The New Normal

After decades of producing PC’s, Computer hardware manufacturers will ship devices running non Windows operating systems. And yes I know that at least Dell and Asus have offered and offer Linux software. Most of these will be tablets and smartphones. And except for HP which uses WebOS, they’ll run Google’s Android. Also Samsung and Acer will offer netbooks running Google’s Chrome OS.

This is a good thing for the PC industry, they needed something to diffrentiate their products from each other and diversify their offerings. Having just one software maker hurt them by making their poducts commodities; laptops by Dell, Asus, and HP are not lusted after. And it hurt Microsoft; having no competition made them too complacent.

While having more competition is a good thing for consumers, it’s going to hurt Redmond. Having Android and WebOS in the game loosens their influence over their hardware partners.
It could also lead for a decrease emphasis on Microsoft products. Android allows for greater manufacturer customization; they can build services onto the devices in ways they couldn’t on Windows. They also don’t have to deal with the liscensing cost.

Okay hurt is the wrong word, OEM’s moving to offering mutiple systems will change the way Microsoft does business and may lead to tough choices. For example this time last year at Computex, Microsoft’s booth was filled with tablets running their Windows embedded compact. Steve Ballmer showed off three tablets running Windows 7, including one from HP, at CES. Here we are a year later, and the same tablets shown have come out, but they are running Android. HP did come out with that tablet PC, but in smaller numbers and aimed at enterprise users. HP also bought Palm and is now getting ready to ship devices running it’s WebOS software.

This is the new normal.

The reality is that none of these hardware makers want to be commodity players. They want to have more control of the end to end process. They want a certain level of user lock-in and brand identification. HP is a clear example of this. Android offers them a chance to really create a tailored vision in ways Windows won’t and can’t. Windows is, to me, a product OS, you’re buying the computer for the operating system not the name on the back of the device. Knowledgable users discard the a lot of the OEM made software.

For Microsoft, the new normal brings new challenges. Microsoft’s PC dominance is built on the partner model; they build the software and OEM’s the hardware. Only a few times have they gone outside this model (Xbox and Zune). But now they have to deal with the notion that they have to share space with Google and WebOS. It is becoming clear that Microsoft values this relationship more than the OEM’s and it might be time for a change.

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