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1/30/2007
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Microsoft Needs To Go Nimble After Vista

One Gartner analyst argues that Web-based applications, and by extension, Web properties like Google, are the future.

A day after Microsoft's chief executive said Windows Vista will not be the company's last big operating system, an analyst said the developer should rethink that promise.

"Windows needs to go more modular," says Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, on Tuesday. "Microsoft needs to be far more nimble with both Windows and Office."

On Monday, Steve Ballmer said that Windows is a "very long-lived platform" which will continue to evolve, drawing in even more features, such as natural language voice recognition. He intimated that Windows would become bigger, not smaller. "We've got a very long list of stuff our engineers want to do, a long list of stuff all of the companies here want us to do," he told reporters Monday. "There are so many areas where we need innovation."

That's not the move Microsoft should be making post-Vista, argues Silver, who is in the camp that holds Web-based applications, and by extension, Web properties like Google, are the future.

"The more Web applications there are, the less important Windows is," Silver says. "It's not that people don't need an OS with Web 2.0 [and its applications], but Web 2.0 is generally OS-agnostic. To access a Web app, you can use a browser and the Mac OS, or a browser and Linux.

"Web 2.0 makes it less important which operating system you choose. It could level the playing field [between OSes]", he says.

Central to Silver's argument -- and others who say Microsoft must become more agile -- is that Web-based applications, even the entire ecosystem, can change much faster than the time it typically takes Microsoft to come up with a new operating system. From start to finish, including a massive restart, Vista was in the lab for five years.

Microsoft doesn't have that much time before the pendulum swings against it, says Silver.

"Today, about 70% to 80% of enterprise applications are Windows specific," Silver says. "But new applications are increasingly OS-agnostic. Sometime in 2011 we'll hit the equilibrium, when half are Windows and half are Web-based."

The tipping point for consumers is a lot closer. "If you're just doing basic productivity things, I'd argue that the tipping point is already here."

Even the vast library of legacy applications, the ones which Microsoft has worked more than a decade to support in each new version of Windows, may not be enough to keep Windows in the catbird seat.

"It would be a lot harder for Microsoft [to abandon old applications] than it was for Apple," says Silver. In 2001, Apple debuted the client version of Mac OS X, which de-emphasized backward compatibility in applications.

"But at some point Microsoft might be forced into it."

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