Windows was not the first operating system for personal computers nor the first one to feature a graphical user interface. The Alto or Xerox Star from Xerox PARC and the Apple Lisa and Macintosh from Apple Computer were two of the most popular systems in the 1970s and 1980s that helped in commercializing and standardizing the design and utilization of user interfaces with graphical elements such as windows and icons.
Microsoft joined the trend in 1985 with the introduction of Windows 1.0. It was followed by Windows 2.0 in 1987. These two received insignificant market attention. However, the potential of the operating system became more apparent with Windows 3.0 in 1990. Microsoft began developing a more consumer-oriented version of its operating system. Windows 95 was the result of this initiative and it soon became the most popular PC operating system.
Several versions of Windows were introduced after the 95. Nevertheless, the brand remains as popular and as dominant. What exactly are the reasons why Windows became the most popular operating system for personal computers? What are the specific strategies and tactics Microsoft developed and implemented to promote and sell its operating system? How did Windows retain its popularity and dominance for decades?
Why is Microsoft Windows Popular: The Specific Marketing Strategy of Microsoft and the Resulting Brand Equity
There are other operating systems for personal computers that are available for end-use consumers. Linux is popular for enthusiast-level users and in numerous enterprise use cases. There are also several Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and Debian that have been a go-to alternative to mainstream operating systems.
Of course, macOS from Apple remains the closest competitor of Windows in the specific consumer-oriented PC market. Google has entered the market with the introduction of ChromeOS. Some smartphone manufacturers have tweaked the Android mobile OS to introduce desktop-like functionalities. Samsung DeX from Samsung is a prime example.
Windows remains the dominant operating system in the mainstream market. It is found in most household personal computers, as well as devices or workstations used in government offices, educational institutions, small-to-large-sized business organizations, non-profit organizations, and even in several enthusiast-level market niches.
To understand how this operating system has become successful and why it remains popular and dominant, it is important to understand the initial marketing strategies developed and utilized by Microsoft, as well as the concurrent and prevailing strategies, including the resulting impacts of all of its marketing efforts as far as its branding is concerned.
1. Early Marketing Efforts for Windows
Bill Gates had a vision of putting a personal computer on every desk in every home. Microsoft took marketing seriously beginning with the introduction of Windows 3.0 in 1990. However, it was in Windows 95 in which the company demonstrated its marketing prowess.
Remember that the newer version of the operating system released in 1995 was more oriented toward end-use consumers. Microsoft invested heavily in specific promotion strategies such as a television commercial featuring the hit single “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones and another promotional video featuring Jennifer Aniston and Mathew Perry.
The company also sent out marketing materials such as brochures in computer retail stores. PC World in the United Kingdom received a large quantity of these materials.
It also created buzz and brand awareness further through guerilla marketing tactics such as lighting up the Empire State Building in New York to match the colors of the Windows logo and placing a 330 feet banner on the side of CN Tower in Toronto.
However, aside from these marketing messages geared toward end users, Microsoft also marketed its operating system toward computer manufacturers. Note that the company had partnered with IBM in 1980 which resulted in hundreds of thousands of IBM computers sold with MS-DOS. Microsoft sought more partnerships in the 1990s.
Partnerships with computer manufacturers have been key to the marketing strategy of Microsoft and in the specific distribution strategy for its operating system. These manufacturers fundamentally have the license to sell computers pre-installed with Windows.
2. Popularity in Business Organizations
The operating system dominated the market beginning in 1995 because of these licensing agreements. Of course, apart from individual and residential consumers, computers that come pre-installed with Windows landed in business organizations.
Most organizations purchase computers in bulk quantities from computer manufacturers or authorized distributors to receive discounts lower than the individual retail price. Hence, with Microsoft partnering with several computer manufacturers and its brand generating greater awareness, its operating system captured the business segment.
However, the aforesaid is not the only reason why Windows is popular in business organizations. Microsoft knew that it needed to develop relevant software programs that would appeal to the business segment and the more specific business-oriented end users.
The company banked on its established experience in developing office productivity software programs such as a word processor and a computerized spreadsheet.
Note that it developed the Multi-Tool Word for the Xenix operating system in 1983. It was the predecessor to Microsoft Word. It also first announced the Microsoft Office in 1988 which contained the earlier version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Windows 95 and the subsequent versions of the operating system have been marketed with Microsoft Office. The entire suite of office productivity software programs has become one of the selling points used by Microsoft.
These software programs were sold individually. However, they came pre-installed in personal computers manufactured by some of the largest PC makers in the world. Hence, for business organizations, purchasing computers pre-installed with an operating system and relevant software saved them from the hassle of purchasing individual software copies.
3. Established Software Developers
Note that the popularity of Windows in both residential and business segments soon attracted the attention of most software developers. Its emerging dominance beginning in 1995 gave these developers an incentive to develop software for this operating system.
It made sense for these companies to develop and sell software for the most dominant operating system. Doing so meant targeting an existing and sizeable market.
Furthermore, it would be too expensive and unnecessary taxing for them to develop software programs for different operating systems. They fundamentally depended on the current dominance of Windows at that time and bet further on its future.
The aforesaid trend has persisted during the 1990s and the 2000s, as well as even to the present because it has created a win-win situation for Microsoft, software developers, and end users. Companies developed for Windows because of its existing user base while consumers bought Windows computers because of software availability.
Note that the win-win situation also creates an active competitive environment that is beneficial to the interest of the end users. Software developers are compelled to produce the best product possible to capture and retain the interest of computer users.
4. Windows as Standard in PC Gaming
It cannot be denied that this operating system from Microsoft has the most expansive selection of software available. The same is true as regards the availability of game titles. Windows remains the dominant operating system for PC gaming.
There are six major reasons these operating system has become and remained popular for gaming. Remember that Microsoft aggressively sought licensing deals with PC makers to distribute Windows during the 1990s. It essentially gained a first-to-market competitive advantage for both the entire PC market and the specific video gaming market.
It also made a conscious decision to develop and position its operating system as a first-class gaming platform with the introduction of Microsoft DirectX in 1995. DirectX is a collection of application programming interfaces that enables developers to fine-tune and optimize the performance of resource-intensive applications such as games.
These two critical tactics allowed Microsoft to become a leader in the emerging PC gaming market during the 1990s. Game developers have preferred developing primarily for Windows because of its existing user base.
Furthermore, the availability of hardware components such as central processing units, graphics processors, and other multimedia components that are compatible with Windows has attracted further both game developers and PC gamers.
Enthusiast-level gamers prefer building their own personal computers from the ground up. Hardware compatibility makes Windows a flexible platform.
It is also important to note that PC games are cheaper than game titles available on game consoles. Purchasing a gaming computer might be expensive upfront but its longevity translates to considerable cost savings in the future.
5. Limitations of Other Operating Systems
Other operating systems such as the different Linux distributions have notable limitations. These include the absence of proprietary software programs that are available to more mainstream operating systems such as Windows and macOS.
Google positioned ChromeOS as a consumer-grade operating system for ultraportable laptops and low-powered desktop computers. However, it lacks the capabilities and functionalities found in devices running Windows and macOS.
Note that macOS is the closest competitor of Windows in the overall mainstream market. However, Apple products are expensive. Mac Mini is the cheapest Mac computer that retails for around USD 670.00. However, this price tag does not include a mouse, keyboard, and display. A complete Mac Mini setup will cost between USD 800.00 to USD 1000.00.
Nevertheless, another reason Windows remains the most popular operating system is that it addresses the shortcomings of other operating systems.
Remember that this operating system from Microsoft has an incomparable library of software programs or applications. Desktop and laptop computers running this OS are available at different configurations and price points.
There are Windows computers designed and marketed for entry-level and budget-conscious users such as students. Some are marketed toward business professionals and enterprises while others are geared toward hard-core video gamers.