The future of Windows is network effects

Ten years ago, when Microsoft had more than 90% control of the computer market, they were handcuffed in how they can innovate Windows due to anti-trust concerns.  Some things were already obvious even for Vista (at least to me while I was there): native security, centralized app store, collaboration, etc.

The reality today is that Microsoft has merely 14% share of the larger devices market.  So Microsoft was finally able to build in security and an app store into Windows 8.  They misfired on the latter however by making it unpleasant for those living in the desktop world to download and use Modern apps; an error they are fixing for Windows 9.

Windows is in danger of losing relevance in today’s mobile world.  The brain trust in Redmond is busy figuring out how to catch up with Windows Phone, but it would be a great mistake to put Windows into maintenance mode.  Windows is still one of Microsoft’s greatest assets, and instead of fighting losing battles, they should be building more strengths unique to Windows.  Especially now that they don’t have to answer to regulators.

The low hanging fruit in that respect is collaboration.  Leverage Microsoft’s wide installed base to build services that typically require network effects to be viable.  One such example is natively supported collaboration and communication.  What if I can work on an Excel document without opening my browser with other Windows users?  And chat to them while doing so?  OK, so that might not be compelling given Office Online and Google Docs.  How about collaborating on editing an image?  Listening to music at the same time, or contributing to a common playlist in real-time?  Heck, any program?

Maybe it’s just about creating a virtual space on your desktop where you can drag and drop any program into it to enable native collaboration.  Launch the virtual space, drag and drop the program, invite people, and boom — the group can manipulate the program together and chat with each other.  I would use this.

Explore payments.  Leverage the credit cards already on file with users’ Microsoft accounts to create a pseudo virtual currency.  You can use this to purchase goods on the Internet and send money peer-to-peer, so I can transfer money to a friend halfway across the world.  Microsoft doesn’t even have to worry about cash-outs; if successful, an ecosystem would naturally arise where third parties will help people (for a fee) convert digital credit to real cash.  Creating a virtual currency requires as many nodes as possible — Microsoft in theory has a billion of them.

I would also work harder to present a great baseline Windows experience.  Instead of a blank canvas when someone downloads Windows (or loads of crapware from an OEM), users will find standard Microsoft services already pinned to the taskbar.  Services like: Office Online, OneNote, OneDrive, Skype, Mail, Reader, Photos, Music, Video, Maps, News and Sports.  Create new services, like a battery monitor where you can tell which apps (like Chrome) are battery hogs.  Don’t be shy about leveraging reach to maximize distribution of Microsoft’s services.

Now that Microsoft is free from the shackles of regulation, they should explore how to build on the strength of their wide installed base and create services that aren’t possible without it.  Build these and increase stickiness to the platform; some which Microsoft might even be able to use in their losing war on mobile.

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