With due apologies to Bob Dylan, I suspect that it will be news to many that the second verse has the lyrics:
Come writers and critics; Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide; The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon; For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who; That it’s namin’.

This verse rather aptly sums up my reactions to seeing the recent survey on operating system market share, in which Apple was revealed to have gained nearly 10% of the market, Microsoft to have slipped to 88%, and Linux to be running at less than 1%. I had to do a bit of digging to find the original survey, and when I did get to read all the figures, I got my second surprise – in fourth place is the Apple iPhone at nearly 0.5%. (BTW, it’s also pretty shocking to see PlayStation ranked number 5, putting Sun OS, HP UX etc. way down the list). NetApplications are a well known provider of surveys so I will assume that the figures are accurate. So Apple is in at numbers 2 and 4, but are they really ‘selling’ OS as is Microsoft?

I don’t think so. I think this is a triumph for the ‘services’ market place around the Apple Lifestyle effect, and adding the PlayStation into this merely confirms my point of view. Starting with the iPod, Apple quite simply, in my view, redefined the choice. It ceased to be a technology element, or even a visible element at all, instead it became ‘invisible infostruture’. You wanted the iTunes service so you bought the device that could deliver it, the iPod, and in doing so overtly joined a community of elite music lovers, which has eventually grown to have recreated a large section of the music market. The iPhone has achieved pretty well the same impact in the SmartPhone space, with the Apple Store offering such a wide range of delights, to say nothing of the social experience of Apple lovers showing off their latest widgets, that it effectively created a whole new category.
Now pretty obvious, you have created the whole lifestyle brand, tools and experiences that should also apply to the last major item, the PC. Why the last item, why not the first? Well there has certainly been a hard core Apple Mac community for years, mostly in media, the obvious iPod link in the beginning, but that doesn’t get you the numbers shown in the survey. The iPod and iPhone are obvious consumer choices, the PC wasn’t at first, but my whole point is that the PC is increasingly becoming so, by two routes. As a home PC, i.e. an extension of the consumer choice its role is obvious, but I think a look in many offices shows that users at work are also taking a more active role in choosing their PCs. The Windows compatibility makes it perfectly possible for a determined and effective knowledge worker to make the change with no consequences, except perhaps foregoing any internal support.
But Microsoft is wining its battles too, but not necessarily the same ones as Apple wants to fight. If we return to facts then Windows 7 beta downloads have been amazingly popular, so much so that Microsoft had to actually stop them for a while and upgrade the supporting server. Take a look at the report on downloads which also includes the comment: “The Windows 7 beta releases in January have led to a spike in usage share. Similar to Windows Vista, Windows 7 usage share is showing a pattern of being much higher on weekends than on weekdays. In contrast, Windows XP has an inverse trendline. XP’s share is higher on weekdays due to Microsoft’s relatively high business vs. residential share of Windows XP. This is an indication of strong interest in Windows 7, since it does not come pre-installed on a computer like Vista. Beta users are taking the time and effort to install it on their home computers, since corporations generally prohibit beta operating systems to be used in production environments.”
So once again it appears that we see the same pattern, i.e. informed users paying more attention to what OS they want to try out and use. My guess is that Microsoft still has a lot of committed users, and of course a lot of good quality applications, tried and trusted in business. It may not be ‘fashionable’ to some colleagues and friends, but I am happily using Microsoft on my PC as the OS, for a lot of pretty solid reasons about the corporate world I inhabit and have to function within. Microsoft has made a whole series of moves into online starting with LiveOffice, which never seems to hit the headlines, yet has well over one million users, plus some pretty good online resources for sharing even some unexpected integrations such as SAP Business Objects.
The most remarkable new online element for me is Windows Azure, but it takes some studying to understand exactly why I think this is more of a breakthrough then just a hyped new ‘Windows from the Cloud’ offering. It’s the capability to do, and run, development in a different way that is the most striking part for me, and as ever the site ‘SYSOPS 4 Windows Administrators’ delivers a good summary. If you don’t know this site then do visit it, there is also some excellent material on Windows 7 there as well.
So what’s the conclusion? I don’t think that the straight statistics tell the whole story; I believe that we are watching a market still growing. After all, iPhone and Playstation sales are not at the expense of Microsoft Windows OS, but they will dilute the apparent share. (And yes, I know that x-Box should be included.) Most of all, the way we chose to use our devices/OS in terms of what they functionally can offer for us is becoming much more the issue, and in that we now have much more choice. In particular the shift to an invisible infrastructure and consuming online services will be the change that really matters, and yes, Net Applications do monitor this as well but I think interpreting those statistics is a whole topic unto itself. Just ask yourself how Microsoft loses approximately 8% of share in a year but that the fastest growing browser FireFox only gained approximately 4% as a start.