Sorry, Microsoft, You're No Apple

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) deserves its fair share of kudos for the opening keynotes of the Worldwide Partners Conference. Simply put, the sleeping giant from Redmond showed spunk.

CEO Steve Ballmer came out with bravado, telling the crowd Microsoft was "all-in" for cloud computing. The productivity team showed some powerful integration between Microsoft's Office Suite and other collaboration tools. However, the lagging force at the show was definitely the Windows team, where the keynote was flat and failed to inspire.

Win with Windows?
Tami Reller, VP and CFO of Windows & Windows Live, kicked off the event by highlighting some impressive opportunities for Windows:

  • 1.1 billion PC Users
  • $624 billion in Windows ecosystem revenue
  • 8.6 million developers
  • 150 million licenses sold in 7 months
  • 14% PC install base
  • 94% Windows 7 customer satisfaction, as measured by external data

The last bullet point may be the most significant: Users are enjoying Windows 7 far more than the Vista debacle of years past. However, that's where the fun stops. For one, Reller relied on a series of slideshows to prove that Windows 7 was "inevitable." Now, I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but do you really need a series of trade publication reviews to prove your new operating system (OS) is "inevitable" over the nearly decade old Windows XP?

Also, most of the presentation relied on Windows 7 working on varying types of PC's. We were shown a range of systems, including new Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) touch screen models and tablets from Asus, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , Toshiba, Samsung, and Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) . The problem is, despite the market share superiority of Windows, the OS hasn't taken off in other, more lightweight types of systems.

Is Windows a tablet nirvana?
Sure, Windows started off with doubts in the netbook market but eventually dominated the space. So, there's a history of overcoming doubts with new types of consumer gadgets. However, these new form factors are different. Specifically, with areas like tablets, users are looking for less precision; a full featured OS isn't the solution. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs realized this years ago. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jobs actually admitted that he conceived the idea of an iPad before the iPhone was even born:

I'll tell you kind of a secret. I actually started on the tablet first [Before the iPhone]. I had this idea to get rid of the keyboard. I asked our folks, "Could we come up with a multitouch display that we could type on?" About six months later, they called me in and showed me this prototype display, and it was amazing.

Bottom line
Say what you will about Steve Jobs, but he was the first CEO to realize the power of circumventing the dominant PC ecosystem in a new range of devices. That's a level of genius that I need to tip my hat to.

While Microsoft touts the power of the PC in a new range of computers, I can't help but be suspicious of its attempts to keep pushing Windows 7 onto areas where it's not optimal.

Microsoft can keep throwing out figures on Window's overall dominance, but the real future of tablet- like devices will rely on its mobile platform. Consumers are clamoring for iPads, and gadgets based on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android operating system. Windows may have interoperability with printers, networks, and desktop applications. However, consumers are looking to a new range of desktop systems that are just simple and can solve their browsing needs. This is an area where Windows 7 is too bloated with features and its user interface is too precise for non-mouse-based use.

Maybe it's time Microsoft acknowledged what the PC is, and stopped dreaming of pushing Windows licenses to areas where it can't dominate. In that case, Microsoft would finally start taking mobile operating systems like Windows Phone 7 seriously. That's a start, but it's still a long ways to go until the company has a real strategy for the smartphone age of computing.

Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers choice. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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