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Originating publication
October 01, 1998, Issue: 910
Section: Analysis
The Death of Windows
Mike Elgan

Every new computing platform, it seems, gets the label "Windows killer" slapped on it. A Windows killer is a product that will unseat Windows as the world's most popular operating system. Such speculation is usually fueled by a combination of Microsoft envy, wishful thinking and confusion about what enables operating systems to succeed in the marketplace. The latest designated Windows killer is Linux. But, as usual, recent reports of Windows' imminent death are greatly exaggerated. Over the next decade, Windows' market share will grow, not shrink. There are three simple reasons for that.

1.) Windows Has No Real Competition. When we first heard about the network computer (NC), it was supposed to kill Windows and transform computing. Now the NC barely registers on the "legitimate platform" meter. Linux will also fail to unseat Windows.

Linux, a variant of UNIX, is the new OS/2. Hailed by devotees as the future of open computing, Linux is a seven-year-old PC operating system used by about 7 million people. Like OS/2, Linux is considered by devoted supporters to be better than Windows because of a short list of features most people don't care about, such as superior multitasking. And, like OS/2 in the early 1990s, Linux is way too hard to install and undersupported by application developers.

Still, Linux is not completely like OS/2; it has some fatal flaws of its own. For example, like UNIX, Linux comes in multiple and incompatible flavors, isn't backed by a blue-chip company and has very low awareness within corporations.

2.) Windows Has Overwhelming Momentum. Because Windows was the standard platform when computing went global (during the 1990s), it will be very hard to get rid of. Companies just don't upgrade all their PCs every 18 months.

Even this year, Microsoft will sell millions of copies of Windows 3.x to companies expanding the number of legacy systems without upgrading them.

Future versions of Windows must support Windows 3.x and Windows 9x applications or they'll fail. And that's why only a platform that fully supports Windows applications can succeed.

3.) Windows Is Microsoft's Golden Goose. Despite all the hype, Microsoft is actually a medium-sized company, ranking about 400th in 1997 revenues worldwide. IBM dwarfs Microsoft with 1997 revenues of $76 billion, nearly seven times as much as Microsoft. Even co-conspirator Intel has twice the revenue and three times the staff. And yet, in terms of market capitalization, Microsoft is No. 2 (after GE). Why?

Microsoft is valuable to stockholders because it's the most influential company in the world's most important industry; its intellectual property-software-is in almost every PC user's face all day, every day; and the company is well-positioned to continue its dramatic growth well into the future. Microsoft's importance, ubiquity and golden position stem directly or indirectly from Windows. Don't expect Microsoft to give that up without a fight.

Until someone comes up with an open, wildly popular Windows-compatible alternative backed by a huge company, Windows will remain No. 1.

Is that good or bad? Let me know at: melgan@winmag.com.

Copyright � 1998 CMP Media Inc.

TW


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