Every year is important for Microsoft, but the way things are shaping up, I think 2010 will be its most important yet. And although the company has yet to confirm any concrete details about where it's going in the near-term, it has been especially tight-lipped lately about the future of Windows and the Xbox 360. And if you ask me, those two products will be at the center of the company's issues in 2010.
Why 2010? The way I see it, this year is pretty much over for Microsoft. Sure, the company will finally stop the sale of XP (or so we think) and the Xbox 360 will see some minor improvements made to its software, but all in all, nothing too major will happen this year. And considering 2009 will be the year that Microsoft tries to solidify itself as the major player in the gaming and OS markets, it makes perfect sense to suggest that 2010 could be one of the most important years in the company's storied history.
But if it doesn't wake up and realize that it's in some serious trouble with Windows and the Xbox 360 could face problems if it continues to be compared to the Playstation 3, 2010 could also be one of the worst years in the company's history.
2010 will mark a new decade, but it will also mark a new beginning for Microsoft. By then, the days of total Windows dominance may be over and the Xbox 360 may be considered an also-ran in the video gaming space. Beyond that, if the company continues to flounder in the online industry, what's left for the once-powerful tech firm? Suffice it to say that 2010 could be the year that makes or breaks Microsoft.
Regardless of where Bill Gates stands on the issue, Windows 7 won't be coming out in 2009. Simply put, Microsoft has too much invested in Vista and needs more time to make it work before it can be replaced by the operating system's follow up. Beyond that, it could be an even greater blunder if the company released the new OS next year considering the possibility of a modified ecosystem in the OS market: the threat of Apple and Linux and the online component that we've been hearing about for so long.
But if Vista doesn't improve considerably over the next two years and vendor support doesn't start to pick up, Microsoft will be forced to pick up the pieces and get Windows 7 out the door. And let's also not forget that the company has been more than willing lately to mention the new OS in passing even though Vista has only been out for a short while.
I simply don't see Vista gaining much ground over the next two years. Vendors are still quite unhappy with the product and Microsoft admitted itself that there are a number of issues with the OS that still need to get worked out. And considering the fact that Ballmer has hinted that an XP reprieve could be possible, should we really believe Microsoft when it says that Vista is its future?
The way it's shaping up, 2010 will be the year Microsoft will try to increase Windows' viability. And while I'm not convinced that the company will do it, it simply doesn't make sense to say that it can happen this year or next with Vista. Microsoft will do what it can over the next two years to revive Vista and after failing or realizing that outside pressures from Apple and maybe even Linux are becoming a bit too much, the company will use 2010 as the year to unveil Windows 7 and try to offer a more compelling product.
I'm a firm believer that when it's all said and done, Microsoft's Xbox 360 console will win this generation's battle. That said, my prediction is rooted in my belief that Microsoft knows what it's doing with in its gaming division and will update the product as needed to address the concerns it's hearing loud and clear from consumers.
As I mentioned, I simply don't see Microsoft doing too much with the Xbox 360 this year. And why should it? The console is still selling relatively well at its current price and the threat of the Nintendo Wii destroying its competitors is diminishing each day. But 2009 could be an entirely different story altogether.
So far, Microsoft has said that it will not install Blu-ray into the Xbox 360 even though Sony is using it as a major selling point in the Playstation 3. And considering the chances of Blu-ray having a major impact in 2009 are slim, there's really no reason for Microsoft to install it and play nice with Sony that year.
But what if Blu-ray becomes a success in 2009 and the de facto leader in entertainment by 2010? If that happens, wouldn't Microsoft be forced to either update the Xbox 360 or rush its production cycle and release a new console with updated graphics and a Blu-ray drive installed?
In other words, Microsoft may feel like it's in the driver's seat right now, but when taken at face value, it's actually in a defensive posture and will need to wait and see what develops in the entertainment industry before it can accurately make a move on the gaming side. And let's face it -- the chances of anything major happening with Blu-ray in the next year are slim considering the price of players and a slew of other issues that the Blu-ray Association has yet to overcome. But if it does, as some have said it will, Microsoft will be forced to make a move in 2010 so it doesn't look like the also-ran.
The importance of 2010 is not arbitrary. When I considered the current state of affairs at Microsoft and took a look at the industry as a whole, 2010 quickly jumped out at me. When it comes to Windows Vista, there's little chance that Microsoft will do much other than try to repair its reputation in the OS space before 2010. And if it doesn't succeed or it fails to attract the kind of customer base it needs while Apple continues to update its OS, it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to follow suit in 2010.
On the Xbox 360 front, Microsoft is being controlled by external factors. Will Blu-ray be a success? Will people be more willing to buy a PS3 because of Blu-ray? Will the Xbox 360 falter because of its lack of Blu-ray support? Certainly none of these questions will be answered next year, but by 2010, Blu-ray will either be a major success or follow LaserDisc to the media junk heap. If it's the former, Microsoft will be forced to react and probably try to save its console and maybe its entire gaming division by doing something in 2010.
But in the end, no one is sure what Microsoft has up its sleeve and quite a few things can happen between now and 2010. But if you take an objective look at the current state of affairs, I doubt too many can say that 2010 isn't one of the most important years in the company's history. If it succeeds in its endeavors that year, it may have a business strategy that can carry it through the next decade. If it fails, ruin may eventually hit Microsoft by the end of the next decade.
Time will tell.