low-end version of Vista requires too much RAM for the emerging market. Microsoft has and will make adjustments to accommodate the market, they said, but Windows is not pushing the new frontier.

Composite, adaptive workplace

Technology is enabling us to do business anywhere, from any device, anytime. The tight coupling of software and hardware is loosening. By necessity, applications are becoming more operating system-agnostic. Virtualization is taking on some of what the operating system used to do. But Windows -- and Microsoft licensing -- was not designed with that level of connectivity in mind, Silver and MacDonald said.

Vote with your dollars -- you can get Microsoft to change.

Michael Silver, analyst, Gartner Inc.

Through the years, Microsoft Windows software has become the heavyweight champ of the world, bulking up on code with every major release. Powerful, no question, but no longer nimble, flexible or optimally secure, MacDonald said.

Bottom line? Windows needs to be replaced, Silver and MacDonald said. But Microsoft is between the rock and a hard place.

"If they put a lot into Windows and make major changes, people will say, 'Gee, there is so much change, this is too hard to adopt,'" MacDonald said. "But if they don't, people will say, 'What is the point of bringing in this new version?'"

At some point, companies will start looking to make the move to operating system-agnostic applications. MacDonald and Silver's marching orders for the IT practitioners in the audience: Go home and figure out your tipping point. If Microsoft isn't changing fast enough to accommodate the adaptive, composite computing workplace of tomorrow, consider alternative operating systems.

"Vote with your dollars -- you can get Microsoft to change," Silver said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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