Why We're Heading Towards a World Without Windows

  • MORE

In early May, Windows 10 hit a significant milestone, as installations surpassed 300 million new and old devices. But there's two troubling trends that signal that we're headed towards a Windows-Less world.

First, Chromebooks recently outsold Macs in the U.S. for the first time. The numbers seem relatively small, at nearly 2 million Chromebooks sold in the most recent quarter, but it's where they're being used that could make desktop Windows irrelevant for an entire generation.

Second, Microsoft just cut 1,850 jobs in its smartphone business, leaving the future of Windows-powered phones in serious doubt. 

charnsitr_shutterstock

Lets start with Google's Chrome OS laptops. "Chromebooks are largely a U.S. K-12 story," IDC analyst Linn Huang told The Verge, referring to the huge momentum Google's devices have in schools. My 12-year-old daughter received a Dell Chromebook when she entered middle school, and ever since then, she's barely picked up the cheap Windows-powered HP Stream we gave her a year ago. Everything she needs for doing her homework is online.

My 8-year-old son has been using Chromebooks at school for the last few years as well, and has barely seen or touched Windows. In January Chromebooks surpassed 51 percent of devices sold into the K-12 market. "Chromebooks outsold not just Macs/iPads but Windows as well," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group.

MORE: A Future Without Windows Is a Dystopian Nightmare

At some point today's kids may "graduate" to a Windows machine, but when you grow up with Chrome OS and it's easy and familiar, there might not be much incentive to switch. Just this week, Google made its cloudcentric platform a lot more versatile, announcing that you'll soon be able to download Android apps in Chrome OS as well as use them when you're offline.

As tomorrow's kids enter the workforce, surely they'll want to use a "real" laptop as opposed to a Chromebook, right? Not necessarily.

At its Google I/O conference, the company demonstrated how you'll be able to edit photos using the Photoshop Mix app (complete with touchscreen support) as well as play games like Clash of Clans.

Baker doesn't believe that Chromebooks are a threat to Microsoft's OS anytime soon, as Windows laptops soundly beat Chromebooks during the critical back-to-school season, exactly when high school and college students snap up their next machines. But the first big Chromebook generation hasn't entered that life stage en masse yet. 

As tomorrow's kids enter the workforce, surely they'll want to use a "real" laptop as opposed to a Chromebook, right? Not necessarily. Devices like the new HP Chromebook 13 are designed to attract millennials with a MacBook-thin design, and it can power two displays at once and — yes — run full Windows desktop apps via virtualization software.

"All the OEMs are looking for growth, and selling Chromebooks to businesses can help with that," said Baker.  "If Dell can make a play to business with a $700 Chromebook, that might change the equation."

The Windows Phone Disaster

Meanwhile on the phone front, a robust 67 percent of U.S. teens own iPhones, according to Piper Jaffray, and a whopping 74 percent of young folks surveyed said they would make the iPhone their next purchase. Microsoft is barely in the phone game at the moment, with its market share now at an abysmal 0.7 percent (according to Gartner).

Microsoft has just taken a whopping $950 write-off as a result of streamlining its smartphone business while letting 1,850 people go. In total, the company wasted $8 billion on the failed Nokia acquisition.

A Surface Phone could turn things around, but it will have a very tough hill to climb.

MORE: Chromebooks vs. Windows 10 Laptops - What Should You Buy?

As phones and PCs start to converge, Windows is being left out of the mix. "We think the market long-term morphs into a large screen computing device (10 inches or so and larger) and a portable/mobile computing device like an iPhone," Baker said. "Windows is hard to beat right now in that large screen device segment, and the threat there is much more from Apple than it is from Chromebook."

To be fair, Windows powers the Xbox One, which millions of kids enjoy every day, and Microsoft has in the pipeline the Windows 10-powered HoloLens, an amazing wearable holographic computer that could transform the way we learn, communicate, collaborate and play.

But at least for now, the vast majority of people experience Windows through a PC. As more and more kids use Chromebooks and iPhones and ignore Microsoft's OS, we could be heading towards a world without Windows.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
8 comments
  • Edward John Allen Says:

    I'd convert over to a Chromebook in a heart beat IF I can get the power and storage to run other key apps that don't typically run in a browser window. (such as Adobe Lightroom and video editing software)

    What are the chances that Chromebooks will offer a |power user" product any time soon?

  • Edison Franklin Says:

    FOSS continues to become more user-friendly and the spread in resource efficiency compared to Win10 is becoming harder to ignore. This I think, combined with the increasing fad/trend for the labor force to become 'coders' or at least more computer literate, will raise the boats of OSs such as U/Lu/Xubuntu, Mint, possibly CentOS on the enterprise side.

    What do you think?

  • CajunMoses Says:

    Graphics, CAD, programming. I hear it all the time. People use Crouton to program on a Chromebook. Anything can be made to run on a Web server. And anything that can run on a Web server can run on a Chromebook because Chromebooks are the ultimate thin client. Everything's moving the the Cloud, and Chromebooks are perfectly poised Cloud-based devices.

  • mdryle Says:

    your son in the future might ditch traditional PC anyway, holographic computing is coming

  • tmarks11 Says:

    Sure, chrome books are great. If all you do is browse the internet and do word processing.

    But if you need to do real work on your computer (graphics, CAD, programming), then it is time to graduate to a real OS.

    So you got to ask, are the schools doing kids a favor by not teaching them the tools they need for a better future? With the push for STEM curriculum, why do they think that internet-browsing is enough?

  • veinstix Says:

    This makes me laugh, the comedian in this one is strong.

  • Ordeith Says:

    Google offers a world free of privacy and enslaved to advertising. If this is a world you can support and encourage, by all means use Google's products with eyes open. The rest of us should probably look for solutions elsewhere.

  • funny Says:

    you mean mac-less world too then :)yeah, not happening buddy.

Back to top