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Software giant's former tech chief is uncertain how Windows 8 will fare

People argue about 'are we in a post-PC world?'. Why are we arguing? Of course we are in a post-PC world.  That doesn't mean the PC dies, that just means that the scenarios that we use them in, we stop referring to them as PCs, we refer to them as other things.

That statement sounds like your typical rhetoric from mobile players like Google Inc. (GOOG) or Apple, Inc. (AAPL).  However, a man who was once considered destined to become the CEO of Microsoft Corp (MSFT) delivered it.  That man is Ray Ozzie.

I. The Man Who Might Have Been CEO

Ray Ozzie's career at Microsoft was relatively short-lived, but he made quite a splash while he was there.  After developing Lotus Notes in the 1980s and 1990s, working with International Business Machines, Inc. (IBM), Mr. Ozzie had founded Groove Networks -- makers of a collaborative shared notespace product.  When Microsoft acquired Groove in 2005, as an addition to its Office Suite, Mr. Ozzie became Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer.  

In 2006 Bill Gates departed from the role of chief software architect and willed the position to Mr. Ozzie, leading many to believe he was the heir apparent after new CEO Steve Ballmer retired.  However, it was not to be.  Clashes with current Windows President Steven Sinofsky reportedly led to Mr. Ozzie reevaluating the company and his role at it.

Ray Ozzie at Microsoft
[Image Source: Software Development Times]

He stepped down in Dec. 2010, leaving behind a lasting impact in terms of having pushed Microsoft to embrace cloud services.  Mr. Ozzie, who last year began recruit top talent for a mysterious communications startup dubbed "Cocomo," says that ultimately the push towards the cloud that he inspired at Microsoft was not enough to prevent the demise of the traditional PC.

The 56-year-old software architect's comments were his first public comments since his Microsoft departure, and they came at an interesting time -- just hours after Apple's announcement of the iPad 3.  Mr. Ozzie's speech was delivered at Geekwire's Seattle tech conference.

II. Ray Ozzie: "Shift" Needed for Windows 8 to be Successful

Mr. Ozzie offered some cautious praise for his former employer.  He implies that when he first came to Microsoft, things were badly broken.  He remarks:
My job there was primarily a change management job. I was asked by Bill (Gates) and Steve (Ballmer, the CEO) to come in, look at the company, decide what was broken and try your best to fix it.

I feel very good about a number of things that did change. The company's a lot different now, it's come a long way and I'm happy about some things and I'm impatient about other things.

Metro Apps in Windows  8
A slew of Metro Ui apps in Windows 8 [Image Source: The Verge]

His mixed sentiments regarding his former employer are mirrored in his thoughts on its upcoming star productWindows 8.  He cryptically remarks, "If Windows 8 shifts in a form that people really want to buy the product, the company will have a great future.  In any industry, if people look at their own needs, and look at the products and say, 'I understand why I had it then, and I want something different', they will not have as good a future. It's too soon to tell."

He did not elaborate much on what kind of "shift" he thought Windows 8 needed in order to be more appealing.

III. The "Gloom and Doom" Scenario

He was, however, happy to outline the worst-case scenario for Microsoft, though -- or as he calls it the "doom and gloom" scenario.  He said that such a scenario would comprise customers switching fully to portable, non-Windows products.

Is the good old PC on its death-bed?  Mr. Ozzie sure thinks so.  He concludes, "It's a world of phones and pads and devices of all kinds, and our interests in general purpose computing -- or desktop computing -- starts to wane and people start doing the same things and more in other scenarios."

PC in the trash
[Image Source: Sync-Blog]

Of course such statements have often proved premature in the past.  For example, CNN Money famously wrote that Microsoft's consumer brand was "dying" in 2010.  That same year Microsoft ripped off the biggest operating system sales in its history and had a strong showing on the gaming console market.

That said, Ray Ozzie was a voice that Bill Gates and others at Microsoft trusted.  So perhaps his statement carries a bit more weight. 

Source: Reuters



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By greenep on 3/8/2012 1:58:06 PM , Rating: 2
In some ways I think we've missed the point. PC or tablet, we'd like to do the same on each. We want a tablet for mobility when a lot of keyboarding/mouse interaction isn't necessary. We want a PC when simple finger gestures aren't enough. Yes, the horsepower of the devices is (for now) different. I think Moore's law will hold and we'll see many many tablets capable of a lot of what PC's currently do. In that case, we'll just have a tablet.

So, now Windows 8 is on it's way trying to balance the best of both worlds. Will it be successful? No one..not one..can say for certain.

But what they're obviously trying to accomplish is to dock your tablet when you're at home. Use your external monstrous monitor. Use your bluetooth keyboard. Use your mouse.Maybe even have full fledged applications stored on an external drive to launch and use just as you do today on a desktop/laptop. Tada..you're now sitting at a tablet that thinks it's a PC.

Undock it..an whola (maybe it won't actually say that) It's Metro interface, touch friendly of course, comes up and you're using a tablet.

As long as Microsoft is able to woo developers over to it's "app store" (don't sue me Apple) then they really have a good chance at gaining some ground here.

You'll have your mobile apps for..errr when your mobile. Then you'll have full fledged applications when you dock.

Does it really matter if we're calling it a PC or Tablet at this point? No, not really...




By Makaveli on 3/8/2012 2:45:08 PM , Rating: 3
"Yes, the horsepower of the devices is (for now) different. I think Moore's law will hold and we'll see many many tablets capable of a lot of what PC's currently do. In that case, we'll just have a tablet."

I disagree with this. yes Moore's law will continue to have smaller transistors and smaller cpu's in time but the space you have to work with doesn't change. You will still always be able to cram more into a desktop system than a mobile device that is running off a battery!

Until they have batteries out that a single charge may last you a weeks its not even in the same league. If you actually talk to anyone that does serious work on a PC/MAC they will laugh at you saying you can do the same thing on a tablet.

Too many people are getting caught up in this marketing bs that the mass market is just eating up. Do we really want half of those clowns in the mac store that couldn't use a computer to save their owns lives to be directing where things are going?


By greenep on 3/8/2012 3:09:25 PM , Rating: 2
I do not disagree with you about desktops being faster than tablets. However, most users completely under utilize their current processors. My current job requires me to do assessments for current environment utilizations. In doing so, I continually see that processors peak averages hover around 8%...yes 8%.

Sure, when assessing an infrastructure that has AutoCad or Photoshop or some other high end processing application, I see memory, disk io, and processor utilization at higher levels. They, as you're suggesting, wouldn't be a good fit for tablets. However, a tablet would suit many business users.

The battery issue. Yes, is still an issue. However, if you have mobile apps as the iPad does for light work that you use when you're mobile...then use the "full blown" apps when the tablet is docked...you're good to go.


By Makaveli on 3/8/2012 3:51:09 PM , Rating: 2
Good post and I agree for light use its fine. Heck I have an HP touchpad sitting in front of me right now next to my desktop PC. And for consumers yes they can do their general browsing and youtubing on a tablet no problem. I myself however fall into that power user bracket, where i'm converting video, creating large excel spreadsheets, working on SQL database etc. So my needs aren't the same as the kid in the apple store buying the new Ipad 3 because its newer than his I pad 2.

And i've been building desktop computers since I was say about 15 (31 now) so I have multiple devices and use them according to their abilities.

Those that think these devices will drown out pc's are just thinking about the consumer market. Where consumers are fickle they will pick up and drop the next item when its hot. And half of them don't really care anything about the actual devices they just want something to get on youtube and check email.

Let also look at the structure of a business. Who is really gonna be using a tablet. It will only be the higher ups and just for checking emails they still won't be doing real work on them. The receptions,grunt workers will have real pc's not tablets.


By x10Unit1 on 3/8/2012 4:29:30 PM , Rating: 2
You are right, tablets might just take over the consumer market. Which to be honest, I am fine with. If all it is being used for is to quickly and easily consume content like youtube, music, games, etc. a tablet should be more than enough.

I don't think it was or is assumed that tablets are currently meant to replace business or researcher PCs.

In terms of business using real "PCs", I am honestly curious to know about the current state of thin clients in businesses today. Because that is where I think business PCs are going to go for most "grunt" workers. The shift to cloud/web based applications like microsoft office is going to only help businesses migrate to that new platform.


By Makaveli on 3/8/2012 7:03:17 PM , Rating: 2
I use to work for a company that deployed half of the building on thin clients. This company's parent company is SHAW which is a major ISP and we were sitting on their backbone with fibre in the building aswell. And you know what happend when the network went down. Everyone on a thin client was SOL and couldn't do any work. Those of us in the IT department simply rebooted our machine and booted off our Hard drive images.


By TakinYourPoints on 3/8/2012 7:40:14 PM , Rating: 2
Very good post.

A lot of people on all sides have a misconception in that they equate "post-PC" with "NO PC". That is completely untrue, all it means is that the PC is not necessarily the digital center anymore. Now there are lots of other capable devices (smartphones, tablets, readers) that are capable of media consumption, light usage (email/web/games), and some content creation, things that were exclusive to desktop PCs for decades.

None of these things are going away on the PC, the only thing different is that there are a lot more devices to compliment and augment a traditional desktop computer, that's all.

Oh, and it is a hugely profitable market with a ceiling that is still very far away. That is something that every hardware and software company is very very aware of right now.


By TakinYourPoints on 3/8/2012 7:45:47 PM , Rating: 3
To be clear, the only PC device that is in any danger is the netbook, but that was always a poor idea since they were basically just bad notebooks.

Your standard PCs and laptops are not going away anytime soon. All post-PC means is that there is an explosion in mobile devices that are meant to compliment the PC and pull data from servers, that is it.


By greenep on 3/9/2012 9:45:26 AM , Rating: 3
Agreed. The netbook was a pitiful idea.

I don't know why such an issue is being raised that we're "in the post-pc era"...as long as there is hardware to manufacture (I assume that's till we can figure out the correct summon spell to get internet delivered directly to our eyeballs)there will always be a content delivery device. Sure, private clouds will become more prevalent to allow the computation to be done on the back end. But that doesn't suggest that hardware manufacturers are out of luck.IMHO If anything, it'll cause tremendous sales to be had.


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