Microsoft's Perilous Pit and Snow Leopard Maneuvers

Microsoft is a company that cut its teeth on the Enterprise. Yet, somehow, the company is unable to ignore Apple's market share and attend to its own business. The release of Snow Leopard continues to mess with Microsoft's mind.

Not only did the early release of Snow Leopard catch some Apple developers off guard, it's likely caught Microsoft by surprise as well. Microsoft probably reasoned that they could bracket Snow Leopard with Zune HD and an October 22 release of Windows 7. How's that working for you, Microsoft?

Snow Leopard

What has Microsoft in a bind here is that Windows 7 sales will come primarily from new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed. In November. History has shown that a much smaller number of customers will run out to buy a copy of Windows 7 to install over Vista. And the vast majority of consumers are actually quite happy with Windows XP, SP3.

Why is that? Here's the upgrade matrix for various Windows installations. (A custom install requires one to completely wipe out the current OS.)

So it's fairly clear that Microsoft got itself into a bind in the 32 to 64 bit upgrade process. But that's okay; IT managers are paid to deal with charts like that.

Snow Leopard, on the other hand is just one step in an incremental series that has carried users and developers along from 32-bits to 64-bits. That's how its done in the consumer world.

On top of that, Snow Leopard doesn't have onerous licensing. Apple doesn't have to worry too much about people pirating Snow Leopard because of the good will it has with customers and because it'll only install on a Mac anyway. Apple doesn't make a huge amount of money with Mac OS X -- it's merely a gateway to Apple's other revenue streams. This is all very well thought out. This morning, I explained how and why Apple has made it so easy to upgrade.

So if Microsoft really wants to put the "wow" back into Windows 7, they should have figured out a way to produce just one version of Windows 7 that seamlessly upgraded either XP or Vista to 64-bits. If the company couldn't figure out how to do that, it should just give the shareholders their money back and close up shop.

Snow Leopard's early arrival, in time for the back-to-school season, gives college students two choices. Just go get the coolest Mac OS ever, Snow Leopard, for $29, and drop it into place on a MacBook -- or wait until November for a new PC laptop with Windows 7 ... or go through the pain of upgrading to 64-bits ... or stick with a two generation old XP. Fabulous options there.

Microsoft is going through the Perilous Pit right now. No consumer really wants to mess around with their stuff anymore. It isn't fun and its OSes aren't easy to install. There's no "wow," just pain. And that pain was all born of Microsoft's insidious agenda for business for the last 15 years.

So I'll predict that selling Windows 7 on the shelves in Microsoft retail stores is going to be a disaster. Microsoft, I'll be blunt. Either build a consumer OS division with a new vision, a single OS, a single price, and a sleek, reliable upgrade technology, or just give up the whole idea of emulating Apple. Apple's OS development, leading to Snow Leopard, makes it more clear than ever that there is really only one consumer OS.