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The Explorer /
Mike Elgan
Mike Elgan

Over 130 Million Served
With Windows, Microsoft is the McDonald's of operating systems.

Sales of Microsoft Windows over the past three years have been nothing short of phenomenal. And the next three years promise unbelievable growth.

Not only is Windows the best-selling operating system, it's still the fastest growing. MacOS, UNIX and OS/2 sales all grew in absolute numbers last year, but Windows 95 and Windows NT were the only operating systems to gain market share.

With well over 130 million users, Windows dominates the market (just for comparison, only about 18 million people use the Web regularly)

It's even grown beyond the PC, running powerful corporate networks (Windows NT Server), high-end workstations (Windows NT Workstation) and hand-held devices (Windows CE). Microsoft and Intel also released a widely supported specification recently for what it calls the "NetPC,i which is essentially a Windows 9x-based Network Computer. And finally, Microsoft stunned the industry by announcing in January "Microsoft Broadcast PC," a version of Windows designed to run on TVs (see NewsTrends in this issue)

Windows used to be a subset of the overall PC market. Now, the PC is a subset of the Windows market!

If you think Windows is big and pervasive now, just wait:

The total number of operating systems sold each year is expected to increase from 82 million copies in 1996 to 134 million in 2000, according to research firm Dataquest. Windows' share of this expanding market is projected to grow from 86 percent in 1996 (71 million copies) to 92 percent (123 million) in 2000.

The best-selling operating system ever, of course, is Windows 95. Microsoft sells between 3 million and 5 million copies of Windows 95 per month-a total of more than 70 million copies so far.

Dataquest projects unit sales of Windows NT Workstation will increase from 4 million copies last year to more than 50 million in 2000. (That's not a historic total; it's the number Dataquest expects Microsoft to ship in the year 2000 alone.)

These figures predict annual unit sales, rather than the actual number of Windows users. Analyst Rob Enderle, of Giga Information Group, expects the number of Windows users to grow from about 150 million by the end of this year to 215 million by 2000.

Raw power

Okay, a lot of people will be using Windows and Microsoft will make a bundle. But what about the quality of the Windows experience?

If the power of PCs keeps increasing at the same rate it has for the past 20 years, a standard desktop "Windows 2000i machine will sport an 800MHz Intel chip, 64MB of RAM and a 9GB hard drive. It will cost about $1,500. That kind of power will totally transform the Windows experience, enabling the widespread adoption of technologies like these:

-- Speech and handwriting recognition. Talk to your Windows PC, and it will understand 99 percent of what you say. It will take dictation and respond to your commands. Scan your notes, and your computer will transform your scribbles into indexed, searchable text. Three years from now, these interfaces will probably be as widespread as multimedia is today.

-- Natural-language processing. You won't need to talk like a computer to talk to a computer. That processor in your Windows PC will enable the software to understand standard colloquial speech. You'll be able to say things like, "Find that report I was working on yesterday and send a copy to Janet.i The computer will figure out which document to send, who Janet is, then do what you say.

If it can't figure it out based on what you've said, it'll ask you for more information.

-- "Advanced Intellisense." One of the biggest breakthroughs in the near future will be what Microsoft calls Advanced Intellisense. This means your Windows PC will learn to do things on its own. As you use it, it will learn to recognize your voice and handwriting, how you talk and who you work with. It will anticipate your future intentions based on what you've done in the past.

-- Human-like agents. In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the HAL 9000 computer was programmed to express emotions like pride and cheerfulness to make users more comfortable. Studies show that people really do prefer computers that respond like humans. Agent technology will expand with the processing power and become so sophisticated and "humani that novices will find computing easier and more enjoyable.

-- Advanced Graphics. We marvel at the computing power that makes ultra-real 3-D models possible. But in just three years, you'll have Jurassic Park/Toy Story-quality graphics and processing power on your Windows desktop. Software companies will take advantage of all this power by creating stunning user interfaces to their products.

These aren't pie-in-the-sky predictions or way-out guesses. All this is in development right now. Microsoft alone invests $1 billion per year in R&D on the technology behind Windows. And Intel spends even more on the chips.

In some cases, products like these are already shipping. Widespread acceptance awaits only the hardware to make it all work the way it should. And there are probably hundreds more paradigm-shifting applications that hardware improvements will make possible.

Wide support

Meanwhile, the Windows environment gets bigger and better and more central to everything we do. Government agencies, big business, homes, schools-any entity that uses computers-are standardizing more and more on Windows.

Even other OS vendors have thoroughly embraced Windows in the past year. Apple is supporting Windows with spectacular multimedia technology and Windows NT with excellent server hardware. IBM is also gung-ho about both Windows and NT across the board. IBM is the number-two maker of Windows PCs (after Compaq) and the number-one overall NT vendor.

Windows is bigger than the Internet, broader than the PC and more important than any other product, technology or trend in the world. It's not just the biggest platform. It's not just the best platform. It's the platform.

Check out a page I created that tracks copies of all currently shipping and not-yet-shipping versions of Windows: www.winmag.com/people/melgan/.

Contact Editor Mike Elgan in "The Exploreri topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe, or at the e-mail addresses here.

Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.

Windows Magazine, March 1997, page 39.

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