Gartner IT analysts opine that Windows is collapsing under its own weight

Apr 17th 2008
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Windows is too "monolithic," claimed Gartner IT analysts Michael Silver and Neil Macdonald last week. John Stokdyk, IT editor from our sister site, dives into the whirlwind of online controversy and debate they set off.

There's nothing that new about complaints that Microsoft Windows is an over-complex operating system shackled to an upgrade treadmill that does little more than extract cash from Windows-dependent users, Stokdyk reports.

But when two analysts from Gartner got up and warned at the Gartner IT/Expo and Symposium in Las Vegas last week that Windows was in danger of collapsing under its own weight, all hell broke loose.

Gartner does an awful lot of work for major IT suppliers, and bad-mouthing Windows in this way was highly uncharacteristic. While Gartner's own website makes no mention of the talk, ZD Net's Larry Dignan published some of the slides and a summary of the Gartner case against Windows. Computerworld also has a good contemporaneous account.

When Silver and MacDonald asked the assembled IT managers and executives whether Microsoft needed to radically change its approach to Windows, half of the audience members raised their hands, according to Dignan.

Lack of customer enthusiasm for the most recent Windows Vista upgrade fuelled the analysts' conclusions. According to Gartner, corporate IT customers are pondering skipping Vista to wait for Windows 7. The painful and drawn-out development process of Vista itself demonstrated the underlying problems.

Microsoft's programmers struggled for five years to create a sleeker, more agile Windows kernel, but then reverted back to the more stable Windows Server 2003 base for the Vista release. "This is a large part of the reason Windows Vista delivered primarily incremental improvements. Most users do not understand the benefits of Windows Vista or do not see Vista as being better enough than Windows XP to make incurring the cost and pain of migration worthwhile," said MacDonald and Silver.

To adjust to changing industry dynamics, Windows will need to be re-engineered into smaller modules that are better able to cope with virtualization, where multiple instances of an operating system are initiated on a single computer. If Microsoft cannot effect this transition, it risks being overtaken - perhaps within three years - by Web applications and smaller, specialized devices, they warned.

Gartner's emperor's clothes revelations have been reported and blogged widely. While there has been widespread agreement from many technology quarters, Microsoft disagreed with the analysis. The Daily Telegraph reported a Microsoft statement that data from a small sample of Gartner conference delegates didn't align with "more rigorous research."

The independent Microsoft-focused Redmondmag suggested that Mac, Linux, and mobile devices would continue to "just nibble around the edges of the Microsoft monopoly." Where Silver and MacDonald said virtualization was the only thing that could save Windows, this contradicted Gartner's previous predictions, according to Redmondmag editor-in-chief Doug Barney. The idea that Microsoft would write an all-new operating system and use a virtual layer to maintain backward compatibility was "interesting in theory," but harder to write than Gartner suggested, Barney concluded.

"Don't these analysts even talk to each other or read each other's press releases?"

ZDNet Microsoft-watcher Mary Jo Foley was reluctant to comment on what she felt was "a bunch of hype that didn't provide any new insights or conclusions," but eventually weighed in with her observations.

"It's not news that Windows is huge and unwieldy," she blogged. "Many (probably most) of Microsoft's own Windows developers would agree with that premise. But to suggest that Microsoft is burying its head in the sand and hoping its problems just go away is ridiculous."

Windows continues to contributes a third of Microsoft's revenues and two-thirds of its profits, according to Foley's Microsoft contacts, and is installed on more than 90 percent of PCs. "That market share isn't going to disappear overnight, no matter how much Web 2.0 pundits and online-services vendors want that to happen."

Foley agreed with the Gartner analysts that Windows was riddled with problems, but added, "From what I hear, Microsoft is working to address all of these issues."

Developments scheduled for the Windows 7 release include a component delivery system to let users tailor their installations to reduce bloat, and a virtualization layer to help backward compatibility, she wrote.

"Microsoft's continued unwillingness to talk Windows 7 and Windows futures shouldn't be confused with a lack of plans for how to keep Windows and its successor(s) alive. I think there's still a lot more fight left in Microsoft than folks seem to realize."


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