Should Microsoft Kill Windows?

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Here is a radical thought: Microsoft should kill Windows.

No, not the cash cow on laptops and desktops, nor the ones that give great views from their Redmond, WA campus.

Rather, as Microsoft continually fights and loses to iOS and Android in the mobile space of tablets and smartphones, it should release an operating system that shares nothing with Windows, not even the name.

Inside the walls of Microsoft headquarters, this idea is probably heresy. But I believe it makes a lot of sense. Here's why.

Windows and Microsoft are joined at the hip. Everyone affiliates the Microsoft brand with Windows and the Windows name with Microsoft. Yet, there are areas that are not exactly two-way. Xbox, Live, Exchange and Office all depend on Windows to a greater or lesser degree, or at least are perceived to do so, yet operate independently of Windows.

The Windows brand, on the other hand, is affiliated with PCs - laptops and desktops. Windows is believed to be too heavy, too complex, too "tied down" to the desk to operate well on a mobile device, and Microsoft engineers and designers simply don't know how to build an OS for mobile. Actually, that Windows-rooted mindset likely does shackle Microsoft's smart engineers and designers - and, yes, despite the perception, they have quite a few of those - to thinking about mobile in the context of the Windows desktop.

Breaking the mobile from the Windows brand name will accomplish three things at the same time:

  1. Free its designers and engineers from the desktop constraints to release something that actually fits mobile.
  2. Free its staff from the organizational and financial constraints of being part of the Windows team.
  3. Enable potential customers to believe it is different and thus potentially a real contender for the mobile space.

The last is the most important, but its success will, to some extent, be driven by the other two.

In the late 1980s, when the Japanese car companies wanted to go upscale, they had an image problem. Honda and Toyota were perceived as reliable and affordable but simple cars. No one considering a BMW or Cadillac would think of a Honda or Toyota. So Honda created the Acura brand and Toyota created the Lexus brand. Everyone knew they were built in the same plants - and thus would have the same quality, which far exceeded that of the Detroit-based American brands - but the separate brand allowed them to focus on luxury.

Over time, of course, the higher-end brands positively affected their base parents, and the top-of-the-line Toyotas and Hondas are viewed in a more positive light. But the key was for Honda and Toyota to create a brand completely unconnected with their original names.

I believe - for internal reasons but especially for market reasons - if Microsoft truly wants to compete in the mobile space, it is time for it to release the mobile operating system team from the Windows shackles.

If you love an operating system, set it free.