Double standard: Why Apple can force upgrades but Microsoft can't

Ironically, Microsoft's compatibility commitment has boomeranged, making it easy for users to keep what they have

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Windows users really want that compatibility -- which is why they are sticking with Windows 7 as their mainstay, and with Windows XP if they have apps or hardware that require it and only it. I suspect if Windows 8 had been a great OS with great apps, the consumer segment would have switched quickly, as Apple's Mac users did when OS X was released in 2001. The enterprise likely would have split into "new" desktops for everyday workers and "old" desktops for more specialized use cases. Coulda woulda shoulda -- it didn't happen.

Maybe Windows 9 will be what Windows 8 should have been, or maybe it won't matter -- consumers will move to Android and iOS, while enterprises move to Windows 7 and stick with it for another decade or two. Who says you need the same OS at home as you have at work?

Why Apple may face its own compatibility dilemma in iOS
Apple fans might be temped to gloat over Windows' fate, but that would be unwise. There are signs that iOS is following part of Windows' path. With iOS, Apple has created a platform that runs many more apps than ever ran on OS X. Many of those apps are specialty apps for instrumentation, music creation, and sales terminals. That should remind you of Windows' deep history of niche uses.

Many such apps make iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads essentially into appliances. And businesses don't replace those as often as individuals might upgrade a phone. That puts Apple under a compatibility burden it's not used to. You can see the conservatism already creeping into Apple's iOS product line. Until today, Apple sold 2011's iPad 2 as a new product, and Apple kept selling 2010's iPhone 4 until late 2013. And it still sells 2011's iPhone 4S. What these devices have in common is that they use the Dock connector found on many specialized apps and add-on devices: radios, cars, payment terminals, music-editing controllers, medical sensors, and so on. It'll be a long time before those fleets of devices are replaced with Lightning connector-compatible models.

Althoug Apple has now stopped selling most of those legacy models, they're examples of the new compatibility context Apple has in iOS that it did not have in in OS X. Perhaps Apple will learn from Microsoft's compatibility dilemma and manage it better. We'll see.

In the meantime, when you see Microsoft and its partners desperately try to get you to dump XP or even Windows 7, you can sympathize with the dilemma such a switch imposes on both you and Microsoft. For many, there's no easy way off the older Windows versions and little reason to adopt the new one.

What you can do is upgrade to Windows 7 -- that is, if compatibility requirements allow it. If you're truly stuck on XP, be prepared to do what Apple is advising OS X Snow Leopard users: Take care of yourself. Microsoft legitimately can't do so any longer. It needs to move on, even if you can't.

This article, "Double standard: Why Apple can force upgrades but Microsoft can't," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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