When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told an audience at the Gartner Symposium / IT Expo that the company's riskiest bet was the next version of Windows, he caused a great deal of consternation - especially since he declined to elaborate. Former chief architect Ray Ozzie, a couple of days after leaving Microsoft, added his thoughts on the challenges for Microsoft, saying that the company had to embrace the cloud as its future direction.
Ozzie and other Microsoft executives that haven't retired are, if anything, out of touch with the bulk of the user base for Windows. Remember that something like 60 percent of computer users are still running Windows XP nearly a decade after it arrived on the scene. Despite the fact that you can't actually buy XP any more, and despite the fact that Microsoft will stop supporting it in a couple of years, the switch hasn't yet been made.
To assume that the world's computer users will obediently transition to Windows 7, or later to Windows 8, is a mistake. Worse, to assume that the world is going to make a global move to the cloud, and that Windows must move with it, is worse than a mistake-it's based on elitist assumptions about how people use their computers. Sure, you can move to the cloud if you live in highly wired Redmond, Wash. For that matter, you might be able to move to the cloud here in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
But most of the world doesn't live in places like those and even in places where broadband access is available, it's not necessarily affordable. The cloud is a resource only for those who can afford it, and most of the world can't. In fact, part of the reason that so much of the world is using Windows XP is because they can't afford the computers it takes to run anything later. When you travel through places that don't have the wealth of the urban U.S. or Western Europe, you find that the world still connects at the pace of an analog modem, when it connects at all.