The Diversity of the Windows Platform

A comment on a message board I occasionally visit (a comment inwhich a poster asked what the most popularcommercial non-Microsoft software for Windows was)made me revisit some thoughts I have often mulled about: TheWindows platform,originally envisioned as a multi-vendor foundation on which a richecosystem of best-of-breed software would interoperate in thisstandardized GUI environment, has in many cases turned into aMicrosoft-only affair, often customized with atmost a couple of internal, proprietary apps.

This is an obvious observation that many have been “warning”about for years (over a decade, really), but it really is profoundwhen you stop and really think about it. Personally I know that myaverage day is almost entirely filled with Microsoft Visual Studio,Microsoft Office, Microsoft SQL Server, all on my Microsoft Windows2003 operating system, with additional services provided byMicrosoft Windows Servers and Microsoft Exchange. I hardly thinkI’m an exception.

Some of the last bastions of widely distributedcommercial alternatives, firewalls and anti-virus, have bothbeen brought in-house as well, and soon enough will be a part ofthe platform. Niche markets, like high end image-editing, are alsobeing competently assaulted by Microsoft, and even MacromediaFlash is coming under assault in coming months. Microsoft has hadconsiderable success in the entertainment (games) market, but eventhen is working to usurp the Microsoft Windows gaming crowd withhardware like the XBox 360.

Of course Microsoft does see some competition, such asthe fantastic success of Firefox (whichaccounts for almost 40% of the visitors here), but it is almostentirely from free software (with an emphasis on thefree-as-in-beer element). The ranks of competingprofessional software companies targetting the Windowsplatform has whittled down enormously. It has to make ISVs nervouswhen faced with pages after pages of questions about their businessand products when signing up for programs like Microsoft’s Empower program

It just is remarkable how diverse and competitive theWindows platform once seemed, yet now we’re at the point whereMicrosoft might as well sell tools like Office prepackaged as a”part” of the OS. Maybe a “developer” install that comes with theOS, Dev Studio, and SQL Server Dev Edition.

I pass no judgement on this or what it all means – itcould very well be that these are the superior products in each oftheir classes, and it is simple capitalist survival of thebest that brought us to where we are (most certainly an arguablepoint. Microsoft Office, for instance, once faced tremendouscompetition, but it fought on merit to the top of the heap), but itis nonetheless stunning when you compare the diversity that onceexisted with the largely single-vendor platform we have today.