It's no secret that the de facto dominance of the traditional PC -- and by extension, that of the Microsoft Windows operating system -- has been declining in recent years. Microsoft and its partners got caught sleeping as new tech trends chipped away at their relevance and market share. However, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner revealed at the 2014 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference that Microsoft is prepared to face that challenge head on.
There have been two existential threats to the traditional Microsoft Windows PC ecosystem. The first was the rise of mobile devices and cloud services. The convenience of ubiquitous access to information and services from smartphones and tablets has relegated the traditional PC to the status of a second-class citizen for many users. The mobile device is the primary computing device, and the PC is there as a secondary device for more mundane productivity tasks that don't translate easily to a mobile platform.
The second threat was the introduction of the Chrome OS by Google and the advent of Chromebooks. The cheap pricing of many Chromebooks is enough to overcome the Google-centric, cloud-dependent nature of the devices -- leading many would-be PC users to choose price over function.
Kevin Turner let it be known that Microsoft isn't sitting idly on the sidelines. According to The Verge, Turner stated, "We are going to participate at the low-end. We've got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone."
What does that mean exactly? Well, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has already begun navigating the company under a philosophy of mobile first/cloud first -- a strategic shift that recognizes the changing tech landscape and positions Microsoft to compete more aggressively against platforms like Android and Chrome OS. Combine that with the $0 Windows initiative that offers the Windows operating system with no licensing costs for devices that have displays of 9-inches or less, and Microsoft has a recipe for success.
Turner told the WPC audience that there are six things a Chromebook can't do:
- Run both native and web apps
- Run full Office
- Desktop applications
- Work well offline and with limited bandwidth
- Work with many peripherals (i.e., driver availability)
- Print directly to your printer
He then showed off new laptops like the Acer Aspire ES1 and the Toshiba 11.6", which will both be available for under $250. There was also talk of sub-$200 laptops and $99 Windows 8.1 tablets coming soon.
To be fair, there are a number of tradeoffs at those bargain prices. The Acer laptop has an Intel Celeron processor and only 4 GB of RAM, and the Toshiba laptop has only 32 GB of SSD storage. If you can look past or workaround some of those six issues Turner laid out, a comparably-priced Chromebook might offer a more compelling experience.
Where I think Microsoft is poised to really shake things up, though, is with the $99 tablets. There are reportedly a few sub-$100 Windows 8.1 tablets in the works from various Microsoft partners. A small portable device that can run the full Windows operating system and applications for under $100 will be a formidable challenger for all tablets -- but particularly for the bargain basement Android tablets.
Again, a lot will come down to the hardware and the experience. If the display is grainy and low-resolution, or the processor and RAM can't drive a smooth Windows experience, nobody will want it. However, if Microsoft and its partners can deliver a reasonable Windows experience on a $99 tablet, Windows could quickly steal significant market share in that arena.
When you slash prices and/or give things away, you have to shift the business model to generate revenue elsewhere. The burden to make money in a mobile first/cloud first strategy will be on Nadella. The end users, on the other hand, can just benefit from very inexpensive laptops and tablets.
What Microsoft offerings will it take for you to make a switch to a Windows tablet or laptop? Let us know in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.