The End of Microsoft??

So Microsoft isn’t really doomed.  But I’m reasonably certain that in 10 years time they’ll be just like IBM is today.  A player of some sort in the major business community but with no real consumer impact or concern.  It would take a miracle for Microsoft to turn things around, and they would need a superstar/rockstar/mega-star new CEO to take them back into any kind of consumer-driven business direction.  Let me explain why.

Does anyone here know who Robert X. Cringley is?  He’s a tech reporter, who has followed the industry very closely for the past 30 years.  His work is fantastic.  He’s authored books, tv shows, and a host of other ventures.  When the iPhone 5s came out, I looked at it and went, so what?  So it’s got a 64-bit processor.  So it’s got multipath TCP networking.  Why does any of that matter?  Cringley explains why it matters here.  Go read that.  It’s important.  I’ll wait.

So the next huge product innovation, coming from apple will be a cell phone that can become your laptop.  And if they don’t make it, Google will.  They will eat into the huge slice of the business market that Microsoft currently owns by taking all of those business users out of their cubes and into the mobile world.  And while the business community is always much slower to adopt new technology then the consumer sector, the money will talk.  The new hardware will be cheaper and easier to support then ever before.  Businesses will migrate.  Slowly at first, and then snowballing in a huge way.

Business users are a big chunk of the Microsoft pie, but they still dominate the home PC market.  How and why can I now claim that this is the end, even though many others have been making similar claims before?  Who am I again?  Just some random internet loser with a big mouth, wasting my time away on video games rather then watch industry trends.  Well.  That may be the key right there.

Did you hear about Valve’s announcement 2 weeks ago?  They’re introducing the Steam hardware/software system.  A system of cheap and easy hardware, combined with open source software to allow users a new kind of gaming experience.  Or at least that’s the copy.  The experience itself won’t be that new.

Some reviewers of the announcement, like Shamus Young over at the Escapist, think that PC gaming is miniscule compared to console gaming and that will be primarily who the Steam equipment will have to compete against.  I don’t agree.  Valve has announced that there will be at least 3 different versions of the Steam box for sale when it goes on sale next year, and while they will absolutely be selling a box designed to compete at the console level, that’s not the audience Valve is trying to lure away (though they will get some console users too).  They’ve already announced the specs for the first machine and it is a gaming powerhouse.  This machine won’t be a console killer because consoles aren’t the target.  Gaming PC’s are.

Valve has announced that these Steam boxes will be open, configurable, hackable and available for users to do anything they want with them.  They are going to be gaming rigs made by gamers for gamers.  And if you think that Valve isn’t working right now on a way to make Wine (the Unix compatibility tool for DirectX) work like butter for Microsoft compatibility, then you’re not paying attention.

Gabe Newell, the CEO of Valve even telegraphed this move back in July, when he called Windows 8 a “catastrophe.”  He all but called Microsoft out for abandoning the PC gaming community.  This is his direct answer to that problem.  And I think he has a huge chance for success.

They’ve already announced their close partnership with Nvidia to improve Nvidia support for Unix systems.  And as I mentioned before, while there’s been no announcement, you can bet that Steam will do it’s best to make games that require Windows work just as seamlessly for Steam as they can.  Let’s not forget the 3000 game library that Steam has that developers already work to make their games compatible.  That library will be available to every gamer who has a Steam box, windows compatibility not required.

No, this is a move to cut the PC gaming community away from Microsoft.  Given the resources and talent Valve is throwing behind the effort, it has a huge chance to succeed.  Do we even know how many people buy gaming PC’s?  I’ve been searching the internet and I’ve found interesting things like 72% of all households play video games.  Other stats claim the number of people who buy gaming PC’s ranges between 100 million and 300 million.  So, the answer is nobody really has a clue.  We know that when it comes to video editing, music editing, art, creative endeavors, etc, that Macs pretty much own that space. What space is left that allows Microsoft to dominate the market so strongly?  Home business?  Maybe.  Home PC gaming?  That’s got to be it.  My gut tells me that a huge number of the PC’s that Microsoft sells are for gaming machines.  There’s no way to know for sure but nobody counts video gamers anyway.  No matter how many there actually are, Valve will step in and slice a huge piece of this pie away from Microsoft.

Frankly there’s really no way for Microsoft to pull out of this nosedive at this point.  Casual computing (email, web surfiing, etc) has already migrated heavily to cell phones and tablets for their ease of use.  Business computing will soon come to be dominated by Apple and later on by Google, as the services and machines they offer become too cheap/good for business to pass up.  And gamers will make the jump to Steam, just from the fact that Microsoft’s too-late pivot to tablets and smartphone devices leaves many of them choking in the dust and looking for alternatives made with gamers in mind.

Sure, they’ll have their server business and MS Office isn’t going anywhere for a while.  But time is growing short for Windows.  I for one look forward to our new opaque overlords.  Plus that Steam controller looks pretty sweet.

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