Microsoft is hoping Windows 11 will reinvigorate the ubiquitous operating system. Do not hold your breath
It’s hard to get excited about Windows. Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system that powers desktops and laptops around the world has been, for years, like office furniture: necessary, but also boring to the limit.
Windows, despite its 1.3 billion users, is strangely irrelevant: sort of everywhere and yet invisible at the same time.
At least he has been irrelevant – until the pandemic. As working from home became the go-to option, the humble Windows-based computer saw its first major increase in sales and popularity in years.
Now Microsoft is looking to capitalize on this change with a new version called Windows 11. The company is betting that a shiny new version with a slick coat of paint and a streamlined design will reaffirm the usefulness of Windows for workers, but also that This one and the Brilliant New Iteration might see users and app makers loving Windows again.
Yet it is a far-fetched dream. Windows has long ceased to be a place of development, design or fun. While Microsoft can hope that Windows 11 will somehow reinvigorate the platform, it is unlikely to do much more than slow the gradual decline of the venerable old platform.
Microsoft’s story with Windows is a textbook case of what market dominance can do to a business. With the desktop market held by Windows in the 1990s, the company exploded in size and scope, becoming a huge success. However, that same success and reliance on traditional computers failed to see the iPhone revolution on the horizon, dismissing the mobile as just a toy. After missing the laptop revolution more than once – first with Windows Mobile, then with Windows Phone, and more recently with its failed Surface Duo – Windows has become an afterthought in most minds, inevitable in because of the prevalence of software in the workplace, but also far from inspiring.
But recently Microsoft has changed companies. Under CEO Satya Nadella’s leadership, the company’s stock price and bottom line has exploded, and a more open and forward-thinking approach has led to significant growth in the company’s cloud, office and games divisions.
So now Microsoft is looking to reinvent what was its main product. Windows 11 has a new aesthetic design, without the clutter of newer iterations; it has simplified some of its darker parts, making it easier to change settings for everyday users; and unlike Apple and Google, it won’t charge developers who want to use Microsoft’s app store.
These are sensible changes – but they’re unlikely to do much to change Windows’ stance.
Maybe I should put my pretty biased cards on the table. I have been using Windows since the early 1990s until this year, when I finally gave up.
The reason was simple: All the cool and well-designed productivity apps were on competing platforms like iOS, Mac, or Android. The modern messaging, calendar, task, and note apps that I rely on that make my work life so much better exist only elsewhere. There is, without exaggeration, no brilliant and innovative software on Windows that is not made by Microsoft itself.
The reason there aren’t good apps for Windows is because software development has shifted to the much more lucrative iOS and Android platforms. If you’re trying to make a living making apps, you could get rich – or at least make a decent living – selling apps for an iPhone or Samsung wearable device. The same cannot be said for Windows.
Because the iPhone is architecturally similar to the Mac, Apple computers have also benefited from good applications as a kind of ripple effect.
Yet Windows does not have such a virtuous circle to benefit from. This means that despite the dominance of Windows in the corporate desktop world, the industry’s momentum is slowly but steadily drifting away from Microsoft’s operating system.
That’s why I changed: I was tired of waiting for Windows to enter the 21st century. And that’s why it’s hard to see Windows 11 as the savior the company wants it to be. While Fortune 500 companies are unlikely to move away from Microsoft anytime soon, the future of Windows is bleak. As apps and services continue to be built on platforms from Apple and Google, which have more robust offerings that can be used on desktops and mobiles, what hope is there? for Windows to reverse its status as a boring company after the fact?
The digital world is built on ecosystems, giving users easy access to the relevant things they need to do what they want to do. But using Windows feels like you have part of your digital life stuck in the past.
When Windows 11 arrives, I’ll definitely be installing it on my old desktop PC, just to see what it looks like. I’m sure I’ll feel a bit of nostalgia, and maybe “ooh” and “aah” a bit because of the new look.
Much like the operating system itself, however, I don’t think this is something that will last.