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Gartner: Windows is collapsing

CNET's Ina Fried wonders just what has been going on while she has been in Latin America. Did Microsoft's profit engine just flame out?

SAO PAULO, Brazil--At a Las Vegas conference on Thursday, Gartner analysts warned that Windows is in danger of collapsing, according to a report in ComputerWorld.

Upon reading that, I wondered how this could have happened in the 10 days I have been traveling around Latin America. Although Microsoft faces challenges from Linux and piracy here, looking out from the company's futuristic offices, it hardly seemed like either the building or the Windows empire was in imminent danger of collapse.

Seriously, though, Gartner analyst Michael Silver appears to be noting some important long-term issues that threaten to make it harder for Microsoft to maintain its dominant position in the market. These threats are not new, but nonetheless all bear consideration. First, Microsoft has had an inordinately difficult time upgrading its core product.

Although Microsoft has said it will not go as long before its next release of Windows as it did between XP and Vista, even the possible sped-up timetable hardly shows a product that can quickly adapt to change.

Meanwhile, while Apple was able to build the iPhone on OS X, Microsoft has had to extend another lifeline to Windows XP because its latest product can't even fit onto the cheap mini-laptops from HP, Asus, and others.

"Windows as we know it must be replaced," Gartner said in its presentation, again according to ComputerWorld. Meanwhile, the company faces other threats, such as a diminished role for the operating system in a world of hypervisors.

Is it really all doom and gloom, though?

Sure Apple has been gaining ground and, more than ever, the same Internet applications can run on multiple platforms. That said, Microsoft still holds a huge share of mind among developers, meaning that there will likely to continue to be a whole host of applications that come out first or only on Windows. That, in turn, will make it different for mainstream businesses to shift to an alternative to Windows.

What is of concern is the trend. Windows appears to be harder than ever to update and improve. Windows Live offers an option to build on the value of Windows without going under the hood, but in this area, rivals, too, are investing big bucks.

I think it is an overstatement to say Windows is collapsing. "The main idea is that Windows keeps getting bigger and bigger with stuff being added that Windows is not really designed to do and it is collapsing under its own weight," Silver said in a e-mail on Thursday.

Empires don't really collapse. Rather, they become large, difficult to control, and eventually unable to defend themselves against a large rival. Gartner may have used the wrong term, but its warning seems nonetheless prudent.