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By | Matt Asay 31st July 2015 19:18

No, Microsoft: Your one-billion Windows 10 goal is just sad ... really sad

A victory worthy of a eulogy

Comment Targeting one million of anything is no longer cool, according to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Only one billion will do.

It's not surprising, therefore, that Microsoft has set itself a billion-device goal for Windows 10. What is surprising is just how unambitious that goal is, given the computing giant's aspirations. Indeed, Microsoft may handily surpass its billion-device goal and still lose the market.

Of course, much depends on how Microsoft is adding up its billion. A billion ain't what it used to be.

As Neowin's Brad Sams reports, Microsoft set itself a billion-device goal at its Build 2015 conference. That is, one billion devices running Windows 10. PCs, tablets, and phones, not to mention the XBox One and IoT devices.

Given that mix, the goal, as Sams laments, "is obtainable and, in fact, is far from ambitious."

There are a few reasons for this, some of which Sams calls out, and others that he doesn't.

First of all, Windows 10 is best suited to its traditional PC homebase, as Windows watcher Paul Thurrott declares: "Windows 10 is most successful... on traditional PC form factors and on transforming devices like 2-in-1 PCs, where the primary interaction is with keyboard and mouse/touchpad."

Most PCs that ship today run Windows and, presumably, over time people will either upgrade (for free, in some cases) or simply buy new machines with Windows 10. Microsoft is well over 70 per cent of the way to its billion-device goal without breaking a PC sweat.

Yes, things are more challenging as we look to mobile. Take, for example, tablets, where Windows 10 offers an awkward fit, particularly in the case of mini-tablets, according to Thurrott, who (after extensive testing) claims: "Achieving success is time-consuming and complex, with no promise of a positive outcome."

Even if Windows 10 hums on tablets, that form factor doesn't show much more promise than PCs. Even Apple's iPad is in decline, as this Asymco chart illustrates.

Which leaves us with smartphones, a place that Windows 10 doesn't yet play, and won't for another year or so. From sources I've talked to, what Microsoft bills as "Windows 10 for mobile" isn't... Windows 10. Not yet, anyway. (And even if it is, you can only get it on a subset of lower-end phones that run Windows 8.1.)

For those able to get their hands on the purported Windows 10 preview, as The Register’s Andrew Orlowski calls out, expect: "A compromised UX, that too often is not one thing or another." Going further, he argues: "Windows on phones has gone backwards from Windows Phone 8.1. It's taken something that works and made it harder to use."

So even if it were true-blue Windows 10, it's not clear that this is a compliment.

Which is unfortunate, because for that billion-device number to mean anything, Microsoft really, really needs it to be relevant to phones.

Coolest corpse in the graveyard

Yes, Windows remains the world's dominant (desktop) operating system. According to NetMarketShare data, Windows still controls more than 90 per cent of that market.

But that market is in decline, a descent that becomes even more pronounced when compared to mobile's rise, as depicted in this Benedict Evans chart.

Even within its comfortable PC market, Microsoft is under siege, albeit with a solid cushion. Over the past few years, Microsoft's share of the desktop market has actually slipped a few points, even as Mac OS X has steadily climbed. Granted, of the 293 million PCs IDC expects to ship this year, less than 10 per cent will be Macs, so we're not talking about big gains.

But as the iOS vs. Windows graphic above suggests, winning PCs doesn't get you much of the future.

As recent comScore data reflects, mobile usage already significantly exceeds PC usage. Unfortunately for Microsoft, this shift is only becoming more pronounced:

Share time spent by platform comScore

Microsoft may be able to hit its billion-device goal without much effort, as it caters to the 55+ core demographic. But that's a victory worthy of a eulogy.

Microsoft needs more

One billion, quite simply, is not enough. It won't challenge Microsoft to drive hard beyond its installed base to win over new Windows 10 converts.

And that's ultimately what Microsoft needs for Windows 10 to be classified a success: conversions.

Apple gets this. Despite a bank balance bigger than that of many countries, Apple keeps hammering on Android to win over mobile users. There is no complacency in Cupertino, because there's still so much of the mobile world to create and win.

Microsoft needs to be thinking more like this. As important as it is for the company to cater to its faithful, it really needs to create more acolytes. For example, I've spent months using its Surface Pro 3, and love the Metro interface. What I haven't loved (what I loathe, actually) is the constant shifting back and forth between old-school Windows and new-school Windows. It's confusing and jarring, a compromise that goes too far to placate the faithful.

Here's the thing: those faithful love Microsoft. There's a reason that most (90 per cent!) people happily prefer Windows to Mac OS X, and buy Windows machines. They're comfortable with the experience.

Those same people run Android or iOS on their phones – because they like the experience and have yet to be convinced that Microsoft offers something better. But they're converts waiting to happen, if only Microsoft would give them something to love.

Maybe Windows 10 will be exactly what they want. But not yet: there are far too many compromises in the product right now, as Orlowski highlights.

Get it right, however, and one billion will start to look like a rounding error. For now, it looks like a goal that is both too easy and too limiting. ®

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