Wither Windows?

The bias towards Apple in mobile apps is already well established with many developers bringing out apps just/first for iOS. Two recent launches might be an early indicator of how that shift towards Apple is taking place on the desktop as well:

  1. Lytro, the click-now-focus-later digital camera would only work with Mac at launch, Windows to be supported later.
  2. Bitcasa, the upcoming unlimited cloud storage service too works only with Mac right now, Windows & Linux support to come later.

This could just be a coincidence, but those responsible for Windows over at MS should take this pretty seriously. It isn’t that there haven’t been Mac-only developers in the past, but this time it’s different. Back then Mac was a niche platform used by heavy graphics users, apple-fans  and few others. Today, Mac is going mainstream, fast. Most developers and designers these days have Macs as their primary PC and their investors mostly work on Macbooks too. This creates an ecosystem, specially for startups, where most people involved work primarily on a Mac. So far, though most of the folks in this ecosystem use Macs, they still consider Windows support as a core for success on the desktop.

This is where these two launches could make a difference. The issue is that both Lytro and Bitcasa are relatively high-visibility product launches within the developer / startup community. If they do even moderately well with Mac-only launches, it sends out a signal to all the app developers out there that Mac-only/first works. Add that to the popularity of Mac as a platform within the community, and we are only a small step away from a flood of independent developers deserting, or delaying, support for Windows.

Folk at Microsoft will remember how support from 3rd party application developers was a big factor in Windows taking off initially. If they don’t act soon, they’ll see the same flood of 3rd party developers start to migrate to Apple, hurting MS much more than piracy or cloud computing has.

If I were responsible for Windows at MS today, I’d throw everything – money, influence, marketing support, etc – to get these and any other high-profile apps / devices to launch with Windows support, if not exclusively on Windows.

There are two other factors here – iOS and MS Office.

  1. Apple played a brilliant card by restricting iOS application development to Macs. This got a much larger set of users using macs – users like hardcore developers who may not have used one before but now had no other option. Of course, once they used it, they realised that the platform gave them the power of their beloved Linux with the sophistication of MS’ Windows. Add in the designers to the developers, and throw in the naked visual appeal of recent Macbooks, and it didn’t take long for them to flow from these ‘early adopters’ to mainstream users.
  2. Microsoft still has a strong card in the form of MS Office. If Mac really becomes a significant threat to MS’ Windows business, would MS consider retaliating by cutting support for MS Office on Mac? On one hand, it will have immediate effect that all the investors, advisers and managers who are usually heavy Office users will have to consider Windows again. Yet, on the other hand, it creates a window of opportunity for other vendors – Google, maybe Apple too with a new offering – to get a strong foothold in what is now MS’ most lucrative business. From current perspective, this could only be a last resort, poison pill defence option. Yet, the speed that these industries are changing, no one knows how close we could be to such an option being executed.

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