Here’s my prediction: In ten years (by the end of 2015), the majority of computer users will not be using Microsoft Windows as their operating system. What will we be using instead? My bets are on Mac OS X and Linux.
Like I’ve mentioned before, I think Microsoft’s best days are behind it. It’s too big and has too much mass and inertia, making it slow to respond and increasingly harder to change directions. Plus, it has years of Windows source code that must be managed and made backwards compatible with newer versions of the operating system. See The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen.
On the other hand, Apple is currently pretty lean. It bit the bullet about five years ago and broke away from the successful but aging Mac OS “Classic” operating system. While it caused pain and discomfort for some Mac users in the short term, it made for a clean and modern operating system with Mac OS X in the long term. It’s poised to make a somewhat similar move next year when it transitions away from PowerPC processors to Intel ones, although it should be pretty transparent to most people.
More than that however, Apple has a lot of customer goodwill built up, mostly due to the success of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. Their “switcher” machine, the Mac Mini, is doing very well, and has brought a surprising number of Windows users over to the Mac OS. Once Apple moves its computer lineup over to Intel processors in 2006, I expect that migration to accelerate even more, as faster and smaller desktops and laptops are released that also let people run their windows applications on the side. A lot of people may do it for increase in security alone – not having to deal with spyware and viruses is a big deal that makes the experience much more enjoyable.
I don’t think you should discount Linux either. It’s been very successful as a server operating system, but as of yet hasn’t gained much traction on the desktop beyond programmers and geeks. All it would take to change that is a commitment from someone like IBM, Novell, or Redhat to really invest in the user experience. Common tasks like installing applications need to be drop dead simple in order for “normal” people to feel comfortable using it. Also, if they could trade a few programmers for several designers, the community may really be able to create a unique and usable computing experience instead of a Windows or Mac OS knock off. The foundation is there, all it needs is some polishing.
So, why am I making this prediction? First, from my work in the K-12 community, I see a lot of schools dumping their Macintosh computers and moving to Windows machines because “that’s what they’ll be using in the ‘real world'”. Never mind the fact that Windows takes a lot more time and money to manage and maintain or that more and more applications are moving to the Web. The most common Desktop applications are the same for both platforms. All of the Adobe/Macromedia products are similar, and Microsoft Office for Macintosh is pretty much identical to the Windows version, except for some of the features 95% of the population will never use anyway. Chalk it up to ignorance on the part of school boards who see smaller price tags up front, but ignore the total cost of keeping a computer over 3-5 years or the lower productivity because of viruses and spyware.
Second, watch the “Alpha Geeks“: the programmers, hackers (no, the bad guys aren’t hackers, they’re crackers), and early adopters who set the technology trends. If you do, you’ll find that they love Mac OS X. Go to a technology conference, listen to This Week in Tech, or read a Slashdot discussion thread, and you’ll find that tech leaders are moving to Macintosh in a huge way. They love the combination of simplicity and ease-of-use on the front end and the power of UNIX on the back end. If they are an early indicator of a trend (they have been in the past), it won’t be very long before the migration really beings to happen. Personally, I think 2006 will be a great year for Apple and the Mac after it makes the move over to Intel. That’s just the kick start needed to get things going.