Posey's Tips & Tricks
The End of the PC Era Won't Be the End of IT
In this particular blog post, I wanted to take the opportunity to address some of the things that I've been reading about in the media lately. Recently there have been numerous industry analyst for various publications who have written articles predicting Microsoft's demise. Believe me when I say that I find these articles to be deeply disturbing. You can probably see where I am coming from when you consider that I have spent the last 18 years of my life writing about Microsoft products and technologies.
The good news is that while I do think that some major changes are ahead of us, I think that the dire predictions are shortsighted. There are a number of different reasons why various analysts are predicting the end of Microsoft, and in some cases the end of the technology industry as a whole. There's no way that I can address all of these reasons in a single blog post, but I did want to talk about some of the big ones.
Probably the number one reason that has been cited as contributing to Microsoft's eventual failure is the end of the PC era. There is no denying that PC sales are way down and that the Windows 8 operating system hasn't been as well received as some of the prior Windows operating systems. These factors have led some analysts to claim that PCs and desktop operating systems are going away, and therefore Microsoft is something of a digital dinosaur that is soon to be extinct.
The reason why I think that this particular analysis it shortsighted is because it fails to take history into account. History has a way of repeating itself, even in the technology industry.
Right now Microsoft offers one desktop operating system (Windows 8) for consumers and businesses. Sure there are different flavors of Windows 8 (including Windows RT), but for all practical purposes Microsoft is trying to make a single desktop operating system appeal to all of their customers. It hasn't always been this way though.
Back when I first started writing about Windows, Microsoft actually maintained two separate desktop operating systems – one for consumers and another for business. The consumer operating systems of the time were Windows 95 and Windows 98. The business operating system was something called Windows NT Workstation. Windows NT workstation shared the same code base as Windows Server, but was designed to be a desktop operating system for enterprise environments.
The point is that there was once a time when Microsoft differentiated between consumer and corporate desktop operating systems beyond simply offering various editions of a common OS. So with that in mind, let's talk about what's happening today.
Right now there is little doubt that PCs are going away. For whatever reason, consumers are flocking to alternative devices such as tablets running iOS. As such, it seems likely that Microsoft may eventually abandon its efforts to brand Windows as a consumer operating system.
Another related trend that simply cannot be ignored is the Bring Your Own Device trend. The basic idea behind this trend is that users expect to be able to use consumer devices to connect to corporate resources. The flipside to this trend is that corporations must come up with a way of providing users with the data that they need in a secure manner. One way that some organizations are doing so is through the use of remote virtual desktops.
Of course virtual desktops require an operating system. Right now Microsoft seems to be putting some major effort into making Windows 8.1 enterprise ready. I think the expectation is that even if corporate desktops eventually go away, virtual desktops will remain for the foreseeable future.
So my assessment is that Microsoft probably isn't going away anytime soon, but that they are going to have to change their business model. With the exception of Xbox, I think that Microsoft needs to get out of the consumer market and focus solely on business. If Microsoft focuses most of their efforts on their server products and retools Windows 8 solely as a business operating system, then I think that they will probably survive the post-PC era. After all, server operating systems and virtual desktop operating systems will continue to be needed, even after PCs disappear.
Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.