Thursday, September 4, 2008

Moore's Law, The S Curve, Saturation: A Threat to Microsoft

This is another blog touting the final demise of the software giant, Microsoft. There have been many blogs of this sort and so far, none have come true. Microsoft is still a giant. Open Source hasn't killed Windows.
Considering that so much of our computer's run Windows, and that customers need Windows, it makes sense to examine the future of the Windows platform. I'll delve into the economy and provide a theory to Microsoft's demise.
Moore's law is the declaration that transistors will double within integrated circuits every year. Largely, this has been true historically, but hardware manufacturers have aimed for this. Because of this Microsoft Windows became a success, but now, due to saturation, Microsoft may collapse because of it.
The problem has two do with two aspects. One is due to a fault in that it was largely made true by marketing and hardware manufacturer (Wikipedia). The other has to do with that people only need so much power.
Hardware has shown a lot of adhesion the the principles of Moore's law and the computer industry boomed. Microsoft is a company that knows how to ride a booming industry, and not much else. Microsoft is a retail outfit: They buy software (I mean, they actually purchase the code, all six legal rights), stylize it, make it integrate (a real value, I seriously mean that), and then sell licenses. Well, they do produce a considerable amount of original code, but by and large, their model is purchase and resell.
Microsoft has depended on obsolescence because with each new computer requires new licenses. Also it has depended on rapid hardware development (Moore's Law), because operating systems need drivers to run the hardware, and many companies would only produce drivers for Microsoft Windows. Then comes Dell.
Because of the driver support and the available market for computer distribution, Windows offered a final piece to put on a computer to make a completed product--something that doesn't need anything else and works right out of the box. Dell comes along and becomes a big timer in the industry.
As I understand there is an S Curve which markets must adhere. Markets are limited since people need and want only so much from computers. I don't think I need a gaming rig just to check my email... an EeePC would do fine for that. Likewise the market is beginning to show signs of saturation.
In the old days when Microsoft began, computers were very clunky and required some expertise just to configure. Hardware could have IRQ conflicts, memory was very limited (the motherboard could only address so much) and expensive, computer cases would shred and ribbon your hands if you tried to work on them (trust me), CPUs where slow like molasses, and video cards produced only few colors and low resolutions. Basically, computers were there because they were needed and not because they were a whole lot of fun.
Now CPU speeds for a time improved according to Moore's law, but now they only change architecturally such as the change to multi-core and larger word sizes. Memory is getting very fast but only 4 gigs seems to be needed for desktops (and only if you either have huge or many applications open and running, or you're running Windows Vista). Many older technologies such as the clunky ATAPI and slow PCI bus are being dropped to the newer, faster and easier to configure buses (although PCI is pretty good). Peripheral technology like USB is hot swappable and really easy to handle. Nowadays, computers are very elegant machines. (A lot of the older technology such as ISA is still being used in a lot of modern motherboards--sensors connect to the ISA bus).
Microsoft tried to push hardware obsolescence with Vista. Such unnecessarily high hardware requirements have caused an improvement in the memory market, but Vista is failing.
Asus EeePC came into the market and with Linux, it was low cost and proved the low-end market viable. Dell recognized it and has now produce it's own low-end laptop. The market is begging to show signs of saturation in the computer world and now hardware distributors are going to see diminishing margins.
There's no need for 4 gigs of memory for most of what computers are expected to do these days. Most people where not enthused by the pretty desktop with the transparent windows and widgets. It's a flop, entirely. It doesn't sell.
Combine the Vista flop with hardware distributors seeking to save costs with smaller margins, Microsoft cannot pull the hardware market in the way they tried. The declining economy make this even worse. If Dell and other hardware distributors have to they will promote Linux and Open Source. That is, the saturating market will cause Microsoft to choke.
Microsoft is a large company that's based on the growth of the computer market. With diminishing margins, it makes less and less sense to package Windows because Linux is free, and runs better, even on slower hardware.
The future may seen a shift towards Open Source as companies like Dell may try to market it. IBM already does. Dell is beginning to sell laptops with Linux pre-installed. Cheaper computers with Linux are a hit. If Dell and other distributors continue to see smaller margins, they may take the plunge and sell Linux solutions instead of Microsoft solutions. This in turn will encourage the adoption of Open Source, and as Microsoft has already proved, all software needs to be dominate, is to get as many people to know and trust it as possible. The effect will then cascade and workers will be trained to use Open Source. They will see Linux computers available to purchase at a lower price and Microsoft will be brought down to size.
All those with interest in the computer industry should at least be prepared for a potential shift in the market. If I am right, a degree in .NET, among other things, would become useless.

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