Why is Windows so popular?

I run Windows 2000 on my computer. I could have had a Mac but felt that I was more fimiliar with Windows. Some people say that Macs are easier to use and I could run Linux, which is free or UNIX. These operating systems may be more reliable than Windows.
It costs money to buy Windows, so why is it the most popular operating system?

Lots of reasons, but the biggest on is that it was embraced by businesses very early on (while Apple was going for the education market). Since people used it in the office first, they bought it for their home computer because they were familiar with it.

Also, reliability isn’t a big issue with most people (and those who criticize Windows reliability seem unable to understand that point). Microsoft long ago realized that to make successful software it has to have a lot of features, be easy to use, and be reliable enough. The average user doesn’t need the extra reliability.

Even more, Windows is a licensed operating system that will work on any Intel-based platform. Apple is a hardware/OS bundle. It’s much harder to sell a billion computers of one make than it is to sell an OS to load on a billion computers of hundreds or even thousands of makes. Plus Windows was a natural upgrade path for anyone who was using DOS. Had Apple had an OS strategy instead of an integrated platform strategy things might be quite different.

Another memory:

Back in the late 1980s, IBM PCs and their clones were running DOS, with applications like the early versions of WordPerfect. None of it was “what-you-see-is-what-you get,” it was mostly monochrome, and, all-in-all, they were wildly inferior to the Macs of that era.

However, Apple machines were routinely at least $1000 more than PCs, so businesses had a hard time justifying the extra expense of going with Macs. If Apple had gotten more aggressive with their pricing, they could have eliminated the competition while it was still floundering around.

I suppose it’s also because it was the most popular. Linux didn’t exist when Windows 3.1 was out and taking over. Commodore screwed up because they didn’t realise that people were starting to buy PCs as home computers because that’s what they used at work (you should be asking why we aren’t all using Amigas!).

Roughly speaking, PCs were seen as business machines and PCs came with DOS. The first versions of Windows actually weren’t very popular and it wasn’t until Windows 3.1 came out that it really took off. Win3.1 was popular because it allowed you to run more than one program at once and also allowed you to run your old DOS applications. Plus, you didn’t have to buy a new machine; it installed on top of DOS.

Windows 95 was popular partly because it was massively promoted but certainly because of the rise of the Internet at that time. It included a TCP/IP stack which before you had to get seperately (anyone remember Trumpet winsock?). Due to the massive marketing, it also had drivers for just about every piece of hardware going. And last, but not least, it allowed you to run your old Windows 3.1 applications.

Newer versions of Windows built on the ~95% of the market that previous ones had.

There are of course many other reasons: you might look at the failure of Commodore and Apple to move into the business market or that PCs weren’t limited to a single supplier, or the MS made some shady deals to force companies to include Windows with all their PCs…it’s a complicated issue.

Windows is in a positive feedback loop. More people have Windows, so more and faster hardware is produced, so more software is produced, so the cost goes down, so more people purchase Windows, so…

Linux may be too far behind to catch up. Linux will replace Windows if and when it has an intuitive desktop and is fully compatible with Windows software.

PC vs Apple

The reason more people have Windows is that anybody can put together a Windows machine and sell it cheaply. Only Apple makes Apple, so you will pay more for the same computing power as a PC.

I speculate that if Apple had granted licenses in the beginning, we would all be using Apples now. Jobs, not Gates, would be the richest man in the world. Yes some reliabilty would have been lost, but by now our machines would be twice as powerful (all that PC money going into the better Apple based computers).

Remember Betamax? By all accounts, it was better than VHS, but Sony refused to license it. The majority of people are not willing to pay extra for the equivalent quality.

Did anybody catch the underlying message of one set of Apple advertisement?
“Hi, I’m Bob. I had a PC machine, but was too stupid to use it so I bought an Apple.”

Originally, Apple was a proprietary platform, so you had to buy your entire hardware chain from them. If you wanted a printer, external drive, etc. it had to come from Apple. The Wintel platform was an open standard so anyone could build a peripheral and make drivers for it. This caused a lot of the instability problems on Windows because they had more third-party software interacting, but it meant that a lot of hardware and software got added to the Wintel platform while the Apple remained one-size-fits-all.

For instance, a number of very good pen plotters and CAD packages became available on the PC while Apple had neither. This caused a lot of architecture and engineering firms to choose PCs. I don’t know whether the plotter hardware or CAD software made the committment to PC first, but both made the obvious choice. You couldn’t build non-Apple peripherals, so the plotters only had a market on PC and there was no point in writing CAD software for a platform with limited output capabilities. This may be selective memory on my part and I may be ignoring some very good Apple graphics packages that existed in the early 80s, but the point is that there was a much greater variety of software and hardware available on the PC, and once that edge was established, it tended to build on itself as new players moved to the more popular platform first.

Marketing was another major factor. If you went to a computer store, you’d see rows of PCs with various options, prices, etc. If you really wanted an Apple, they might have one, they might even have it showcased in front since it was prettier, but it was one choice in hundreds and a non-standard choice at that. For a naive computer buyer, the choice was not “either PC or Apple” but “one of these 100s of PC options or that one Apple”. Compare to the canonical marketing example where a vodka distributer came out with a “premium” brand so they could bracket their competition with an option priced just above and just below to get a 2-1 advantage on shelf space.

I’ve got Windows, Mac, and Linux boxes in my office and I use them all for what they do best, but I’ve always been primarily a PC user because of the options. Whether it was CAD, data acquisition, or coding, the options I needed were always dead simple on a PC and seemed like a battle or a kludge on a Mac. Macs are great for what they do, but until recently they’ve been very hard to extend.

I don’t want to seem like a Mac-basher, but I think the Apple marketing strategy could be a textbook case of doing everything they could to defeat themselves. For a long time they had a product that was quite superior, but they never managed to capitalize on that and seemed to actually use it to their disadvantage. Now that the gap has narrowed and they’re not distinctly superior anymore, their marketing is getting much better, but it may be a case of too little too late.

The main reason, really, is like this:

People use Windows because it runs on the same computers as the Windows that came before it (and you can use the same programs you already own, etc.). It is easier nowadays to switch to Linux or other Unix, or to Mac, than it used to be, but inertia is still a factor.

Go back far enough and people use Windows because it runs on the same computers as DOS (and you could use the same programs you already own, etc.). And while nowadays you can email PC files to a Mac user and open them using Mac programs with ease, the chasm was larger in the past. PC floppies still used 5.25" minidisks when the Mac came out using 3.5" microdisks (the modern floppy) and folks didn’t email files around much back then. Even when the PC adopted the 3.5" diskette, it wasn’t until System 7 that the Mac could read them with transparent ease. (Anyone remember Apple File Exchange under System 6?). And originally you could not simply open a PC file using the Mac version of the program or vice versa – PC users used Lotus 123 and WordPerfect and dBase-IV and Harvard Graphics and AutoCAD, and Mac users used Excel and Word and FileMaker and SuperPaint. Some of the programs could convert the file formats used by the other platforms, but that’s different from today’s case where they use the same file formats to begin with. And reciprocity would not always apply.

People used DOS in the first place because it ran on IBM hardware. “People” back then were more often businesses – private personal ownership of computers wasn’t as quite big a factor as it is now, businesses had computers but it wasn’t so widespread that everyone had one of their own at home back then.

And businesses bought IBM because they’d always bought IBM for business machines. Personal-sized computers still seemed like geek-toys whose companies might vaporize any moment. IBM looked like stability and seriousness and there was no possibility that they were going to disappear even if the PC failed in the marketplace – they still had all those Selectrics and mainframe computers and whatnot.

Because the alternative was awful. It was called “manholes” and the screen was a perfect circle and the “windows” were also circular (and called “manholes”) and were always so dark you couldn’t see a thing. Not surprisingly it did not do well and Windows won the day.

What’s really funny is that Steve Jobs wanted to sell the original Mac for $1495. That would have been comparable to the PCs of the time. But the rest of the people running Apple insisted on a selling price of somethng like $2295 or $2395. This was shortly before Jobs was run out of the company and Apple proceeded to screw itself.

Thank God Jobs came back.

Which is rather praising with faint damnation. You’ve heard of Kip Thorne, maybe? Very big name in relativity, and possibly the smartest physicist in the country. Bernard Shutz, similarly prominent in the field. And I’ve seen them in a scene which could have come straight out of one of those commercials.

I guess all of the explanations above are valid. I think the Mac is no longer $1000 more than a PC, but now it is just a me-too box with incompatibility to boot. I started with DOS (unnumbered, but now called 1.0) in 1982 and just upgraded up to DOS 6.2, which was a great OS. Then I tried Win 3.1 (actually pretty dreadful) and then Win 95 (pretty good, certainly by comparison with its predecessor) and through Win 98, NT3.1, NT4.0, Win2000 (aka NT5.0) and now one computer with Win XP. Through all this, I have managed to keep upgrading my software, including my favorite editing program which I am lost without. It is not available for the Mac, nor for Linux or any version of Unix. I am experimenting with Linux and it is pretty usable, but still not so much as Windows. Maybe that is unfair; in some ways it is ever so much better. Here I am thinking of the workplace switcher, which is really fine. On the other hand, most software for it does not come as binaries and installation is for experts only. Most of the software comes with the assummption that you are or have access to a sysop and it is not for someone like me to wants only to use it.

The latest Apple is thoroughly Unix under the hood and if only you didn’t have to buy all their hardware (which looks great, I must say), the OS might do a lot better on its own. But Apple could never decide whether they were in the hardware or software business. INHO, vertical integration is a trap for a business. A VP for Canadian National once told me that in his opinion, the railroads in North America killed themselves by being vertically integrated and they would have been much better off if governments had forced them to separate track ownership from rail operations. Similarly Apple might have better off separating software from hardware. And MS would still be better off and have fewer antitrust problems if they separated OS from apps. But I digress.

The latest Apple is thoroughly Unix under the hood and if only you didn’t have to buy all their hardware (which looks great, I must say), the OS might do a lot better on its own.

Apple supposedly has a secret port of Mac OS for x86 as a fall-back.

How may Microsoft vice-presidents does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Only one to screw in the bulb but 100 more to collect a fee for every other light bulb replaced in the world.

The contract between Microsoft and stores that sold computers said that for every computer sold you had to pay Microsoft a fee, even if that computer did not have MS software. So you might as well put MS on it.

AcidKid, that is not correct. MS has contracts with OEMs, not stores, and the contract is for as many licenses as computers the OEM manufactures. In other words, if you want * that* computer without OS then you have to ask the OEM if they will discount it and they may or may not. But if OEM “Lindux-R-Us” chooses to install another OS, nobody is obligated to pay anything to Mr Gates.

You’re not even buying the software but just a license to use it. What a genius to come up with that idea.

I always thought Windoz was so popular because it was or is the most pirated software in the world.

Windows is not the most popular operating system. It may well be the most UNpopular. It is, however, the most used.

Also note that for the average user (at least nowadays, with computers widespread among a semi-Ludditic population), Windows is much easier to use than Linux, even with a nice GUI.

I think this idea is called a “copyright.” What’s the alternative? That you buy rights to do whatever you want with the software, including copying, distributing and reselling?

A lot of this is answered by Robert X. Cringely’s book Accidental Empires. It’s really worth a look if you’re interested in the topic.