Saturday, June 22, 2013

After over 20 years on Windows I am moving to Mac (and why it isn’t a good sign for Microsoft)

I have been active in open source for a good 17 years. At the same time, I have always been loyal to Windows on the desktop while making use of Linux on the server.

On the desktop, I have been a hardcore Microsoft power user for at least 26 years. My very early development experiences started on Microsoft with Basic on MS-DOS 3.3. I embraced Windows 3.1 (remember Trumpet Winsock?) and was likely one of the first people in Israel to get their hands on the final version (RTM) of Windows 95.

Even with my heavy involvement in PHP, which in those days was primarily targeting Linux, I leveraged the Windows platform for my day-to-day desktop use and, in many cases, Visual Studio for advanced debugging, which at the time was still a lot more powerful than the alternatives on Linux.

As I moved from software developer to technical management and then general management roles, I continued to embrace Windows on the desktop. I am an Excel power user. Mastering Word and Powerpoint only proved to me that OpenOffice would never catch up, and many years ago I moved from Eudora Pro to Outlook, which I am very productive in. In addition to that, I know my way around Windows extremely well. Typically, I am able to tackle the most complex problems myself, having had a reasonable Windows system administration and programming background.

Today, everything changed. A few hours ago, I ordered an 11-inch Macbook Air. I am both very excited about the decision and concerned about starting fresh and throwing away 26 years of hard-earned expertise.

I did not make the decision because I am an Apple groupie. This has been a pragmatic decision in the works for a couple of years. I think this decision is not unique to me, but reflects the bigger problem for Microsoft, one which I doubt they will be able to reverse. In fact, I think some of this is outside their control. I do not envy Steve Ballmer who needs to figure this mess out.

The trigger for the decision to move is my laptop, which is reaching the end of its life. It is starting to fail on me, which accelerated my decision regarding what my next laptop was going to be.

Key drivers and enablers for this decision:

- Timing: I had very specific hardware requirements – very lightweight, 12” or smaller screen, very long battery life (Intel Haswell) & powerful CPU, a.k.a. Core i7 (I have very large and complex Excel spreadsheets). I checked out Lenovo, Dell, ASUS and a number of other manufacturers. While there are a number of laptops which almost match those requirements it’s actually surprising how fast to market Apple was on this one. So timing and hardware availability did play a factor, but as you’ll see below, it is not the only reason.

- Software/hardware compatibility issues: Increasing frustration with software/hardware issues. Microsoft is not to blame for this, and it has become a lot better in recent years, but the iPad and iPhone definitely prove the value of a vertically integrated system. In a vertically integrated system, the software and hardware are tightly integrated. It just works! And if it doesn’t, then the problems impact everyone and are resolved faster and more effectively. In the Windows ecosystem, this heavily depends on the hardware OEMs, which has its challenges.

- Email and calendaring moving to the Web: A year ago, I mandated the company to move to Google Apps. The key business driver for that move was to improve our agility and enable IT to contribute more to adding value to the business vs. maintaining the existing infrastructure. The move was successful and, as a byproduct, reduced our dependence on the Windows platform.

- Applications moving to SaaS: Outside of Outlook and Excel, the browser has increasingly become the focus point, due to the move to SaaS-based application delivery., which is critical to me, is in the browser. Even Tweetdeck, which to-date was on my desktop, now has a great Web UI that actually works better for me than the desktop version. This is a change in application consumption that really is outside of Microsoft’s control. It will continue to erode the Windows value proposition. And as Microsoft has already lost the browser war, there’s no longer any dependency on Internet Explorer.

- Developers embracing the Mac: Mac OS X has become the Web developer’s OS. We live in a world that is increasingly dominated by open-source software and the cloud. That software is primarily targeted at Linux (& UNIX), and only after that at the Windows platform. Over the years, we have seen at the PHP conferences that the average PHP developer has moved from Windows to Mac. We literally see a change every year. Today, it seems that a majority of developers showing up at our conferences are on the Mac. I like the idea of being on the same page as a big part of our developer community. An added benefit is access to a native UNIX-like shell, as opposed to the grizzly cygwin Windows UNIX compatibility layer.

That summarizes some of the key reasons and enablers for moving from Microsoft to Apple. While you may or may not agree with some of these points, I think it’s clear that Microsoft is no longer solely in control of its own destiny. The adoption of SaaS, and the fact that we are becoming increasingly comfortable with other environments such as mobile devices and tables, reduces the angst and friction associated with moving away from Windows.

I don’t think I am unique and I don’t have any real good advice for Microsoft. However, I do think its cause for concern if your best technical users are leaving you – although I am not an investor guru – I would give it some serious thought if I were still a Microsoft shareholder.


This blog post should not be used as a basis for trading in the securities or loans of the companies named herein or for any other investment decision.