Since its introduction to the world in 1984, Microsoft Windows ruled the personal computer world, attaining over ninety percent market share of personal computer operating systems in existence. But over the past couple of years, the personal computer has become relegated to the office while smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks and iPads are now the personal communication choice.
Apple’s iOS-based iPhones and iPads edged past Windows devices early in 2014 for market dominance. Android operating system devices caused Windows to yield a total of 24% market share by the end of the year. The sharp decline in PC shipments worldwide has continued throughout the second quarter of 2015, hurting retailers, chip makers, and of course software companies including Microsoft.
On July 21, 2015 in its fourth quarter financial report, Microsoft Corporation announced that it had suffered a $3.2 billion quarterly loss. Microsoft attributed $8.4 billion in charges and layoffs associated with its acquisition last year of phone maker Nokia Corp to the bad earnings. Microsoft had recently cut 7,800 jobs in attempts to stop that bleeding. Windows software sales also contributed to the dismal report due to poor overall PC sales.
Make no mistake: Microsoft still makes a lot of money from Windows. By June 30th this year, Windows sales will generate in excess of $13 billion in license fees paid primarily from the corporate world, but that is its slowest growth pace in two years.
Many business analysts feel that Microsoft should stick to its corporate business products and clientele and relinquish the consumer market. They point to the dismal track record of the Microsoft mobile phone (less than 3% market share) at a time that Apple posted a 38% gain in iPhone sales. That said; Microsoft consumer products like the Surface tablet doubled from the previous year to $888 million, and Xbox game consoles and associated products rose 27%. Perhaps it was those last two rays of hope in the consumer market that inspired Microsoft’s Windows 10: “One OS to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them!”
Taking a cue from Apple and Android, both of which give their operating system upgrades away; Microsoft has learned that the operating system is just the door opener to add-on apps and hardware. Windows add-on games, software, and browser ads haven’t fared well in the past, but Windows 10 is different. Windows 10 is platform independent, and Microsoft hopes that fact will attract the best app developers. (Those same developers are currently writing their apps for use on platform independent Android and Apple operating systems.)
Besides Windows 10’s platform independence, why should consumers flock to upgrade to it? Here are some of the touted Win-10 features.
• Windows Hello – a new facial recognition application that can tell the difference between you and someone holding up a photo of you. Win-10 boasts it is the end of typed passwords thanks to Windows Hello.
While this may be a giant step in PC security, it won’t be for all consumers. "Windows Hello” requires the use of “depth cameras" that use infrared light to recognize users. Of course, those depth cameras are not installed in the PC’s currently in use, and it is doubtful PCs currently on retailers’ shelves or warehouses have them either. That means that consumers will have to wait for future top-end PC’s or tablets have depth cameras installed or else shell out to purchase the cameras and have them installed. The other alternatives to the depth camera in Win-10 are
• Purchase a fingerprint reader or
• Purchase an Iris camera.
• Cortana- If the facial recognition doesn’t spur the consumer on to shell out for a camera upgrade, there’s Win-10’s answer to Apple’s Siri: Cortana. Always connected to the cloud, Cortana supposedly knows your scheduled appointments from One-Drive, and can respond to any query with fresh information from the web. Cortana has a productivity function in which it can search for Office documents and even query Power BI databases on the cloud.
Cool, yes; but again, not for all users. Cortana is available only in select markets. And there is that issue of Cortana being available on current PCs. It is, and it isn’t. Apparently Cortana’s active listening capabilities have been hit or miss according to PCWorld.com. So much so that Toshiba is rushing production of Win-10 laptops that will feature a Cortana button to activate the digital assistant manually. This innovation could be just the start of new hand controls (keyboard or mouse) fitted with a digital assistant activation button.
• Microsoft Edge- “Internet Exploder” is gone, and Win-10 will usher in the age of MS Edge which will deliver nearly all of the features consumers have grown accustomed to from Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. MS Edge claims to have fast image results without having to go to a particular website to see them. Edge provides the user with the Hub, a centralized place where you will find your favorites, your reading list, your browsing history and current downloads. Edge claims to be the only browser allowing the consumer to annotate directly on web pages to collaborate on a new project with your coworkers or to add your ingredients to a new-found recipe. (Microsoft doesn't explain how those pages are saved or shared.)
You don’t have to rush out to buy a stylus for your PC---you can just use your finger to draw or highlight, even though notes may get a little tricky to write.
• Xbox App- This app claims to bring your Xbox Live friends, activity, game history, and achievements right into your PC or tablet. What exactly that means Microsoft doesn’t say. Microsoft does say that it will “allow the walls between console, computer, tablet, and phone to come down, uniting games and gamers in a whole new way.”
You must first have a Xbox profile and “gamertag”. Those are both free for the first thirty days, after which there will be “a small fee” (currently discounted down to $40 annually per C/Net.com).
• Start Menu- Brought back by popular outrage, the Windows Start Menu, dropped by Windows 8.1, is featured on Win-10 “and it’s more personal, more organized, and more fun.” The Start Menu does blend its tried and true features with the “Go to Apps” feature from Win-8.1.
• The Windows Store and Apps- This is Microsoft's big gamble: that consumers will pay for its device- independent apps instead of paying for a software upgrade. For example, Win-10’s Outlook Mail will be written in "Continuum" (The new MS platform independent scripting language). This version of Outlook will display the same on a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone. Even Win-10 MS Word will offer the same continuity between devices.
· And all you audiophiles can bid farewell to your old nemesis, Windows Media Player. While the new player does not yet have a name (just a headphone icon), the music provided will support “FLAC” otherwise known as “lossless” audio. FLAC is a larger file than the mp3, and it loses no quality (“lossless”) during compression to and from native WAVE (“.WAV”) files. A user can upload those music files on to OneDrive and then access them via Xbox Music Pass for $9.99 a month or $99.90 a year.
Microsoft is throwing a “Hail Mary” pass with Windows 10 in hopes that its success can keep the Windows consumer product from taking that left turn down “Betamax Boulevard” and into oblivion. So, is the free MS-10 upgrade for everyone? No---especially if your current PC is running Windows Vista or XP. In that case; the Win-10 is simply not available to you. As for those of you with Windows 7 or 8.1 on your current PC: you can upgrade for free now and enjoy the wonder benefits of the enhanced Start Menu and MS Edge. Everything else will cost you.
But if you’re like me and don’t mind Windows 7 one bit, hold on to it for a while. After all as you read in my first two paragraphs; those laptop prices just keep tumbling. Who knows what the Win 10 laptops will go for next year?