Will Bloat and Complexity Get the Best of Windows? Probably Not
Published: April 16, 2008
by Alex Woodie
There's been a lot of discussion regarding a session two Gartner analysts presented at last week's Gartner conference titled "Windows Is Collapsing: How What Comes Next Will Improve." The analysts' view--that Windows Vista's failure stems from being a fat, bloated operating system, and that greater virtualization of Windows components is Microsoft's last and greatest hope for rescue--certainly sounds good. However, while these are certainly valid points, they fail to recognize that Windows has never been more successful than it is right now.
IT industry analysts Michael Silver and Neil McDonald hit a nerve with their session, which they presented at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Blogs, forums, chat rooms, and industry rags across the Net lit up with discussion about the imminent ruin of Windows, and how Microsoft's wrongheaded strategy is bringing it about.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side of the thick red line you sit on), the reports about Microsoft's imminent demise are greatly exaggerated. But before we get to that, let's look at some facts about Windows, and Windows Vista in particular.
- Vista has about 50 million lines of code, compared to 40 million lines of code for Windows XP, and 11 to 12 million lines of code for Windows NT 4.0, according to Wikipedia
- Red Hat Linux version 7.1 contains 30 million lines of code, while Apple's Mac OS X 10.4 sports 86 million lines, according to Wikipedia.
- Windows controlled 97 percent of the global desktop operating system market in 2003, compared to just 1.5 percent for Apple Macintosh and a quarter percent Linux, according to OneStat
- By March 2008, OneStat says the various flavors of Windows (Vista, XP, 2000, ME, NT, 98) still accounted for 96 percent of the global desktop market, compared to about 3.3 percent for the Mac, and barely a third of one percent for Linux. Windows Vista had a 13 percent share, compared to XP's 79 percent.
As you can see, Windows Vista is not the most bloated operating system available (Mac OS X is, if lines of code is how bloat is measured). And it's also not failing in the marketplace. In fact, Windows as a whole continues to dominate the desktop marketplace. And while Windows XP continues to be the most widely used operating system, Windows Vista is in second place.
So, the question arises: From where do these accusations from Gartner about impending doom arise? The Windows Observer has some ideas:
- Windows Vista is a huge disappointment for Microsoft. Despite Microsoft's pronunciations, Vista sales are way off expectations, which has given new life to Windows XP. Vista's flashy graphics and improved security failed to overcome issues with tardiness, driver and application compatibility, and hefty hardware requirements.
- Microsoft was slow to the virtualization bandwagon. Microsoft failed to realize the market impact that virtualization is currently having, and is now playing catch up with VMware, the industry leader for server virtualization. Desktop virtualization, where Microsoft has made several recent acquisitions, is a less defined market where Microsoft can have a big impact.
- Microsoft's licensing is too complex. Six different versions of Vista was about four too many and confused the marketplace. And yet, having Vista tied to a specific computer doesn't reflect the way people use computers in this age of mobility.
Silver and McDonald say Microsoft's best hope for salvaging the Windows desktop operating system in today's era of Web 2.0 applications is to adopt a stronger virtualization and componentization strategy, and apply it to future versions of Windows. While few details are available yet as to the feature set in next version of Windows, codename "Seven," it is strongly suspected that greater desktop virtualization (a la the Desktop Optimization Pack currently only available to enterprise Windows users) will be part of the kit. The analysts also say Microsoft needs to streamline its licensing.
Microsoft hasn't said anything concerning greater componentization of the Windows client. Silver and McDonald maintain that this is necessary to maintain Windows' presence in an era of increasingly smaller mobile devices, such as smart phones. But considering that Microsoft started down the componentization track with the new Server Core feature of the new Windows Server 2008 operating system, it's conceivable that this could be applied to reduce the complexity and footprint of Windows Seven.
Microsoft continues to maintain an unprecedented monopoly on the most important technological aspect of computers today--the operating system--and it isn't likely to change anytime soon. The last seven years have seen a maturation of the IT industry that has unlocked incredible capabilities and new forms of communication that hundreds of millions of people benefit from everyday. The stabilization of the Windows operating system with Windows XP is a big reason for that.
However, if one thing remains constant in the IT industry, it's change of the most driving, unrelenting, and impassionate type. Forces are at work to overhaul the nature of computing and to turn hypervisors into the defining characteristic separating computers. At the same time, the pendulum of IT control is swinging back to servers and the centralized control they can offer.
Microsoft, of course, realizes all this--perhaps more than people give it credit for. Microsoft's problem is that it hasn't articulated how it intends to bring all of this together in a simple and cohesive way. Maybe it can't. Maybe the huge success of Windows and the need to maintain backwards compatibility with 20 years of legacy code makes bringing it all forward into an age of anytime-anywhere access--the route recommended by the Gartner analysts-- an impossibly complicated task. If that's the case, Microsoft may opt to sit on the comfortable Windows monopoly it has created, and use its considerable weight to slow down the industry's pace of change.
Could Windows '7' Provide Virtual Desktop Breakthrough?
Microsoft Adds Goodies to Vista Enterprise Kit
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