There has been a lot of talk in recent months about how we are moving into the post-Windows age, when the Microsoft Windows platform, which has dominated the PC operating systems market for over 20 years starts to fade into the annals of IT history (if we begin with the first iteration to gain a critical commercial mass: Windows 3.1 in March 1992).
There is even a suggestion that Google Android is now the new Windows, in that it is currently being installed as an operating system on devices (including laptops/Chromebooks, tablets and smartphones) at about three times the rate of Windows.
One thing is certainly true: the world no longer waits with bated breath for the launch of a new version of the Microsoft Windows operating system.
The heady days of the Windows 95 launch in August 1995, when people were queuing up all night outside branches of PC World to be the first to get their hands on a copy of the new system, are long gone. And, no longer does Microsoft spend millions of dollars buying the rights to the Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up” to accompany such a launch. (OK, we know it was widely reported that the Stones were paid $14 million but Microsoft has always said this was just hype to boost the band’s market value and that it actually paid a fraction of that amount.)
But, are we really heading into a post-Microsoft era?
True, there are now so many more options. For example, in the law firms’ sector we are seeing the device of choice for lawyers on the move is now a tablet device – typically the Apple iPad – rather than a laptop PC running Windows. But, the applications those lawyers use on their iPads – Outlook and Office – are the same as the ones they have always used in the office. (True, Office currently needs to be running either via Citrix or Office 365 but a full iPad version is expected later this year.) We should also not overlook the fact that Microsoft now has its own tablet device – the Surface – which is now starting to gain more traction with an improved operating system. And that, thanks to its recent Nokia acquisition, Microsoft is now set to be a major player in the global smartphones market.
However, I think the key reason why we are not going to see the back of Microsoft anytime soon is that so much of not just the legal business world but the entire global commercial world is dependent upon Microsoft end-user and back office systems and applications. Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Visio, SharePoint (gaining more and more interest in the legal sector as an alternative document management system), Dynamics (ditto the CRM application in legal), SQL Server, Lync, Skype, plus all the other developer and middleware server tools in their product portfolio.
Or, to put it another way, Microsoft continues to make so much useful stuff that we’d be lost without it. So, perhaps if Android is the new Microsoft, then Microsoft is the new diesel?
Remember the diesel engine: the noisy, dirty, boring workhorse of the motor industry much favoured by taxi-cabs and heavy goods vehicles? Back in the 1960s and 1970s people were consigning diesel to the dustbin of history. The future was the internal combustion engine. And, more recently, electric and hybrid-electric engines have been touted as the saviour of the motoring world. But, in the meantime, guess what? Diesel engines are still in use – in fact their market share has almost doubled in the UK over the last decade. Why? Because like Microsoft software, they are just so useful.
Charles Christian is a legal IT commentator and speaker with over 30 years knowledge of the industry. He is publisher and editor of the Legal IT Insider global legal tech industry newsletter. Twitter @ChristianUncut.