Why 150 million copies of Windows 7 doesn't matter (to me)

14 Jul 2010

Whenever an article is written about an ipad or iphone sales milestone, an executive at Microsoft must lose his temper. Its gotta be irritating to have more sales, revenue and profit yet lower market cap, poor performing shares and no admiration from the public or the media. Obviously investors are driven by potential and trending, but what should a developer see in all the numbers being thrown around?

Let's face it, 150 million (and growing) Windows 7 PCs is an impressive number...for Microsoft. As a developer? You could double that number and it would still be insignificant. Why? For the most part, people don't get rich building PC apps anymore. The PC development landscape is largely the playground of large companies with big budget. There's little room for innovation or individuals. This is as true for enterprise applications as it is for video games. On top of that, any development in this day and age is almost always better targeted at the web.

Even the slowest moving industries are now leveraging the platform agnostic, Microsoft-independent, web. In this sense, Microsoft's fear of the browser becoming the Operating System has already come to pass; and the implications are just now starting to be seen. This is compounded by the emergence of the mobile platform. Mobile represents a fresh and exciting opportunity for developers - and the very nature of the devices and the way people use them lends itself to small teams with small budgets. I'm far more interested and have far more chance to capitalize on 3 million devices that represent a shift in technology than 150 million desktop operating systems.

Microsoft could sell a billion licenses of Windows 7, but developers would still be better off targeting the web and mobile. They'd reach more people, make more profit and most importantly, have a significantly better (in terms of cost and productivity) development experience. Windows is becoming little more than a window around a browser - gmail is better than outlook (and it'll trend accordingly) and mint.com is better than MS Money or QuickTax. (I'm a hardcore PC gamer, but lets face it, our future, save for Blizzard, looks bleak.)

The only thing Windows 7 success changes is how much money Microsoft has available to succeed in these new markets. Its a staggering amount that only a fool would write off. As it stands, things look downright impossible on the mobile front. As for the web? There's no doubt they are playing second fiddle, the real question is which way are they trending?

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