Windows 7 may represent the last ever large en masse upgrade of the Windows client environment, and define the line where the desktop PC is no longer the center of the end user universe, according to analyst firm IDC.
"We have come to the conclusion that Windows 7 represents a really important demarcation line in the evolution of client devices," says Al Gillen, who helped co-author a list of year end predictions from IDC. "We think Windows 7 is going to be the last really big refresh, in-mass, of the Windows client environment as we have known it for the last decade plus."
Gillen said the Windows 7 adoption and replacement cycle will go on for the next five to seven years, but during that cycle "the industry is going to look quite a bit different and I would have to argue that the next really big release of Windows will launch into a world that is a lot less centralised around the PC than it is today."
Gillen is not predicting the death of Windows, however. In fact, he predicts Windows 7 will be a great product and a huge success for Microsoft. "I see it being hugely successful. The problem is that it is going to be hugely successful in a market space where the customer preferences are going to move away from that model totally."
He says a good analogy is the television. "The television market has been mature for a long time. We've stopped replacing televisions every time a new one came along, and the television is no longer the center of the universe in the living room."
He adds that the market for Windows operating systems won't go away. "It is just going to be one of a multitude of options," he said. "Because this transition will begin with augmentation and won't significantly displace PCs in the short term, this is a trend that will play out literally for the next decade (or longer)."
Gillen said Microsoft won the battle in the PC market and owns the desktop, "but all these devices are going to come along that Microsoft does not own, which creates a whole new battle field," Gillen said. He said the transition will fuel the rise of virtualised and cloud-based software and "in the process, help break the dependency on fat clients and full local processing."
And he predicts those devices will mostly run on open source, Linux-based and non-Windows software whether they be smartphones, thin clients or browser based devices.
Microsoft has not been successful to date in the mobile or device markets, especially against the likes of Android, iPhone, and Palm's webOS.
Microsoft has a working realisation of its coming challenges that is expressed in its Azure cloud platform and three screens and a cloud strategies.
"There are changing dynamics and demographics that are going to shift the world as we know it and the world we live in," Gillen said.
The world for corporate IT, Gillen noted, also will feel the shift. "Because none of these platforms will be individually dominant across multiple devices, enterprises will be challenged to decide how to support users that bring personal/consumer-driven devices into their organisations," he said.