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Microsoft ready to give up the PC `mindset’

Posted by egovindia on July 30, 2006

Microsoft ready to give up the PC `mindset’

Anand Parthasarathy

Microsoft visionary sees computer replaced by handy Net devices

  • Cell phone makers waiting in the wings with `smart’ models
  • 850 million PCs in use worldwide — many with Microsoft software under the hood
  • Free and open options posing a challenge to Microsoft
  • It is said that some of the best phones are `smarter’ than the best PC


    ON TO INTERNET: Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (top) used the company’s annual Financial Analyst Meet last week to signal the end of the road of the PC which evolved to become an electronic slate (bottom left) from the early forms that co-founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates fuelled with their software 30 years ago.

    BANGALORE: The irony is hitting home today, only two days after a controversial statement during Microsoft’s just-concluded annual Financial Analyst Meet at its headquarters in Redmond, U.S. The new Chief Software Architect of the company, who stepped into the shoes vacated by Bill Gates only weeks ago, spelled out a new game plan in which service delivered via Internet is the next big thing — and the personal computer is increasingly peripheral, if not altogether irrelevant.

    “PC mindset”

    Microsoft had a “PC mindset” in a previous era, said Ray Ozzie, “But we’re in a new era — in which Internet is at the centre of so much of what we do with PC. It’s important to start from a different vantage point…with

    Internet service.”

    This was a shattering statement from a company co-founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, that grew from a piece of software — called Disk Operating System or DOS — for the first personal computers, and then had a virtual software monopoly over the PC desktop, for 30 years.

    But then, the man who said the unthinkable, is no run-of-the-mill Microsoft hack, but an industry visionary — the man who “invented” the iconic Lotus

    Notes utility for sharing file notings on the Internet. Bill Gates was not around when Ozzie spoke to the financial analysts on Friday — he was vacationing in Africa. It looked nicely timed to allow Ozzie room to articulate a sharp shift in Microsoft’s roadmap: possibly the third significant course correction after the launch of the “Windows” environment for PCs and the creation of .Net (Dot Net), the umbilical cord that tied Windows to the Internet.

    At last count, there were some 850 million PCs in use worldwide — most of them with a Microsoft software under the hood. But analysts see the pace of PC penetration slowing down — as the mobile phone increasingly does so many of the things which needed a PC: accessing the Internet, exchanging e-mails and short messages — even downloading live music, TV and video.

    Microsoft’s proprietary hold on the computing platform is also under increasing challenge from free-and-open options and its recent embrace of an open document format was a pointer that the company might just see short-term, if hard nosed pragmatism in the old adage, “if you can’t fight them, join them.”

    Its attempts to steer new hardware forms have not always met with success: while the Media Center, combing PC and TV functions is gaining users, the Tablet PC — a sort of electronic slate — was too pricey to be popular.

    New iPod challenger

    Its software offerings for the phone platform such as Windows Mobile are also being challenged by Open standard options. Apple has garnered a huge business leveraging its iPod music player and the sale of music downloads at 99 cents a go from its iTunes service. At the same financial meet, Robbie

    Bach, Microsoft’s president, Entertainment and Devices, announced that the company would soon launch its own iPod challenger, to be called “Zune.”

    The software leader has promised a new edition of Windows — Vista — but the date gets reset with every announcement and last week there were hints of further delay.

    The vision is getting clearer: “Why buy a PC and put a lot of software on it? Why not use a device like your mobile phone — and the Web as your storehouse… of course paying us for every utility you download!”

    No wonder the mobile phone industry is grinning this week. At another analyst meet in the U.S. last week, this correspondent heard Motorola executives gleefully point out: The PCs (850 million) and the TVs (1.5 billion) and the iPods (50 million) in the world still can’t match the number of mobile phones — over 2 billion. And some of the best phones are `smarter’, faster and have more lines of programme code (9 million) than the best PC.

    It may not yet be time to throw away that PC — but Microsoft’s message is clear: When it is time to replace it, think small. Very small.

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