Microsoft’s early masterstroke was to have locked down the distribution. Once they succeeded in that, it was easier for them to push their products to users. With the change in the distribution model, Windows strongest advantage started to wither, resulting in the current (identity?) crisis it faces.
People wanted personal computers, and those almost universally shipped with Windows, therefore people got Windows by default. Microsoft’s deals with IBM and the OEMs were the reason for this. Since everyone was getting Windows, developers had to target it. In the early days, developing for Ms-DOS and Windows, was much easier and affordable compared to other platforms, this resulted in popular software being available only on Ms-DOS and Windows. Therefore, people created on Windows, users needed PCs running Windows in order to consume such creations. There was no specific love for Windows pushing buyers to it.
The Internet popularised new ways of using computers that Microsoft didn’t control. Apple helped to popularise new computing experiences and devices that Microsoft didn’t control. The combined force of these major shifts resulted in the emergence of new powerful distribution models, challenging the established OEM model.
Apple created an enviable model that allows them to ship desirable products successfully and repeatedly. Microsoft must have decided to follow a similar path, that could explain why they didn’t hesitate to upset their OEMs, their single biggest force in the marketplace.
Google saw a chance in becoming the world’s Internet proxy, Microsoft woke up to that much later. It would have been a hard sell anyway trying to position Windows there. Even in the data center, Windows has a chance to be present but no chance to becoming the dominant force.
Windows relevance challenge is now mostly a problem for Microsoft, and to some extent the millions of people whose skills and experience would be deprecated should Windows falter considerably. Ironically, Microsoft alienated OEMs, their former virtual Chief Of Growth. Microsoft also seems to be well on the way of alienating users too – force feeding Metro (Modern) UI to legions of users is a sure way of asking them to try something else.
Microsoft virtually dropping their OEMs is a risky bid, it was what made them in the first place and continued to carry them for decades. Somehow, Apple dropping skeuomorphism is a similarly dangerous move, if that sort of emotion and empathy disappears from Apple experience users would start to see fewer and fewer differentiation in the experience. Talking about ‘the platform you love’ would increasingly sound delusional rather than an actual reflection of the market reality.