At the annual Worldwide Partner Conference in July, Microsoft dropped a bombshell in saying that Windows is no longer the dominant operating system in the market and its relative market share was closer to 14 per cent than the conventional measure of 90 per cent.
That was probably the beginning of a drip campaign by Microsoft to get the channel and customers comfortable with its intent to rebrand the operating system franchise simply as "Windows", as well as its intentions to push hard on capturing greater mobile market share.
Reports are now circulating that Microsoft will drop the Windows Phone - the moniker of its mobile operating system and the Nokia brands - in favour of Windows. These come after previous reports that the forthcoming OS version being developed under the codename Threshold will simply be known as Windows rather than "Windows 9".
Microsoft is even considering dropping "RT" from the version of Windows designed for the ARM processors. Windows RT and ARM were supposed to propel Microsoft's entry into the tablet market, but the platform has proven unpopular as OEM partners chose not to build products around the architectures, and sales of Microsoft Surface running RT have been dismal.
According to published reports citing internal Microsoft documents, all of these branding changes are intended to consolidate the various Windows versions - mobile, tablet, and desktop - under a single brand.
Such consolidation could be a means for Microsoft to consolidate around a single message, which will bolster its brand and market share, as well as remove the tarnish of poorly received products.
The Windows brand isn't what it used to be, but was it ever?
Windows dominated the desktop for nearly two decades, especially following the launch of Windows 95 in 1995. Windows was always faulted for performance issues. In 2001, Microsoft was forced to address widespread security issues at the root of numerous virus exploits and data breaches.
While Windows XP, launched in 2001, corrected many performance and security issues, the OS needed numerous improvements to bolster performance, security, and competitiveness.
Windows Vista, released in 2006, was supposed to fulfill that mission. Vista was a monumental flop. Many of its features were late compared to other platforms, and it lacked applications and drivers needed by users to replace Windows XP.
Windows 7, released in 2009, corrected many of the Vista issues, and it went on to become one of Microsoft's best-selling products. Windows 7 is so popular and widely well regarded, particularly among businesses, that it retains a 51 per cent market share.
Two years after Windows 8 was released, the combined market share of the two deployed versions - 8 and 8.1 - is just 13 per cent. The 13 year-old Windows XP still has a 24 per cent market share.
Former CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that Windows Vista was a mistake for more than just the poor features and architecture. On leaving Microsoft, Ballmer said that so much attention was placed on developing Vista that Microsoft took its eyes off the development of mobile platforms.
Windows Mobile and Windows CE were essentially replaced by Windows Phone and Windows Embedded, whereas Windows 8 blended the tablet and desktop.
When it comes to desktop OSes, including for Windows-based tablets, Microsoft still commands a near 90 per cent market share. The combined market share of Apple's Mac OS peaks just above six per cent.
Google's Android, however, holds a 45 per cent market share and Apple's iOS has 45 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively, in tablets and smartphones. Windows Phone commands only 3.77 per cent, according to NetMarketShare.
And that's the problem that has Microsoft concerned.
The consolidation of different products under one brand likely will not mean a consolidation of the underlying architecture or code. Rather, "Windows" only is more about removing the tarnish from the franchise so Microsoft can focus on use cases that will improve its overall Windows market share number.
On some level, the Microsoft Windows brand consolidation makes sense. Critics and analysts do worry that too much consolidation will actually cause confusion among consumers and businesses.
The concern is that one brand with multiple messages may dilute the marketing impact. Moreover, one brand will be easier for challengers to criticise.
Larry Walsh is chief analyst and chief executive officer of the 2112 Group
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