Friday, July 12, 2013

Can Backwards Compatibility Save the PC?

In the past, one of the key advantages of buying a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows PC was for its backwards compatibility with applications designed for previous versions of Windows. For the end user, it meant you wouldn't have to repurchase all of your software when upgrading to a new Windows PC. Nowadays, the rise of cloud computing and Web applications has changed the collective mind-set that backwards compatibility is a must-have feature.

A new world
Gartner believes that the public cloud computing industry will grow by 18.5% to become a $131 billion worldwide industry this year. The software-as-a-service market, which consists of Web-based applications, is expected to become a $19.3 billion sub-industry. For the end user, the beauty of the cloud is that your applications will often work on a host of different devices, meaning you have more flexibility to be operating system-agnostic. In this context, the operating system becomes less important and the focus becomes geared toward the user experience.

Surprise, surprise!
Between the radical departure from its past and poor customer reception, Windows 8 hasn't exactly been regarded as an operating system with an excellent user experience. In the age of mobile computing, it's become clear that simplicity and ease of use have taken a central role in the user experience. Since Microsoft didn't exactly nail that concept with Windows 8, the hope is that Windows 8.1 will address key user issues and improve reception.

The bigger elephant
Fueled by the explosive rise of mobile computing, it's likely that cloud computing will continue to grow in importance to the everyday user. Consequently, the more applications made available through the cloud, the lower the value of backwards compatibility. In this context, future Windows sales are likely to be largely driven by user experience and price. Although Intel Bay Trail will help drive down the price of Windows 8 devices, introduce new form factors, and make the Windows ecosystem more competitive against mobile computing, it's not going to change the Windows 8 user experience.

Judging by the lack of improvements, I'm not sure Windows 8.1 will, either.

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