Aging Computers Are Microsoft’s Challenge

A recurring theme in this year’s Olympics is older athletes who are still at the top of their sport. Swimmer Dara Torres and gymnast Oksana Chusovitina are the most successful examples. High performance in aging athletes is something to celebrate, but Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) can’t be happy about the high performance of aging PCs.

During the 1980s and 1990s, nobody needed an excuse to get a new computer. Every couple of years, the innovations increased and the prices dropped to the point where no self-respecting user could resist. Companies needed frequent upgrades to accommodate their thick-client business apps. Software, applications, and peripherals were changing quickly; a two-year-old PC was no match for the new stuff. The pace has slowed considerably during this decade, to the point where people are keeping their computers for five years or more with no problem.

Well, there is one problem — for Microsoft. Those five-year-old computers are doing just fine with their five-year-old software. Windows XP, Office 2003, and a few aging applications are at the core of many older computers nowadays. It might make sense to upgrade to the latest software versions when the PC is replaced, but there’s just no reason to retire that PC. Even that old PC can deliver performance that gets the job done.

This is part of the balancing act that Microsoft faces with Windows 7. Let’s face it, very few systems are ever upgraded from their original OS; it’s really a question of what OS businesses and consumers pick for a new computer. If the new OS has exciting new features that might justify buying a new system, that could boost sales. Yet Microsoft tried adding lots of features in Vista and didn’t seem to get the balance right.

It seems like many users, especially corporate ones, are hoping Microsoft finds a way to beat a New Coke-style retreat from Vista with Windows 7. New Coke was thought to be a disaster, but the company actually came back stronger and grabbed more market share when it all was over. Perhaps Microsoft’s experience with Vista will just make Windows 7 that much better.

Two months after New Coke was announced, a guy named Michael Phelps was born. Things worked out pretty well for both Phelps and Coke. Who knows, maybe Microsoft Windows will still dominate when Michael Phelps wins his final gold in the 2024 Olympics.



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